Double loop learning in adaptive management: the need, the challenge, and the opportunity

Environmental Management
By:  and 



Adaptive management addresses uncertainty about the processes influencing resource dynamics, as well as the elements of decision making itself. The use of management to reduce both kinds of uncertainty is known as double-loop learning. Though much work has been done on the theory and procedures to address structural uncertainty, there has been less progress in developing an explicit approach for institutional learning about decision elements. Our objective is to describe evidence-based learning about the decision elements, as a complement to the formal “learning by doing” framework for reducing structural uncertainties. Adaptive management is described as a multi-phase approach to management and learning, with a set-up phase of identifying stakeholders, objectives, and other decision elements; an iterative phase that uses these elements in an ongoing cycle of technical learning about system structure and management impacts; and an institutional learning phase involving the periodic reconsideration of the decision elements. We describe a framework for institutional learning that is complementary to that of technical learning, including uncertainty metrics, propagation of change, and mechanisms and consequences of change over time. Operational issues include ways to recognize when the decision elements should be revisited, which elements should be adjusted, and how alternatives can be identified and incorporated based on experience and management performance. We discuss the application of this framework in decision making for renewable natural resources. As important as it is to learn about the processes driving resource dynamics, learning about the elements of the decision architecture is equally, if not more, important.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Double loop learning in adaptive management: the need, the challenge, and the opportunity
Series title Environmental Management
DOI 10.1007/s00267-018-1107-5
Volume 62
Issue 6
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Science and Decisions Center
Description 12 p.
First page 995
Last page 1006