Environmental Management

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 75–90 | Cite as

Adaptive Comanagement for Building Resilience in Social–Ecological Systems

  • Per Olsson
  • Carl Folke
  • Fikret Berkes


Ecosystems are complex adaptive systems that require flexible governance with the ability to respond to environmental feedback. We present, through examples from Sweden and Canada, the development of adaptive comanagement systems, showing how local groups self-organize, learn, and actively adapt to and shape change with social networks that connect institutions and organizations across levels and scales and that facilitate information flows. The development took place through a sequence of responses to environmental events that widened the scope of local management from a particular issue or resource to a broad set of issues related to ecosystem processes across scales and from individual actors, to group of actors to multiple-actor processes. The results suggest that the institutional and organizational landscapes should be approached as carefully as the ecological in order to clarify features that contribute to the resilience of social–ecological systems. These include the following: vision, leadership, and trust; enabling legislation that creates social space for ecosystem management; funds for responding to environmental change and for remedial action; capacity for monitoring and responding to environmental feedback; information flow through social networks; the combination of various sources of information and knowledge; and sense-making and arenas of collaborative learning for ecosystem management. We propose that the self-organizing process of adaptive comanagement development, facilitated by rules and incentives of higher levels, has the potential to expand desirable stability domains of a region and make social–ecological systems more robust to change.

Adaptive management Comanagement Social–ecological systems Resilience Self-organization 



Funding for the work was provided by the Swedish Research Council FORMAS and the research school in ecological land use. We are grateful to our colleagues at Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute for inspiration. This study is part of the collaborative efforts of the Resilience Alliance.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Per Olsson
    • 1
  • Carl Folke
    • 1
  • Fikret Berkes
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Systems Ecology and Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental ResearchStockholm UniversitySweden
  2. 2.Natural Resources Institute University of Manitoba WinnipegCanada

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