Adaptive governance processes

An adaptive governance process is a type of policy that is able to adapt to anticipated conditions and build upon insights into cause-and-effect relationships and an understanding of system complexities, capacities, performance, and dynamics. Some of the inherent variability in socio-economic and ecologic conditions can be anticipated, and monitoring can help trigger important policy adjustments to keep the policy functioning well. Such policies are useful in many situations of change or volatility but particularly in relation to a changing climate. Six processes support the development and function of automatic adjustment policies: 1) Integrated assessments identify causal factors, key impacts, and scenario outlooks for a range of anticipated conditions, including worst-case scenarios. 2) Deliberative processes strengthen the policy design by building recognition of common values, shared commitments, and emerging issues, and by providing a comprehensive understanding of causal relationships. 3) Policy review is undertaken on a regular basis, even when the policy is functioning well, and can help policies deal with emerging issues and trigger policy adjustments. This component is part of continuous learning that is necessary for automatic adjustment. 4) Policies encourage interaction, initiative, and self-organization to help foster innovative responses to unexpected events. Space is provided for flexibility and barriers to collaboration are reduced. 5) Action occurs at the most appropriate jurisdiction, depending on the nature of the issue, and based upon the idea of subsidiarity. Policies can be crafted to assign priority to the lowest jurisdictional level of action consistent with effectiveness. For example, scale of ecosystem and governance should be matched like in watershed-based management. 6) Small-scale interventions for the same problem offer greater hope of finding effective solutions. Diversity facilitates the ability to persist in the face of change, and spreading risk is part of managing complex systems.  

Climate Related Risk

Not clearly identified

Form of Option

Educational, Institutions and governance, Laws and regulation

Country of Origin

Canada, India


Resource-dependent people (e.g. farmers, fishers, miners)



Institution / Legal Reach

Not indicated