Broderick K.. 2008. Adaptive management for water quality improvement in the Great Barrier Reef catchments: learning on the edge. Geographical Research. 46(3)


To demonstrate a learning approach to the design and implementation of adaptive management approaches in the context of water quality improvement at catchment scale.

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

Adaptive management is proposed as a beneficial approach for managing multiple diffuse catchment-scale issues related to water quality. The adaptive management approach is a commitment to process, continuous improvement of knowledge and practice, understanding and accepting diversity of opinion, and learning. Adaptive management is fluid in that it moves within continua of processes that change according to the stage and specific nature of tasks. Through a case study of water quality management in the Burdekin area of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, this article details the approach used to elicit and incorporate diverse views in an adaptive management framework. Process and participation are central to this approach, along with adequate resources and a sufficient time frame. Success is evaluated through the quality of learning and the achievement of environmental outcomes. It is argued that a successful outcome of this approach includes expanded learning about the system, its management and respecting different views, rather than attempting to achieve consensus on new ideas.


Adaptive management and learning require careful planning around process, and a participatory setting. As this article points out, achieving consensus across diverse opinion and values in politically-charged situations is unlikely. The challenge for an adaptive learning approach is to manage these situations in a way that not only accepts diverse views, but actually encourages this diversity. Rather than weakening, diverse opinion can be utilised to strengthen process and outcomes. It should be remembered that narrow worldviews (of any type) can undermine resilience by limiting options. Power groups gain control of adaptive processes by limiting and restricting problem definition and possible solutions. Diverse views, while admittedly challenging to facilitate, can be viewed as an opportunity for more novel and robust outcomes.