Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adaptive Co-management?

I'm continually amazed at how little I know. Really - almost every time I open a journal I find something relevant that I didn't know before. This is somewhat disturbing, especially in light of research that indicates that incompetent people are unable to recognize their own incompetence. I usually get around this discomfort by convincing myself that information is growing too fast for anyone to really keep up. Really.

Which brings me to Adaptive Co-management, beautifully outlined in a review article by Derek Armitage and several colleagues (Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 2009 7:95-102). I hadn't heard of Adaptive Co-management, but the title obviously struck me as directly relevant! The basic idea is that coupled social-ecological systems are complex systems, in the sense of complexity theory rather than having alot of parts, and thus traditional, centralized, command and control systems have difficulty managing them. In contrast, Co-management is a novel approach to governance that emphasises collaboration among multiple groups with diverse opinions, and emergent understanding instead of prescriptive knowledge. Adaptive co-management, if I understand correctly, is the merger of this social governance approach with Adaptive Management's emphasis on using management and models to reduce ecological uncertainties. I particularly liked their list of 10 conditions required for successful co-management. I believe that this kind of effort to generalize learning about AM in particular situations (Narwhal management for Armitage et al.) will bring great dividends when trying to apply these tools to new situations. Several of those conditions resonate directly with the conditions listed in the Department of Interior Technical Guide on AM, such as the need for long term committment to the process, and a well-defined resource system.

What Adaptive Co-management adds to AM is a sense of how the social governance components of the system should evolve. And while thinking about these new components, it occurred to me that DoI AM largely assumes that these social components already exist, and that management will take place within existing social structures. In fact, insofar as laws are expressions of social architecture, the DoI approach is explicit in articulating this - an adaptive management plan must comply with existing laws and regulations. One of the conditions outlined by Armitage et al. also points to this - that the "National and regional policy environment is explicitly supportive of collaborative management efforts". Efforts like this to incorporate the larger social-ecological system into AM will be useful, in my opinion.

The other possible link that struck me was the idea of functional diversity - in ecosystems increased functional diversity often leads to greater function - couldn't the same idea hold for social networks? It is not immediately clear to me what the social equivalent of relative abundance, body size, or specific leaf area is, but I'm not a social scientist. Surely there are ways to quantify the diversity of functional traits in a social network, and perhaps, increasing that diversity increases performance of those networks. Anyway, its an exciting time to be involved in AM!

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