Phase 4

Step 4.03 , Adaptive Management


The purpose of incorporating adaptive management into the operations of a Water Fund is to systematically use monitoring information to make adjustments or corrections to management actions in order to achieve desired outcomes and continuously improve Water Fund operations.

Key Ideas

Science-based adaptive management programs are designed to provide accountability to a wide range of stakeholders, including donors, investors, agencies, partners, communities, and land and water managers. Incorporating adaptive management into the operations of water funds is critical for ensuring their long-term success. 

Specifically, adaptive management is important for the following reasons:

  • Uncertainty exists in all managed systems

    Adaptive management can help to reduce uncertainty through monitoring and learning processes. The reduction of uncertainty helps to improve management.
  • Management decisions must be made despite uncertainty

    In almost all cases, decision-making cannot wait for certainty. Robust monitoring and evaluation programs can help to evaluate management decisions and continually improve the knowledge on which these decisions should be based.
  • Systematic learning will accelerate progress towards objectives

    Learning about the effects of management will hasten improvement of management decisions in the future, resulting in more rapid and cost-effective attainment of objectives.

What are the key questions that should be addressed to incorporate adaptive management?

As noted above, resource managers are often forced to make land management decision in the face of little to no information regarding the outcome of those decisions. Accordingly, by applying the systematic collection and analysis of monitoring data, water funds are better positioned to evaluate and learn from the effects of management actions and adjust future management efforts to optimize ecological, social, and economic outcomes. The approach is especially important in the context of anthropogenic climate change where physical and biological responses to management actions and environmental change are not readily predictable based on past experience.

The adaptive management process has five steps:

  1. Identify quantitative management objectives

    Identification of quantitative management objectives or desired conditions that include measurable triggers or thresholds to determine whether or not the objective is met.

  2. Plan and implement actions

    Plan and implement management actions that will achieve management objectives or desired conditions (but recall this is an experiment and often the outcomes are not precisely known).

  3. Monitor outcomes of management actions

    Monitor outcomes of the management actions; this involves: (a) selecting monitoring indicators or variables that explicitly relate to the management objectives or desired conditions; (b) identifying the data source and spatial scale of monitoring; and (c) specifying the measurement, analysis, and reporting frequency.

  4. Review monitoring results

    Review the monitoring results against the management objectives or desired conditions to determine whether or not the objectives have been met and, if not, review and modify management actions.

  5. Implement changes

    Implementation of the needed management changes (and continued monitoring).

This adaptive management mechanism should be closely linked and integrated into the Monitoring and Evaluation Plan that was developed for the Water Fund under the Design Phase of the Project Cycle. 

To provide the best scale of economy, it may be advantageous to rely on historical and ongoing monitoring programs that are yielding relevant data and being implemented by federal and state resource management agencies. The annual or multi-annual operational plans should specify general details regarding the general process that will be followed and the frequency at which new information will be assessed and incorporated into the operations of the water fund.


North America: