Armitage D., Marschke M., Plummer R.. 2008. Adaptive co-management and the paradox of learning.. Global Environmental Change. 18


To provide insight into various dimensions of a learning paradox in adaptive co-management.

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

This article identifies a learning paradox in natural resource and environmental management and governance, in spite of an increase of attention in this area. The authors identify a need for greater specificity and clarity within learning goals, approaches and outcomes to address the if, who, how, when, and what of learning and to deal more effectively with this paradox in systems characterised by uncertainty and surprise. Five dimensions of the learning paradox are examined using the context of adaptive co-management. Capacity building (e.g. necessary skill sets), risk, incentives, the role of power and marginality, and systematic approaches to monitoring and evaluation are seen as key issues in resolving these dimensions of the learning paradox.


A number of lessons emerge from the dimensions of the learning paradox described in this article. An example of this lessons include: (I) Adaptive learning is likely to require the implementation of various models of learning at different phases of the learning process. This places great capacity demands on those facilitating the process, extending beyond those of technical and financial efficiency. (II) Building on existing or customary practices, strategies and institutions is seen as an effective way of building capacity, rather than attempting to replace indiscriminately with new models or frameworks. (III) Learning processes are often accompanied by risk to both individuals and groups given the need for information disclosure, collective trust and so forth. Financial or non-financial (e.g. power sharing) incentives or compensation programs may therefore be necessary in some cases to facilitate learning processes. (IV) Best practice and critical assessment of learning in co-management is in its infancy. Given this circumstance, identifying and communicating outcomes (i.e. successes and failures) of explicit learning processes, as well as creating greater conceptual clarity around learning types and approaches, is critical.