Cosens, B., & Williams, M. (2012). Resilience and Water Governance : Adaptive Governance in the Columbia. Ecology and Society, 12(4).

Cosens (2012) looks at the issue of legitimacy in adaptive management implementation. Her case study on the Columbia River basin helps to show how adaptive management approaches can fail if legitimacy, in its various guises, can fail if not implemented properly. The most useful aspect of this article was not so much the discussion on legitimacy (I actually found it quite difficult to follow and understand), but her explanation of adaptive management and adaptive governance.

What Cosens is arguing is that adaptive management does not attempt to ‘control change’, which is more in line with the traditional approach to resource management. We push rivers around, in the words of Conca (2006), and in so doing we assume guardianship over these resources, to control their flows, and their courses. We base our management decisions on an assumption of stability, of stationarity. Instead, what adaptive management and resilience thinking advocates is a shift in mindset and planning that focuses on pathways for ‘societal development’ that accounts for uncertainty, and the likelihood of ‘abrupt change’. In this way, we (as a society, and our management approach) become resilient to change by planning for it, and adjust our approaches to resource management to account for change.

What Consens argues is that legitimacy is needed to precipitate this change in perspective and mindsets. We need perceived legitimacy (my own words) in the actions of the institutions of governance that are making and implementing those decisions (p 2). Cosens argues however, that legitimacy is challenged by the degree of flexibility required for adaptive management (p 2). This legitimacy is required to make the decision of whether to use adaptive management in the first place, including what to monitor, and how to make incremental adjustment (p 2). These decisions must be made in a manner that fosters legitimacy (p 2).

Another useful bit in this article is the distinction made between governance and management and adaptive governance and adaptive management. These are captured in my notes (on file).

And, lastly, I found this line quite informative: “Failure of management through optimization to retain full range of ecosystem services is key message of scholars working on resilience theory” (p. 2). Resilience theory has been influenced to a large degree by the failure of management approaches that seek to optimize a resource, instead of ‘retaining its full range of ecosystem services’.

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