The Art and Promise of Adaptive Governance
Adaptive Governance is art and science, blended with management and politics. It is art since political decision-making is an art. One face of adaptive governance is a dance wherein public land managers engage with particularly ecological and social scientists in learning from experience about transformations in ecosystems and institutions. The dance is broadened further, since both managers and scientists dance with the public, both as interested individuals and communities of interest alongside communities of place.
The promise of adaptive governance for the US Forest Service and other public lands agencies is that it might heal the wounds from many of the forest and rangeland wars that have only festered during thirty years of failed rational planning games. The promise too is that if properly framed and practiced, adaptive governance could free up talent at the national forest level to do the many worthwhile jobs that need attending to at that level, like road, trail, and campground and other recreation-related maintenance, like permit administration, and program and project management (fire, timber, recreation, minerals, grazing, etc.), like attending to trespass and encroachment problems, fragmentation of land ownership patterns/problems, and so on. Forest-level people would not have to attend to many tasks now burdening them under the current “planning” frame—framed as rational planning with public input.
One problem I’ve been harping about for years is that “wicked problems” can not be tamed via rational planning. They have to be attended to through the art of political decision-making. Take a look at the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah, for example. It is widely known for its ATV experiences, jamborees, etc. It is also a relatively easily-accessible place for big game hunting, via various sorts of Off Highway Vehicles. [In younger years I used to wander the roads there, and wander off the roads, looking for big mule deer.] The decisions, or political/social happenstance, that took the Fishlake in this direction, are the stuff of politics, not science.
Some of the tasks that now appear to be the responsibility of forest-level managers and practitioners would be handled closer to the center or the Forest Service (and at the center, the USFS Washington Office). These are the tasks of landscape and broader-scaled assessments, monitoring efforts, and related problem staging/resolution/learning as adaptive management policy-setting. In addition, the center of the organization would be held accountable to steer and monitor deeper “double-loop” learning that comes from thoughtful examination, reflection upon, and learning from “Transformations in Human and Natural systems,” the subtitle of Lance Gunderson and CS Holling’s Panarchy. Finally the center of the Forest Service would be the keeper of the Vision/Mission of the agency, reconciled appropriately with the Congress and the Administration. [Note: Mission/vision stuff should not be framed as "NFMA planning," but still might be part of broader strategy setting and contained-in-part by a FS Strategic Plan.]
Critiquing Adaptive Governance
I have spent the last week or two trying to better understand applied adaptive governance, to see whether the time to try it formally on American public lands is at hand. I ran across several interesting investigations [which I'll not link to today, but may detail further later], looking into the art and practice of adaptive governance or what we might call adaptive management in its public form. In almost every case the authors were reluctant to embrace adaptive governance fully since the track record is not very good, for various and sundry reasons. Once problem frequently noted was that the practice was too technical, too much engaged in “scientific rationality.” On the other extreme, some authors noted a tendency for unwarranted devolution; wherein the process was captured by too narrowly framed interests, often dominated by “locals.” In almost every case, US authors failed to investigate the influence of “political backlash” by the Bush/Cheney Administration as they waged war on the Clinton Administration’s initial strides at adaptive governance under banners of “Ecosystem Management” and “Collaborative Stewardship.” This backlash began earlier with the so-called “Gingrich Revolution”— remember the “Contract
On With America”? [Want some fun? Google up: "contract with america" "public lands"] Why was the backlash missed? I don’t see how you can separate adaptive governance efforts from the politics that enfold them.
As mentioned earlier, critical review authors cite the fact that adaptive management in its public form is too technical, too much centered in technocratic rationality. But adaptive governance need not be so burdened. Adaptive governance can operate in policy-development spaces far apart from those where “adaptive management experiments” are structured, tested, and rationalized. But it can embrace those too, where they make most sense. This is the direction some of us tried to take the Forest Service in the early 1990s, under the banner “A Shared Approach to Ecosystem Management,” outlined in part here. It lives today under the banner “adaptive governance.”
Embracing Adaptive Governance
An important aspect of the emergence of adaptive governance is that it is about humans and their institutional settings—that these often fall into the same rigidity traps (problems of overly-tight coupling) and poverty traps that we talk about in so-called natural systems. This is easily seen through the lenses of Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment (1993), Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Ecosystems and Institutions (1995), and Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (2002).
I believe that the time it right to more-fully embrace adaptive governance—to replace what has been forest planning. But a big barrier is that the Forest Service remains a technocracy, a big-believer in science and management, with little or no formal emphasis on the art of “forestry,” the art of “political decision-making,” etc. I remember all too well the many Forest Service social science meetings where I complained that two words (and practices) were forbidden in both voice and action: politics and psychology.
In a future post I will lay out a roadmap to begin that journey as a rewrite to the administrative “rule” that is being batted around in Draft form, improperly framed as a “planning rule.” Here, I’ll just leave one definition of adaptive governance. Maybe someone here can come up with a better one.
Adaptive Governance: linking a broad range of actors at multiple scales to deal with the interrelated dynamics of resources and ecosystems, management systems and social systems, as well as uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise. Adaptive governance focuses on experimentation and learning, and it brings together research on institutions and organizations for collaboration, collective action, and conﬂict resolution in relation to natural resource and ecosystem management. The essential role of individuals needs to be recognized in this context (e.g., leadership, trust building, vision, and meaning); their social relations (e.g., actor groups, knowledge systems, social memory) and social networks serve as the web that tie together the adaptive governance system. It has cross-level and cross-scale activities and includes governmental policies that frame creativity.
From “Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems”, Carl Folke, Thomas Hahn, Per Olsson, and Jon Norberg, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2005. 30:441-473 (pdf)
Adaptive Governance and Forest Planning, John Rupe, NCFP, Feb. 2010
Book review of Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, and Decision Making, by Ronald D. Brunner, Toddi A. Steelman, Lindy Coe-Juell, Christina M. Crowley, Christine M. Edwards, Donna W. Tucker, 2005
Collaboration Reading for Thoughtful Practitioners, Dave Iverson 2006
Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Adaptive Governance and International Trade (pdf), Rosie Cooney and Andrew T.F. Lang, The European Journal of International Law 18(3), 2007