“It’s a bad plan that admits no modification.”
Publilius Syrus (1st C BC)
Roman slave and poet
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
Confucius (551-479 BC)
What Is an “Adaptive Approach” to Management?
An adaptive approach involves exploring alternative ways to meet management objectives, predicting the outcomes of alternatives based on the current state of knowledge, monitoring to learn about the impacts of management actions, and then using the results to update knowledge and adjust management actions (Williams et al. 2009).
An adaptive approach provides a framework for making good decisions in the face of critical uncertainties, and a formal process for reducing uncertainties so that management performance can be improved over time.
The results of performance monitoring and evaluation can and should be used to modify the components of a marine spatial plan, including objectives and management actions. For example, if a management action proves to be ineffective, too expensive to continue, or produces unintended consequences, it should be changed as soon as possible or at least in the next round of plan revision. Similarly, if an objective of achieving 95% of a desired outcome proves to be too expensive, then the objective could be reduced to achieving something less at less cost.
If you read only one book on adaptive management, read: Walters, C., 1986. Adaptive Management: management of renewable resources.
Video: Deerin Babb-Brott on using results of MSP
- Monitoring and evaluation programs need to be flexible and adaptive
- Monitoring and evaluation programs should be developed as goals and objectives are specified
Task 1. Propose changes in management objectives and management actions
This task addresses two broad questions: First, what has been accomplished through the MSP process and learned from its successes and failures? Secondly, how has the context (e.g., environment, governance, technology, economy—all tracked through state-of-the-environment monitoring) changed since the program was initiated? The answers to these questions can then be used to re-focus planning and management in the future.
If the management objectives are not being achieved on schedule, at a reasonable cost, and with a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of implementation, the management objectives and management actions should be modified. For example, objectives in the first round of planning may have been too ambitious in trying to achieve too much too soon. Or the cost of implementing a particular management action may have been too high and could have been lower through a different management action. Or the costs of implementing a management action may have fallen disproportionately on a particular group of users or geographic location. If any of these outcomes are apparent, then the management plan should be modified in the next round of planning.
Marine spatial plans can be changed by:
Modifying MSP goals and objectives (for example, if monitoring and evaluation results show that the costs of achieving them out-weigh the benefits to society or the environment);
Modifying desired MSP outcomes (for example, the level of protection over a large marine protected area could be changed if the desired outcome is not being achieved); and,
Modifying MSP management actions (for example, alternative combinations of management actions, incentives and institutional arrangements could be suggested if initial strategies are considered ineffective, too expensive, or inequitable).
Modifications to an MSP program should not be made in an improvised way. They should instead be made as part of the next round of planning in a continuous process. The management actions of any first MSP program should be viewed as the initial set of actions that can change the behavior of human activities toward a desired future. Some management actions will produce results in a short time; others will take much longer.
Video: Nico Nolte on using the results of MSP in Germany
- MSP was needed in Germany to avoid future conflicts between offshore wind and other uses
- The plan designates areas for offshore wind, shipping, and nature conservation
- MSP provides long-term certainty and clarity for users
- MSP gives managers a holistic view of potential user conflicts and appropriate solutions
Task 2. Propose Reallocation of Resources to Management Actions that Appear to be Working; Reduce/Eliminate Resource Allocations to Management Actions that Are Not Working
Video: John Weber on using results
- Build monitoring and evaluation into your planning process from the beginning
- By thinking about monitoring and evaluation, you begin to think about effectiveness
- To adapt to changing conditions we need to understand what is working and what is not
Task 3. Communicate Recommended Changes to Existing Spatial Management Plan to Decision Makers, Planning Professionals, and Stakeholders
The evaluation team, management partners, and stakeholders should meet to discuss the implications for changes in the next round of planning. In discussing these possible changes target audiences should be encouraged to interpret results in such a way that they come to their own findings and conclusions rather than being given the findings and conclusions as interpreted by the evaluation team. Given the participatory nature of adaptive management, evaluation results should be openly shared with target audiences to ensure transparency and accountability (Parks 2011).
Video: Bruce Carllisle on using results of MSP in Massachusetts (USA)
- The Comcast/NSTAR joint cable permit is a good example of how MSP can expedite permitting and reduce environmental effects
- The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan identified ecologically-important marine areas to be avoided by any new development
- The cable industry used several management actions to avoid those areas
- These actions expedited the permitting process
Task 4. Identify New Information or Applied Research that Could Reduce Uncertainty in the Next Round of MSP
As any MSP program matures, the role of applied research similarly evolves, from identifying issues to developing the information needed for management and understanding the results of research, monitoring and evaluation. Reporting on success in management is very important to developing a research agenda; so is reporting on setbacks and failures.
Uncertainties always exist with respect to various aspects of developing management actions for any marine area. Therefore, an integral component of a management action includes whatever short- and long-run data collection and research is required to have sufficient data or information for MSP or to confirm an assumption made based only on the available information in the initial round of planning. Other uncertainties, such as the relationship between a type of habitat and productivity with respect to a given species, may require data collection and longer-run research.
Typically MSP requires a long-term commitment to data collection, management and analysis. But long-term data are frequently not available when MSP is initiated. Often, a data set extending over many decades is needed to understand the significance of human impacts compared to the natural impacts and processes that underpin the functioning of a marine ecosystem. In the meantime, you should exercise caution when interpreting results. Ideally, monitoring and research should be supported by long-term funding as part of the core management of the marine area.
Video: Stephanie Moura on using results to learn
- MSP can identify information gaps needed to improve planning
- Filling those gaps should be an important activity in preparing for the next round of planning
- Knowledge and information is always improving
- MSP should be based on the best available information
Go back to Step 8: Communicating Results