Adaptive management

​​​​​We can define the technique of adaptive management as:

‘a continuous cycle of improvement based on setting goals and priorities, developing strategies, taking action and measuring results, and then feeding the results of monitoring back into new goals, priorities, strategies and actions’ — State of Environment 2016.

The effectiveness of an adaptive-management approach relies on the support of appropriately designed management interventions and related monitoring and assessment programs.

We’ve embedded adaptive management in the Water Quality Management Framework to allow periodical adjustment of:

  • conceptual understanding — improvements to your understanding of the system, its drivers and relationships
  • management goals — if the suite of management strategies cannot achieve the goals in a cost-effective manner, you may need to modify your management goals
  • water/sediment quality guideline values — more recent research may result in revised values
  • water/sediment quality objectives — if the management goals or the water/sediment quality guideline values have been adjusted, then review the water/sediment quality objectives and adjust them if necessary
  • management strategies — use the agreed monitoring program to determine if the management strategies are working the way you thought they would. Implement best practice environmental management as newer technologies develop
  • monitoring — based on changes throughout the framework process, you may need to revise the agreed monitoring program.

Driving the importance of adaptive management in the framework are lack of certainty and a recognition that action can seldom be postponed until there is enough science to fully understand the situation.

Timeframes for adaptive management

Institutional reviews

Longer term (5 to 10 years). Typically linked to assessment and review of management plans. Response is partly due to contextual changes, for example, changes in government policies or a change in knowledge. Allows a review of all steps in the framework.

Implementation cycles

Shorter term (1 to 2 years). Relatively rapid, for example, by assessing in practice the effectiveness of a particular management strategy. Allows an assessment of the monitoring program and progress towards meeting water/sediment quality objectives (actual versus expected).

See also: