Adaptive Governance

What kind of instrument or method is it?

Adaptive governance is not so much an instrument as it is a way of organizing policy processes and stakeholder collaboration in the face of changing contexts. It is defined as “a range of interactions between actors, networks, organizations and institutions emerging in pursuit of a desired state for social-ecological systems” (Chaffing, Gosnell & Cosens, 2014, p. 56). Adaptive governance acknowledges that traditional governance systems and boundaries do not match the complexity and (fuzzy) scale of social-ecological systems. It provides a methodology to deal with highly contextual situations, cross scale systems and multi-disciplinarity.

What does it do, what kind of output/outcomes can be expected? What does it not do?

Adaptive governance offers a way of governing unpredictable system dynamics. Not in the way that it makes these system dynamics more predictable. Through adaptive governance policy and collaboration design is structured in such a way that it allows governing bodies and relevant stakeholders to respond very flexibly to unexpected system behavior. The term ‘adaptive governance’ was first used by Dietz et al. (2003). They described the outcome of adaptive governance processes in terms of:

  • Scientific and local knowledge provision
  • Guidelines on how to deal with conflicts
  • Inducement of rule compliance
  • Infrastructure provision and
  • Preparation for change.

How does it work: what kind of input/effort is required?

What is needed to realize these outcomes? Dietz et al. (2003) listed four necessary requirements that form the input of an adaptive governance structure (in Chaffing, Gosnell & Cosens, 2014, p. 59):

  • Inclusive dialogue between resource users
  • Complex, redundant, layered institutions
  • Mixed institutional types
  • Institutional designs that facilitate experimentation, learning and change.

Swanson et al. (2010, p. 935) elaborated on these outcomes by providing a conceptual model of the adaptive policy making process. This is model is shown below.

To what particular stages of the RESIN adaptation planning process does it refer?

Adaptive governance is not related to a particular step within the RESIN adaptation planning process. Moreover, it is a cross cutting issue to deal with uncertainty and complexity throughout the entire planning cycle. However, there are several issues and steps that need particular attention from an adaptive governance perspective. Stakeholder cooperation, monitoring and learning are amongst the most important ones.