Adaptive management

The term 'adaptive management' refers to adaptation that goes beyond the usual adaptation involved in good management - modifying plans in response to changes in circumstances or understanding, and using information to inform these decisions.

Adaptive management refers to an approach to managing under conditions of ongoing uncertainty which represents a paradigm shift from classic, linear approaches to planning, implementation and evaluation. 

This approach to using information is needed when it is not possible to gather sufficient information at the planning stage to be able to make detailed plans.  It involves deliberately taking actions in order to learn and adapt as needed under conditions of ongoing uncertainty. 

Adaptive management has become increasingly relevant in response to rapidly changing situations, including the COVID-19 pandemic and is one of BetterEvaluation's current priority areas for content development and engagement.

Resources available on the BetterEvaluation knowledge platform include:

  • our working papers which outline the different ways adaptive management has been developed and applied, including its origins in natural resource management and software development, and tools and methods
  • links to organisations and initiatives focused on monitoring and evaluation for adaptive management - see below for links
  • blogs discussing the issue with links to additional resources - see images below

Other initiatives focused on adaptive management include:

Further reading:

  • Ramalingam, B. Wild, L. and Buffardi, A. (2019) Making adaptive rigour work: Principles and practices for strengthening monitoring, evaluation and learning for adaptive management. London: ODI.
  • Ramalingam, B. Wild, L. and Buffardi, A. (2019) Annex | Making adaptive rigour work: the adaptive rigour inventory – version 1.0
  • Britt, H. US Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. (2013). Discussion note: Complexity aware monitoring.
  • Williams, B., & Hummelbrunner, R. (2010). Systems concepts in action a practitioner's toolkit. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press. Retrieved from
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