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Evaluation of adaptive management

Costs, benefits and stakeholder priorities of an adaptive management plan for waterbirds

Compared to the ‘normal’ practice in nature management, adaptive management with its systematic approach requires better organization and structuring. Adaptive management is therefore often seen as resource demanding. Is this really the case? We compare a concrete adaptive management plan to ‘business-as-usual’ practice as a case study and we conclude that the adaptive approach has a potential to deliver benefits, in terms of economic, social and environmental measures.



To determine the actual costs and benefits of a functional adaptive management plan, as well as to establish stakeholder preferences and priorities for anticipated outcomes of the plan. In addition, to identifying preliminary and potential success criteria to evaluate similar adaptive management plans in the future.

Project description

Continued increases in goose populations in Europe have attracted the attention of collaborative management strategies involving multiple stakeholders to address the environmental, economic and social impacts caused by geese.

One such initiative is the international species management plan for the Svalbard population of pink-footed goose. It is the first international management in Europe, carried out under the auspices of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA), to regulate a migrant waterbird population using an adaptive harvest management approach. However, the involvement of multiple stakeholders to agree on objectives and actions was seen as costly and raised questions about whether the expected benefits of an adaptive management approach would outweigh its costs.

To answer concerns from authorities contributing to the plan we first identified its costs and determined potential benefits of using a simple 'Cost-Benefit Analysis' (CBA). We compared two scenarios: maintaining the goose population at an agreed target of 60,000 geese versus a situation where no action was taken, the so-called 'business-as-usual', whereby the goose population was predicted to rise to 134,000 geese in 2022. We show that the international management plan has the potential to deliver significant net benefit in avoided crop damage payments in comparison to the costs of running the plan's annual management cycle e.g.  working group meetings, monitoring, analysis of population and harvest data. However, our analysis also raised questions about what should be considered as gains and losses, how these were distributed across different stakeholder groups and what were valued aspects of the plan.

We used a method called 'Analytical Hierarchy Process' (AHP) to determine the collective preferences of the plan’s anticipated outcomes amongst its international working group, as well as to determine differences in priorities amongst stakeholder representatives within the working group. The collective preferences of the working group prioritised environmental outcomes above those of economic or social e.g. maintaining a stable population and the ecological integrity of its habitats. Minimizing agricultural losses was the only economic benefit that was ranked within the top 5 prioritised outcomes. However, there were subtle differences in priorities between stakeholder representatives within the working group e.g.  bird-protection representatives prioritized the restoration of habitats above all other outcomes, whilst agriculture representatives prioritized reducing crop damages.

Our analyses also showed that aspects integral to adaptive management were appreciated. Coordination, learning, confidence building and compliance were aspects of the process that were given highest priorities as social outcomes. The results of this study indicate that evaluations of  adaptive management should be based on a wider range of benefits, both goal and process oriented, accounting for the many ways gains and losses (both monetary and non-monetary) can be valued by different stakeholder groups. We conclude that adaptive management, as a deliberative and consensus based approach can help collective agreement on objectives, values ​​and success criteria. The challenge is to employ appropriate institutions, mechanisms and methods to openly engage diverse sectors of society to feedback their preferences, priorities and debate differing values as part of formalised evaluations.

You can read the entire report on the AEWA website (English only).