Cundill G.. 2010. Monitoring social learning processes in adaptive co management: three case studies from South Africa. Ecology and Society. 15(3)


Presents key variables and a monitoring framework for social learning processes in adaptive co-management

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Transition within adaptive co-management processes calls for effective learning – social learning in particular – requiring an understanding of the creation and operation of learning arenas, and their contextual outcomes. This article presents key variables and outcome indicators for monitoring collaborative processes and learning, and tests these variables within three case studies in South Africa. The variables were shown to have adequate sensitivity to enable the monitoring of change over an eighteen month period. Monitoring revealed that key individuals (e.g. an ‘honest broker’ to manage facilitation) were central to effective learning. However, in maintaining these key individuals it was necessary to avoid the trap of rigidity and vulnerability by limiting options. Within a balanced approach, active participation within communities of practice was encouraged. However, it is pointed out that concepts such as communities of practice and situated learning do not sit well with multilevel networks, a fundamental aspect of adaptive co-management. This is most often related to variations within decision stakes among network stakeholders, and general reluctance to share power. The author also challenges the idea of democratic structures as a pre-condition of collaborative processes at the community level. This argument is based on evidence that particular entrenched structures and processes significantly interrupt continuity, inhibiting self-organisation, shared understanding and the building of skill sets in certain circumstances.


Democracy is generally assumed in adaptive learning processes. This assumption is challenged in this article, at least in certain circumstances. The article points out that a balanced approach is needed to ensure the democratic principles of transparency and good governance continue to be upheld. However, this finding presents a challenge for those attempting to initiate adaptive learning processes, given that particular embedded systems may undermine the learning that participants are attempting to achieve. This highlights the importance of addressing issues according to scale, and in maintaining openness, flexibility and the capacity to change according to the circumstances that are presented. Indicators that are sensitive to change in relatively short time frames are also highly valuable to those attempting to evaluate learning outcomes, and this article contributes significantly in this regard.