Watershed Management
Integrating Participatory Learning and
Adaptive Management for Sustainable
Vicente L. Lopes
University of Arizona
Crisis in Resource
Management Science
• Management practices are universal and are independent
of social context.
• New technologies better that those from the past and
represent “progress.”
• Erosion occurs because farmers are poor managers of
soil and water resources.
These views are deeply imbedded in the Western worldview
as developed in Europe in the 17th century.
The Western Worldview
• A mechanistic view of the natural world, based primarily
on Descartes’ philosophy, Bacon’s scientific method and
Newton’s mathematics (= Newtonian Worldview).
• It says that complex phenomena can be studied and
controlled by reducing them to their basic building
blocks (= Reductionism).
• Reductionism ultimately extends to humans, with
humans as agents obeying mechanistic laws.
How has the Newtonian Worldview
affected Resource Management?
• Management approaches presume that knowledge is
sufficient; that consequences of policy implementation
are predictable.
• Resources thought to be valuable only to the extent
that they create wealth (= Utilitarianism).
• A belief in unlimited material progress through
economic growth and technological progress.
How has the Newtonian Worldview
failed Resource Management?
• The new science divorced users from management:
• Stakeholders not involved in analysis and
• Management strategies based on land capability
rather than on the capacities and needs of people.
• Management strategies based on partial perspectives of
scientific disciplines; lack of a framework for integration.
The Purpose of the Seminar
To introduce a framework for resource management that
overcomes disconnects due to reductionist constructs. It
involves rethinking resource management science
• in a world of uncertainty and surprise using systems
approaches and adaptive management.
• by focusing on participatory learning and dialectic decision
Collaborative Resource Management
- Learning by Doing -
• Is an adaptive process;
• Founded on constructivism (as opposed to reductionism);
• Based on systems approaches;
• Acknowledges participatory learning;
• Uses a dialectic decision-making process.
Advantages of Implementing CRM at
the Watershed Scale
• The watershed is a natural unit for integrating
environmental, social and economic aspects of waterrelated problems.
• An appropriate scale for dealing with conservation and
enhancement of soil and water resources.
• There is a traditional recognition that natural resources are
part of interconnected systems and dependent on wholeecosystem (watershed) health.
Informing Disciplines
Adaptive Systems
“… realities exist in the form of multiple constructions,
socially and experimentally based, local and specific,
dependent for their form and content on the persons
who hold them…”
- Guba (1990:27)
Lessons from Constructivism
• The world is not just a perception but an interception.
• All truths are context-dependent, and contexts are
• No one understanding is complete, an integrated view
includes multiple perspectives.
• An exclusive method applied widely impoverishes our
vision of reality and excludes alternative solutions.
Participatory Learning
A dialectic, hermeneutic (meaning-making) process
consisting of repeated cycles of reflection and action,
in which participants seek to answer a question of
importance to them.
Lessons from Participatory Learning
• Stakeholders included in all phases of the management
• Decisions achieved through a dialectic process between
• Experimental results interpreted through interactions and
owned by all the stakeholders.
Adaptive Systems Theory
• Social-ecological systems are unpredictable because they
contain numerous nested non-linear feedbacks.
• These systems go through adaptive cycles of growth,
maturation, destruction and renewal (Gunderson & Holling
• Threshold dynamics can cause unforeseen sudden
changes (surprise) that affect people’s health, ecosystem
productivity and social vitality.
Lessons from Adaptive Systems
• Conserving the current state of ecosystems cannot be
the goal for resource management.
• The goal is to be able to adapt to change, uncertainty
and surprises.
Adaptive Management
“… a systematic process for continually improving
management policies and practices by learning from the
outcomes of operational programs...” - Nyberg (1998)
Adaptive Management Cycle
the needs
Monitor the
a plan of action
the plan
Lessons from Adaptive Management
• Current knowledge treated as operating hypotheses.
• Management policies and practices must be evaluated
against experimental outcomes.
• Management goals may change with experience or with
shifts in social priorities.
How would the new approach change
Watershed Management?
• Watershed research and development would reflect the
different views and objectives of local stakeholders.
• It would focus on the interactions of humans with each
other and with their natural environment rather than
exclusively on the natural resources.
• Stakeholders would become experts, instead of being
mere receivers of expert opinion.
Best Management Practices
(Traditional Approach)
Developed as generalized “truths.”
Identified by scientists through objective scientific
Best Management Practices
(Traditional Approach)
Derived as generalized “truths.”
Identified by scientists through objective scientific
Best Management Practices
(Collaborative Approach)
Developed for each of the individual contexts.
Identified though collaborative inquiry involving
scientists, policy makers and stakeholders.
Best Management Practices
(Collaborative Approach)
Developed for each of the individual contexts.
Identified though collaborative inquiry involving
scientists, policy makers and stakeholders.
• Stakeholders need to embrace a collaborative dialectic
process of decision making, experimentation and
• Scientists, local officials and stakeholders must all be
willing to learn skills outside their area of expertise.
• New language must be developed to facilitate
communication across disciplines and social backgrounds.
• Institutions must change modes of operation.
Initiating CWM project
Ensuring diversity among participants
Orienting participants
Agreeing on a framework for participation
Developing propositions for investigation
Identifying research needs/disciplinary focus
Devising ways of gathering data
Designing the inquiry project
Putting plans/designs into practice
Collecting data/assessing project impacts
Adjusting original project
Starting new cycle of inquiry