Revealing adaptive management of environmental flows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Managers of land, water, and biodiversity are working with increasingly complex social ecological systems with high uncertainty. Adaptive management (learning from doing) is an ideal approach for working with this complexity. The competing social and environmental demands for water have prompted interest in freshwater adaptive management, but its success and uptake appear to be slow. Some of the perceived “failure” of adaptive management may reflect the way success is conceived and measured; learning, rarely used as an indicator of success, is narrowly defined when it is. In this paper, we document the process of adaptive flow management in the Edward-Wakool system in the southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Data are from interviews with environmental water managers, document review, and the authors’ structured reflection on their experiences of adaptive management and environmental flows. Substantial learning occurred in relation to the management of environmental flows in the Edward-Wakool system, with evidence found in planning documents, water-use reports, technical reports, stakeholder committee minutes, and refereed papers, while other evidence was anecdotal. Based on this case, we suggest it may be difficult for external observers to perceive the success of large adaptive management projects because evidence of learning is dispersed across multiple documents, and learning is not necessarily considered a measure of success. We suggest that documentation and sharing of new insights, and of the processes of learning, should be resourced to facilitate social learning within the water management sector, and to help demonstrate the successes of adaptive management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-533
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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