Core capacities for adaptive environmental governance

Environmental researchers in many sectors and fields have made great strides over the last decade in understanding the importance of more effectively connecting science and governance for environmental outcomes.

These relationships sit at the heart of the concept of Adaptive Governance. In this program we seek to understand, articulate, explore and examine those dimensions of governance and science that support or constrain the practice of adaptive environmental governance.

Drawing on the Science and Technology Studies concept of co-production, we regard adaptive environmental governance—social and political arrangements that draw on science to systematically learn from ongoing interventions for improved environmental and social outcomes—we are particularly concerned with the capacities that constrain or enable more productive relationships between science and governance for environmental outcomes, and the institutions that impact positively or negatively on those capacities. These capacities may be human, technological, financial or organisational.

The program seeks to contribute to practice of adaptive governance for environmental change by inquiring into:

  • Understanding the nature of the relationships between science / research and governance, in both ‘adaptive’ and ‘regular’ decision-making contexts (what is going on?)
  • Identifying core capacities that are needed to engage with or deploy adaptive governance as an approach to responding to environmental change (what is needed to develop/enhance adaptive approaches?)
  • Critically examining how science and governance can be connected in more strategic, nuanced and sensitive ways, from an institutional perspective e.g. research programs (how can institutions hinder /help?)
  • Focusing on the mid-range institutions that are often obscured or excluded from studies addressing either the project / program scale, or the global / political scale (how can adaptive approaches be embedded across multiple scales and institutional contexts?)
  • Drawing from post-colonial / STS / other critical study areas, examining the ethical, political and normative dimensions of the relations between science and governance, including across scales; North-South programs; jurisdictions etc.
  • Actively engaging with researchers and practitioners seeking to build better adaptive capacities in environment / sustainability-related issues or sectors, and continuing to learn from experience
  • Education for effective adaptive governance practitioners

Steering committee

  • Professor Steve Dovers, Director, Fenner School of Environment and Society (Chair)
  • Dr Mark Stafford Smith, Science Director, Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO
  • Dr Louis Lebel, Director, Unit for Social and Environmental Research, Chiang Mai University
  • Dr Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Theme leader Adaptive governance, networks and learning.


Participating members are drawn from ANU, CSIRO and University of Canberra.

Project members from external Institutions:

  • Steve Hatfield Dodds, CSIRO
  • Leonie Pearson U Canberra
  • Jacki Schirmer, U Canberra
  • Tom Measham, CSIRO

Updated:  16 July 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director Fenner School/Page Contact:  Webmaster Fenner School