Being agile and adaptive | Te kakama me te urutau

Adaptive approaches allow communities to navigate through uncertainty while staying true to their values.

If you’ve worked through the earlier sections, you now have a collective vision and a sense of how to work together to move towards it. You may have taken some first steps, or you may still be working to get collective agreement on which actions to take.

Are you concerned that you don’t have every detail planned? Should you worry this will limit your ability to achieve your vision? There’s no need to worry. Over the past 50 years, the method of adaptive management has evolved to help organisations reach their goals. They draw on strategy tools that have helped businesses conquer complex problems.

Let’s begin with a simple paradox. Detailed planning is a barrier to achieving a vision when there is uncertainty about how to get there. But you can’t arrive at your goal without starting to take steps towards your vision.

Adaptive management is about learning by doing, with continual monitoring, evaluation and improvement, especially when you encounter something unexpected.

The most important rule of adaptive management is that it won’t help to follow a step-by-step guide from somewhere else. Instead, you’ll have the best chance of success if you tailor a plan to your collective circumstances. Make sure your plan is sustainable so all those involved can help reach your shared goal. Remember to celebrate your successes along the way.

“Adaptive leaders do not need to know all the answers. They do need to be willing to jump into the pool, try things with an experimental mindset, and learn as they go.”

The supply of climate leaders must grow – Thomas Bateman and Michael Mann[1]

Why does progress towards complex solutions break down, and what can you do about it?

Elinor Ostrom identified 8 design principles for successfully managing collective resources to solve difficult dilemmas:[2]

  1. Clearly define the boundaries of the common resources.
  2. Use rules that fit local circumstances.*
  3. Ensure those affected by rules can participate in rulemaking.*
  4. Effective monitoring creates accountability.
  5. Graduated sanctions can be applied when community rules are violated.
  6. Conflict resolution is low cost and accessible.
  7. Higher authorities respect and value the community’s rules and self-determination.
  8. Develop multiple tiers or layered nodes to manage large and complex resource pools.*

Those marked with an asterisk may be particularly important in recognition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They may help to support Māori and other diverse communities. Additional principles may also be identified as important, such as manaakitanga kindness or kaitiakitanga guardianship.

Here are some ways to overcome common challenges that you might face in your transition

Solving common problems using adaptive management[3]

What goes wrong?

  1. Lack of engagement
  2. Experiments are difficult
  3. Surprises, hard truths and learning are suppressed
  4. Lack of leadership or direction
  5. Procrastinating or avoiding action

What is the solution?

  1. Maintain engagement
    • Move step by step towards your vision while providing for everyone’s basic needs and safety.
    • Make time for whakawhanaungatanga.
  2. Use small experiments if possible.

    • For large risks you can’t control, use pathways planning to evaluate options using scenarios.
    • If you can’t experiment, use scenario options to give people agency to decide what to do. 
  3. Apply openness and transparency.

    • Welcome learning.
    • Monitor actions and learn from failure.
  4. Practise strong and principled leadership.

    • Establish guardians as stewards of the principles and vision.
    • Be willing to leave laggards behind, but re-welcome them to the fold.
  5. Ensure discussion and learning lead to action.

You can make your adaptive process more successful by including loops that re-involve some or all the community before completing the entire decision-making cycle.[4] [5]

[1] The supply of climate leaders must grow – Thomas Bateman and Michael Mann(external link) — Nature Climate Change

[2] 'Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action', Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Pathology and failure in the design and implementation of adaptive management(external link) — ScienceDirect

[4] Complexity fosters learning in collaborative adaptive management(external link) — JSTOR(external link)

[5] Double-Loop Learning in Adaptive Management: The Need, the Challenge, and the Opportunity(external link) — Springer Link