E5: Doing and Learning in a Noisy, Complex World: The Adaptive Management Card Game

Effectively bridging science and policy requires finding a balance between doing and learning. However, scientists, decision-makers, policymakers, and stakeholders face many challenges that limit their ability to implement interventions and learn about their effectiveness. These challenges include increasing need to demonstrate results quickly due to the urgency to address critical social-environmental problems and increasing scrutiny of decisions and needs for public transparencyamong others. At a fundamental level, these challenges reflect difficulties with either getting things done and/or effectively learning about whether interventions/actions are achieving intended outcomes.

Adaptive Management (AM) provides a way to address these challenges. AM has greatly advanced since the 1978 publication of C.S. “Buzz” Holling’s book, “Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management.” While they are widely varying approaches and interpretations (some rigorous in methods, some deficient) regarding how to apply AM, there remains strong support for it as demonstrated by its sustained and even increasing popularity as a tool for confronting uncertainties in different environmental contexts.

In this interactive session, participants will learn about AM by playing a card game developed by the facilitators and others at ESSA Technologies Ltd., a private consulting firm based in Vancouver, Canada, that has applied AM as a cornerstone of its work since 1979. Participants will reflect on their personal experience and how AM could have been used to improve a current or previous challenge related to how science is/was used in policy- or decision-making. They will receive their own cards and a reading list to support future discovery and understanding of AM. The session will leverage the insights and experience of the facilitators, two senior practitioners from ESSA, and their colleagues, who have developed AM plans across a range of situations and sectors, including endangered species recovery, habitat and ecosystem restoration, fisheries and water management, and management of industrial projects.


  • Marc Nelitz, Adaptive Management Lead, ESSA Technologies Ltd.
  • Jimena Eyzaguirre, International Team Director | Climate Change Adaptation Lead, ESSA Technologies Ltd.