Learning to bridge the gap between adaptive management and organisational culture

Richard J. Stirzaker, Dirk J. Roux, Harry C. Biggs
Koedoe | Vol 53, No 2 | a1007 | DOI: | © 2011 Richard J. Stirzaker, Dirk J. Roux, Harry C. Biggs | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 June 2010 | Published: 11 May 2011

About the author(s)

Richard J. Stirzaker, CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra, Australia
Dirk J. Roux, South African National Parks, George, South Africa
Harry C. Biggs, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa


Adaptive management is the problem-solving approach of choice proposed for complex and multistakeholder environments, which are, at best, only partly predictable. We discuss the implications of this approach as applicable to scientists, who have to overcome certain entrained behaviour patterns in order to participate effectively in an adaptive management process. The challenge does not end there. Scientists and managers soon discover that an adaptive management approach does not only challenge conventional scientific and management behaviour but also clashes with contemporary organisational culture. We explore the shortcomings and requirements of organisations with regard to enabling adaptive management. Our overall conclusion relates to whether organisations are learning-centred or not. Do we continue to filter out unfamiliar information which does not fit our world view and avoid situations where we might fail, or do we use new and challenging situations to reframe the question and prepare ourselves for continued learning?

Conservation implications: For an organisation to effectively embrace adaptive management, its mangers and scientists may first have to adapt their own beliefs regarding their respective roles. Instead of seeking certainty for guiding decisions, managers and scientists should acknowledge a degree of uncertainty inherent to complex social and ecological systems and seek to learn from the patterns emerging from every decision and action. The required organisational culture is one of ongoing and purposeful learning with all relevant stakeholders. Such a learning culture is often talked about but rarely practised in the organisational environment.


Complexity; learning; science culture; socio-ecological systems; monitoring


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