Making adaptive management more user friendly to encourage manager buy-in.

Published online
11 Aug 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Kuiper, T. & Ngwenya, N. & Kavhu, B. & Mandisodza-Chikerema, R. & Milner-Gulland, E. J.
Contact email(s)

Publication language


Adaptive management, whereby monitoring is used to evaluate management interventions with uncertain outcomes, is theoretically well-developed but poorly implemented. Previous work has identified several reasons for this, but there has been little direct investigation into the perceptions of on-the-ground managers (those ultimately responsible for adopting adaptive management). We conducted interviews with nine protected area managers in the Mana-Sapi-Chewore World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe to understand their perspectives on, and extent of adoption of, adaptive management. We focused on how managers use ranger-collected data on elephant poaching to inform their anti-poaching strategies. To better understand drivers of adoption, we also interviewed 18 key informants either working with these managers or familiar with their work. We found that while managers used ranger-collected to guide patrol deployments, data use was basic, short term and reactive. We found little evidence of managers systematically analysing and learning from trends in data to inform anti-poaching. Lack of buy-in and ownership was a significant barrier to adoption of data-based adaptive management. Managers did not see how the approach would help their work, felt that the costs of adoption outweighed the benefits, and were resistant to change from management based on intuition and experience (which they saw as more familiar and dependable). We find strong parallels between drivers of adoption in our study and prominent theories of what affects technology and innovation adoption within organisations more generally. Looking beyond our case study, we contend that the 'human' dimension of adaptive management (manager buy-in and organisational culture) has been under-emphasised compared to technical fixes (like providing more resources and training). Our results highlight the difficulties of implementing adaptive management, rather than critiquing the concept itself. Finally, we generalise our findings to develop a theory of change to promote greater manager buy-in to adaptive management, drawing on principles from human-centred design to ensure that solutions are sensitive to the priorities and decision-making context of protected area managers.

Key words