Introducing a practice perspective on monitoring for adaptive management

Simon West, Ruth Beilin, Hendrik Wagenaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Adaptive management (AM) is one of the most prominent ways ecologists contribute to ecosystem management, policy, and planning. AM treats management actions as experiments to monitor and learn from, creating a central role for ecologists in constructing the monitoring programs intended to guide learning. Yet, ecologists have found monitoring for AM challenging. They face a daunting series of dilemmas: How to produce monitoring programs that are responsive to management goals and provide clear signals for action, in ever-changing social-ecological contexts, and in light of impending deadlines, limited funding and available skills? The applied ecological literature has so far struggled to account for the ways in which these dilemmas are experienced and resolved “on the ground.” We address this problem by using contemporary practice theory to develop a practice perspective on monitoring for AM. Practice theory foregrounds the activities of science, viewing knowledge and context as products of practical action. We develop our practice perspective, rooted in pragmatist philosophy and relational thinking, through an empirical case study of a group of ecologists tasked with developing an adaptive approach to the restoration of threatened vegetation in an Australian national park. A practice perspective enables us to trace in real time the myriad experiential, situated, practical judgments made by the scientists to navigate the tricky dilemmas they encounter. We thus highlight the messy complexities of scientific knowledge production, while retaining a commitment to the value of science for management. Our work is relevant for ecologists working at the science-policy interface because it reveals the embodied competencies essential for the production of usable knowledge. Our focus on the temporality of ecological fieldwork—the progression of monitoring in unfolding time—helps to extend practice-based research in environmental management. By providing a relational account of practice, knowledge, and context in applied scientific research, we contribute to efforts in the environmental and sustainability sciences to develop relational understandings of people and nature. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-405
Number of pages19
JournalPeople and Nature
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes


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