Breath of Clarity

Evaluating Collaborative Adaptive Management and Adaptive Management

To understand adaptive management (AM) it is important to set the scene. AM is characterized by circumstances with (1) high degrees of uncertainty (2) complexity resulting from multiple variables and non-linear interactions; (3) interconnectedness—among issues, across landscapes, and between people and place; and (4) persistent, possibly dramatic, change (Scarlett 2013). From there, AM is defined as systematic processes for improving management practices through ongoing learning with a focus on outcomes, assessed through monitoring and evaluation (Scarlett 2013). The diagram project taught me about the strengths of AM. Overall, the process of using management interventions as experimental treatments is strongly aligned with is overall goal to improve management (Department of Interior 2012). Additionally, a strength of AM is its uniqueness in going through multiple rounds of evaluation and adjustment while refining management in a single conservation strategy’s context (Scarlett 2013). It contains the capacity to alter courses of action in response to new knowledge and dynamic conditions (Scarlett 2013). Further, insight derived from the AM process can be applied to future iterations of the strategy as well as similar natural resource management scenarios (Scarlett 2013). However, despite increased attempts to structure conservation and resource management decisions within an AM framework, cases of its successful application remain infrequent (Scarlett 2013). For example, although there is a strong respect for quality monitoring to assess alternative hypotheses about resource dynamics, it is also a weakness of the approach because resources may be better used elsewhere for a more urgent need in the resource problem’s context (Department of the Interior 2012). Many other factors have limited its successful application including institutional and legal constraints that limit the capacity to take risks and to alter courses of action despite emergence of new knowledge, time constraints, and insufficient coordination among stakeholders in development of the adaptive management plan and its implementation (Scarlett 2013). The weaknesses can be addressed by stepping back to examine general challenges of linking science and decision making.

The interface of science and decision making in natural resource management contexts involves issues of how problem sets are defined and priorities developed, how relevant information is identified and generated, how the science and decision-making discussion are conducted, how information is used, tested, validated, and augmented; and how decisions are adjusted as information evolves (Scarlett 2013). These are as much questions of human communities, values, and social constructs as they are matters of scientific distinctions and categories (Scarlett 2013). The AM model essentially views transfer as one in which generators of knowledge and users of knowledge operate in separate contexts, with the focus and findings of research determined by the researcher and then communicated to others (Scarlett 2013). However, collaborative adaptive management (CAM) emphasizes that knowledge and its potential relevance to users emerge within social settings through which issue framing occurs, goals are articulated, and information—both scientific and experiential—and options to address issues are developed, implemented, monitored, and adjusted (Scarlett 2013). Specifically, insufficient coordination among stakeholders has resulted in increased aim to create ongoing dialogue among participants with relevant knowledge, interests, and decision-making influence (Scarlett 2013). With the engagement of multiple public-sector, nonprofit, and private-sector participants, CAM often entails producing services with the public more than delivering services to the public (Scarlett 2013). It emphasizes negotiation over the way the problem is defined, or framed, plays an important role in identifying potential solutions and determining the relative success of management interventions (Scarlett 2013). CAM is specifically strong in the context of a situation with disagreeing stakeholders. Participants agree to certain goals and actions but then monitor and evaluate program benefits based on emerging information (Scarlett 2013). The process has provided a way to transcend data disagreements and move to action (Scarlett 2013). Still, a weakness is it does not transcend the realities of social complexity, diversity, and conflict (Scarlett 2013). At the same time, a weakness of CAM is it neglects crucial elements as it turns massive attention towards negotiation processes and social dynamics (Scarlett 2013). Less attention has been paid to institutional design, decision rules, and governance issues (Scarlett 2013). As a result, less attention is attributed to the broader setting within which CAM unfolds (Scarlett 2013). Nonetheless, linking AM with CAM strengthens the capacity to understand conflicts and achieve pathways to action (Scarlett 2013).


Department of the Interior. 2012. Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Applications Guide. Washington D.C.: US Department of the Interior. Chapters 1-3, 5-6. Accessed Nov. 5, 2019.

Scarlett, L. 2013. Collaborative adaptive management: challenges and opportunities. Ecology and Society 18(3):26.

Comment by Adriana Longhitano:

Hey Mary,

I like that you mentioned the importance of setting a scene when it comes to understanding the Adaptive Management process as well as your careful breakdown of the defining characteristics when it comes to the circumstances that come from AM. There was a case study done where AM was used when there came a need to restore the Everglades in South Florida. It is seen as an “ambitious undertaking” but there have been reports that remark by having a monitoring program set in place, there are changes and improvements being made in the water. (NAP. 2021) When you consider the steps in AM, monitoring and tweaking goals to maintain a positive outcome are all part of the process.

Excellent post and overall explanations of both models!


“Read ‘Adaptive Management for Water Resources Project Planning’ at” 2021. National Academies Press: OpenBook. Accessed February 12.

My Comment:

Hi Adriana,

Thanks for the comment!

I found another source discussing lessons learned from the first decade of a restoration project in the Everglades. A key insight gained from this project is the importance of establishing robust peer review mechanisms. Peer review can facilitate agency managements and stakeholders buying into the adaptive management approach and monitoring process (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). The great utility of peer review options come out of those that are tailored to address a specific need of the adaptive management program, both in terms of the scope of the review and the program’s interpretation of the findings (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). The Everglade’s Programmatic Regulations contain a mandate for a biennial review of Everglades restoration progress by the National Academy of Sciences (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). For example, the Monitoring and Assessment Plan was peer-reviewed by the National Research Council (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). Another peer-review approach involves leveraging interdisciplinary and interagency technical review panels as a way to inform specific agencies or groups on a given issue (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). One example is the peer-review panel established by RECOVER to provide a technical review and recommendations on the potential applications of hydrology performance measures for extreme hydrological conditions (LoSchiavo et al. 2013). RECOVER has also examined the results of a peer review on multi-species avian issues in the central Everglades as it informs restoration planning (LoSchiavo et al. 2013).


LoSchiavo, A. J., R. G. Best, R. E. Burns, S. Gray, M. C. Harwell, E. B. Hines, A. R. McLean, T. St. Clair, S. Traxler, and J. W. Vearil. 2013. “Lessons learned from the first decade of adaptive management in comprehensive Everglades restoration”. Ecology and Society 18(4): 70.