A Decade of Adaptive Governance Scholarship: Synthesis and Future Directions


The authors survey the development of the adaptive governance concept, which they define as “A range of interactions between actors, networks, organizations, and institutions emerging in pursuit of a desired state for social-ecological systems” (p. 6). Flexible, polycentric networks of diverse stakeholders can better address the uncertainty and complexity of change in social-ecological systems than centralized, top-down, nationally-scaled governance institutions. Adaptive governance arrangements are able to learn, to better scale governance to the scale of the problem, and to realize adaptive principles like redundancy, diversity, and polycentricity. The authors then develop an agenda for future research to explore how a desirable state gets defined, how adaptive governance emerges in practice, and what institutions pose obstacles to adaptive governance.


Brian C. Chaffin, Hannah Gosnell, and Barbara A. Cosens

Publication Date



Ecology and Society (vol. 19, iss. 3, art. 56)



Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Systems Addressed

Ecosystems • Social Order and Governance

Resource Theme

Policy and Practice • Sustainability and Transition
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