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6  Conclusion

The discussion in this paper has illustrated the range of issues involved in delivering robust and effective responses to ‘wicked’ problems, focusing on using natural resource management issues such as water and land use.   

It has shown that achieving and applying agreement on the problems faced and how to address them requires linking vision and implementation in a mutually reinforcing process over what may be quite lengthy periods.  Such a linkage requires an informed consensus of stakeholders and effective institutions, as well as recognition that it will often not be possible to agree on a single set of outcomes at any point in time or resolve conflicts among those outcomes in any single lasting set of decisions. 

Rather, any vision may recognise conflicting demands and a process for balancing them over time.    The RMA can be seen as providing such a structure.  Adaptive management approaches more broadly attempt to deal with such conflicts, within the overall vision, through a wide and flexible policy toolkit and processes to incorporate changes in science, information, and socio-economic and environmental priorities. 

The necessary institutions are likely to involve varying levels of central government, local government and stakeholder involvement to suit the specific circumstances.  Such variations may require explicit acceptance of a more flexible and diverse system of governance for environmental issues in New Zealand as demonstrated in the Fiordland, Lake Taupo and Rotorua Lakes initiatives cited earlier. 

Actions should avoid imposing unnecessary limitations on future options but facilitate evolution of appropriate solutions over time (which may vary by region).   This is not about “picking winners” but letting winners emerge and evolve over time in response to changing demands and opportunities – what can be seen as experimental/incremental policy or institutional learning. [58]

Such an approach requires policy frameworks that acknowledge the need for flexibility and incorporate informal and formal institutions with incentives to seek realistic compromises, and able to make adjustments when required.  It also requires a flexible toolkit, ranging from regulation (prescriptive or outcome-based), to market instruments that can signal changing conditions to users and encourage and reward innovative responses, and informal or non-binding tools such as agreed strategies.  Whatever tools are used need to be well grounded and sustained over the longer term.

Finally, it is important to signal the incremental, overlapping, iterative and time-consuming nature of developing and implementing adaptive governance and management frameworks.  Managing the expectations of those involved as to the nature of their roles (e.g. consultative or decision-making), and the limited scope of likely outcomes from any individual project, is key to sustaining such complex processes over what may be decades rather than years of development and implementation.


Notes

  • [58]A recent study of water reforms worldwide reached similar conclusions, concluding that “the most crucial lessons for institutional design from the studies in this volume concern carefully considering the time dimension of water rights reform, particularly the importance of closely linking legal and regulatory practices with learning from past practices and pilot implementation, allowing enough time for stakeholder participation and for institutional change, and establishing enabling institutional frameworks adaptable to evolving basin priorities” (Bruns 2005, p306).
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