Environmental Management

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 907-916

First online:

Improving Voluntary Environmental Management Programs: Facilitating Learning and Adaptation

  • Kenneth D. GenskowAffiliated withDepartment of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin-Madison Email author 
  • , Danielle M. WoodAffiliated withDepartment of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Environmental planners and managers face unique challenges understanding and documenting the effectiveness of programs that rely on voluntary actions by private landowners. Programs, such as those aimed at reducing nonpoint source pollution or improving habitat, intend to reach those goals by persuading landowners to adopt behaviors and management practices consistent with environmental restoration and protection. Our purpose with this paper is to identify barriers for improving voluntary environmental management programs and ways to overcome them. We first draw upon insights regarding data, learning, and adaptation from the adaptive management and performance management literatures, describing three key issues: overcoming information constraints, structural limitations, and organizational culture. Although these lessons are applicable to a variety of voluntary environmental management programs, we then present the issues in the context of on-going research for nonpoint source water quality pollution. We end the discussion by highlighting important elements for advancing voluntary program efforts.


Evaluation Performance Effectiveness Organizational learning