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Adaptive Governance and Evolving Solutions to Natural Resource Conflicts - WP 07/03

Publication Details

  • Adaptive Governance and Evolving Solutions to Natural Resource Conflicts
  • Published: Mar 2007
  • Status: Current
  • Author: Guerin, Kevin
  • JEL Classification: Q28; Q58
  • Hard copy: Available in HTML and PDF formats only.

Adaptive Governance and Evolving Solutions to Natural Resource Conflicts

NZ Treasury Working Paper 07/03

Published March 2007

Author: Kevin Guerin


New Zealand is facing increasing challenges in managing natural resources (land, freshwater, marine space and air quality) under pressures from domestic (population growth, agricultural intensification, cultural expectations) and international (climate change) sources.

These challenges can be described in terms of managing ‘wicked problems’; i.e. problems that may not be understood fully until they have been solved, where stakeholders have different world views and frames for understanding the problem, the constraints affecting the problem and the resources required to solve it change over time, and no complete solution is ever actually found. 

Adaptive governance addresses wicked problems through a framework to engage stakeholders in a participative process to create a long term vision.  The vision must identify competing goals and a process for balancing them over time that acknowledges conflicts cannot always be resolved in a single lasting decision.  Circumstances, goals and priorities can all vary over time and by region.  The Resource Management Act can be seen as an adaptive governance structure where frameworks for resources such as water may take years to evolve and decades to fully implement.

Adaptive management is about delivery through an incremental/experimental approach, limits on the certainty that governments can provide and stakeholders can demand, and flexibility in processes and results.  In New Zealand it also requires balancing central government expertise and resources, with local authorities which can reflect local goals and knowledge, but have varying resources and can face quite distinct issues of widely differing severity.

It is important to signal the incremental, overlapping, iterative and time-consuming nature of the work involved in developing and implementing adaptive governance and management frameworks.  Managing the expectations of those involved as to the nature of the process and their role in it, and the scope and timing of likely outcomes, is key to sustaining participation.


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1.  Introduction

2.   New Zealand’s natural resource management challenges

  • 2.1.   Impacts of change and making it last
  • 2.2.   Can our institutions adapt?

3.   Adaptive governance - defining a vision

  • 3.1.   Managing complexity
  • 3.2.   Sustainable development
  • 3.3.   Resilience and realistic goals
  • 3.4.   Adaptive governance and defining a vision

4.   Adaptive management – delivering the vision

  • 4.1.   Adaptive Management
  • 4.2.   Challenges
  • 4.3.   Summary

5.   Future paths for New Zealand

6.   Conclusion

7.   Glossary

8.   References

twp07-03.pdf (246 KB) pp. 1–37



I would like to thank David Galt in particular, Sue Powell, Rienk Asscher and Michele Lloyd for comments made on drafts of or presentations on this paper.


This document was commissioned by the New Zealand Treasury.  However, the views, opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in it are strictly those of the author(s), and do not necessarily represent and should not be reported as those of the New Zealand Treasury.  The New Zealand Treasury takes no responsibility for any errors or omissions in, or for the correctness of, the information contained in this paper.

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