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Capturing practitioners' "how-to" knowledge in the form of recommendations for more effective planning of collaborative adaptive management projects

Jim Berkley, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (retired)
Kathi K. Beratan, North Carolina State University (deceased)


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Adaptive management (AM) and collaborative adaptive management (CAM) are concepts that are roughly three decades old, but a gap remains between theory and practice; these promising approaches largely remain more academic exercise than practical tool. Experienced practitioners report some success in applying CAM principles. Their “how-to” knowledge could be invaluable to other practitioners, but such knowledge is seldom recorded and distributed. We present results of a pilot project exploring the value and feasibility of capturing this experiential knowledge and deriving useful recommendations for more effective planning and implementation of CAM processes. We interviewed 10 practitioners from diverse backgrounds. Semi-structured interviews centered on open-ended questions that encouraged reflective narrative about experiences with a particular project. The projects described ranged widely in size and management focus. We identified 10 themes from the recommendations. The most stressed recommendation was that “getting the people part right” should be the priority consideration when setting up a CAM project. Actively engaging with communities from the very start is essential for developing practical solutions. Communities need to view the project as being consistent with community values and benefitting those communities. Supporting people with leadership qualities who are passionately supportive of the project is important for converting plans to action. Relationship- and capacity-building efforts that encourage productive interactions are essential for developing working relationships that enable implementation and long-term cooperation. Projects should be structured to take advantage of partners’ particular strengths and available resources; effective and timely actions are achieved most easily at smaller scales but need to be coordinated within the context of larger issues. Great value can be obtained by simply moving away from formal implementation of AM toward actions to improve the management system’s capacity to achieve success. Additional studies of smaller scale projects could provide useful information about effective approaches to capacity building.

Key words

collaborative adaptive management; knowledge capture; practitioners; project planning

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087