Adaptive management

Adaptive management is a procedure for implementing management while learning about which management actions are most effective at achieving specified objectives.

The purpose of this Adaptive Management Position Statement is to define adaptive management and outline how Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water staff can use adaptive management principles to extend existing management practices for ecological, social and/or economic outcomes.

Adaptive management is often referred to as structured ‘learning by doing’. Adaptive management incorporates management actions into experiments, to compare the effectiveness of alternative management actions.

Elements of adaptive management

An adaptive management procedure includes 4 elements:

Element Description
1 Objectives Set clear objectives and measurable performance indicators for management.
2 Process model
Describe the threats and processes that influence the objectives.
Describe how management actions are expected to achieve objectives.
3 Plan Plan which management actions will be trialled.
Plan how management actions will be implemented in the field.
Plan monitoring of management effectiveness.
4 Implementation feedback
Carry out the implementation and monitoring plans.
Analyse and evaluate monitoring data.
Update the process model and use the information in management decisions.

Each element can be applied flexibly. Learning may be maximised by implementing multiple iterations of one or more elements. Adaptive management emphasises the importance of involving stakeholders (those that control or enable management) in all 4 elements to encourage active partnerships between managers, scientists and other stakeholders.

Applying adaptive management

An adaptive management approach can be applied to projects of broad scope and spatial scale, such as region- or park-wide, and also to local small-scale projects such as single population management or park specific issues.

We currently use many elements of adaptive management. By adopting all 4 elements of adaptive management we can:

  • use limited resources strategically to learn about the most effective management actions
  • provide transparent justification for management decisions
  • improve ecological and/or social outcomes
  • direct resources to the management actions that are most likely to be effective
  • meet standards of scientific rigour as outlines in our Scientific Rigour Position Statement (PDF 175KB)
  • contribute information to wider monitoring, evaluation and reporting efforts
  • measure continuous improvement in ecological and/or social outcomes.