In conservation work, adaptive management can be defined as a process for the systematic management of complex biological systems, in which the unpredictable can and does occur. When we approach a problem, we take these steps: we think deeply about it; we develop a plan; we act on our assumptions; and we monitor, evaluate, and learn from the outcomes.
One of the most important components of adaptive management is the learning process, a structured method for understanding what works and what doesn’t. If a plan fails, why did it? Were the assumptions incorrect or were the actions poorly executed? Did the conditions change, or was the monitoring faulty? From these rigorous evaluations of our actions, we can make decisions based on data rather than trial and error. Adaptive management allows us to deepen our expertise over time, and to share what we have learned with others.
When we build capacity with our partners, we are providing them with new tools and skills to survive, adapt, and thrive in a changeable world. “Build” is an apt metaphor, because we work together to create frameworks on which communities can grow strong and gain control of their destinies. This may mean encouraging them to form associations that can interact effectively with external forces such as governments, or training them in skills such as GPS and other technologies that can help them protect their territories.
When we, as an organization, work to build capacity, we too look to increase our ability to respond to challenges. This may mean providing our staff with training, or if needed adding personnel. But in most cases, it involves analyzing the various building blocks that make up our institution and targeting improvements in critical areas.
In general, an ecosystem is healthy if it is sustainable—in other words, able to maintain its organization and its vitality over time. A healthy ecosystem should also be resilient, and this quality has increasing importance in the face of global climate change. External stresses will continue to converge upon tropical forests, but if their ecosystems are robust, they can stand strong and thrive.
How we determine the health of a given ecosystem varies from place to place. Even though there are various indicators we can measure, such as extent of forest cover, water quality, or number of species, a variety of social and political forces interact within ecosystems. These human entities, which have a range of needs that the ecosystems can provide, may have quite opposite ways of defining health. Therefore, we understand that evaluating ecosystem health requires adaptive definitions and assessments.
The term knowledge management encompasses the entire process of creating, using, managing, and sharing the knowledge and information of our organization. In essence, this management strategy helps us to learn from our own history and thus improve our efficiency and effectiveness.
Specific assets can be stories, photographs, testimonies, document archives, models, and the documentation of the successes and failures of our initiatives. There are a number of strategic objectives that can be met by devising robust knowledge management systems for ACT: enhancing our standing in the conservation community, improving both internal and external communications, furthering our understanding of partner communities, fortifying the brand, and in general, insuring that ACT continues to grow and learn.
A Life Plan is the collective voice of the community, which expresses in writing the goals for the future of that community. Aspirations regarding culture, education, traditional medicine and authority, language, and territory are articulated in the document. Life Plans also provide proposals for the sustainable management of the community’s territories. In Colombia, these Plans are recognized by the government, and are an essential part of the bureaucratic process that leads to the expansion of an indigenous reserve.
Compiling a Life Plan is an elaborate undertaking that involves input and consensus from all members of the community, including children.
In English, territory generally means a piece of land, often delineated by a political boundary. For many indigenous peoples, territory is the source of their identity. The word territory encapsulates not only their community’s land and the history embedded there: it also expresses culture, memory, sustenance, medicine, and spirit
Well-Being and Bienestar
In western cultures, the attainment of well-being—which can be defined as a state of being happy, healthy, and prosperous—is almost always a goal of the individual. The cultivation of certain personality traits leads to positive emotions, which lead to greater satisfaction and success, which in turn builds a happier society.
Our partner communities also have well-being (in Spanish, bienestar, or sometimes buen vivir) as a goal, though the path to it is different. For them, the state of well-being flows from the society to the individual, rather than the other way around. Each community defines well-being for themselves, though security, permanence, and social, physical, and cultural health are common themes in the quest for well-being.
For our partners, the achievement of autonomy is a top-tier marker of bienestar. So are strong community relationships, as well as cultures, which connect each person to the territories in which they live. If the land is healthy and thriving, so are the people.