The Three Fundamental Elements of Adaptive Management

In recent years, adaptive management has become a popular topic in a number of different arenas. The practice involves applying the scientific approach to management situations.

The first fundamental element of adaptive management is testing assumptions about what is happening with a project. Adaptive managers systematically try different actions until they achieve their desired outcome. Random trial-and-error attempts are less effective than thinking critically about the project and developing a set of assumptions to test. Individuals then implement actions and compare the results to what the assumptions predicted would happen. The goal is to determine what works and why.

With assumptions tested, individuals then adapt by taking direct action based on the results from the testing phase. If the change does not produce the desired effect, then the assumptions need to be retested or the change was executed poorly. Adaptive managers need to remain aware of the fact that project conditions change constantly, and assumptions may not hold under new conditions.

The third element of adaptive management is learning. While this element may seem obvious, it involves meticulous documentation of the above processes so that teams do not repeat mistakes. Creating this pool of knowledge also makes lessons shareable within and between organisations.