Last week I attended the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation meeting in Providence, RI, USA. CERF meets every other year and I’ve been going fairly regularly since 2001. It is a very interdisciplinary meeting attended by people from all aspects of coastal science and management. In addition to being an exhibitor, I gave a talk and a workshop, and I attended as many talks as I could.
I heard several talks about adaptive resource management, which was new to me. I was struck by how similar adaptive management is to agile programming.
Adaptive management is a way to achieve a management goal (like reduced nutrients in a wetland) by collecting data and using that data to iteratively create policy in the face of uncertainty. This contrasts with a more linear path where managers work toward a goal without making iterative adjustments. The latter method can have managers working toward a goal for much longer before taking stock of whether or not their plan is working. Below is a diagram showing the cycle of adaptive resource management. (By Conservation Measures Partnership – Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6925415)
Agile programming is a method of iterative software development where products are created incrementally with iterative input from stakeholders. The data used to make adjustments at every iteration are input from the customer, performance of the product, and information about how the development team is working. This is contrasted with the waterfall method, wherein requirements and goals are decided in the beginning and developers make software with no further input from stakeholders. Below is a diagram showing the cycle of Agile software development. (From gcreddy.com)
These two systems are similar in that they focus on a cyclical process of decision making based on regular inputs, which is very helpful in a dynamic world, whether it be an estuary or the marketplace. Every iteration provides new information that can be used to solve problems and make better decisions in the next iteration. Both systems acknowledge that while the end goal may not change the most efficient path to that end goal may change. Stakeholder input is very important to both processes. The success or failure of each system is wholly dependent on proper implementation and due diligence from the start to agree on requirements, end goals, and standards.
Of course, both systems differ in their specific implementation because of their two very different contexts. Also, agile software development iterates over much shorter time periods than adaptive management, as short as every week, with daily check-ins called “stand ups”. Adaptive management usually iterates over an annual cycle, mostly because of the importance of seasonality to many life processes.
I think adaptive resource management is a good step toward being able to effectively care for important resources in a changing world. I enjoyed seeing old friends and colleagues at CERF and catching up on the latest developments in coastal science.