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A Blog Post for Students and Beginners: What is co-management? An overview of definitions.

Updated: Aug 8

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) imbedded in this website used the literature database to define co-management as:

The joint administration or cooperative management of living resources, which aims to bridge the gap between centralized, state-level and local-level, community-based systems of resource management. It involves various levels of collaboration, ranging from simple consultation to the institutionalization of joint decision-making between central government and local resource users. In the context of sustainability sciences and public administration, co-management has been defined as “the collaborative process of bringing a plurality of knowledge sources and types together to address a defined problem and build an integrated or systems-oriented understanding of that problem” (Armitage et al. 2011, p. 996).

For myself, this definition seems long and unwieldy, but considering the complicated and contextual systems of co-management, it might have to be. In a Community Co-management course taught at Dalhousie University by Jamie Snook in fall 2022, our class was asked to keep track of different definitions of co-management. To start us off, Jamie shared the following three definitions:

  1. “Co-management has come to mean institutional arrangements whereby governments and Aboriginal entities (and sometimes other parties) enter into formal agreements specifying their respective rights, powers, and obligations with reference to the management and allocation of resources in a particular area of Crown lands and waters” (RCAP, 1997).

  2. “Our definition of co-management is the blending of these two systems of management [local-level indigenous and state-level] in such a way that the advantages of both are optimized, and the domination of one over the other is avoided" (Inuit Tapirisat of Canada quoted in RCAP) (RCAP, 1997).

  3. “The term co-management has been used in a broad sense to designate a wide array of arrangements for shared decision-making authority between government resource management agencies and community-based parties. These arrangements differ a great deal in the degree of power and initiative that is shared and in the scope and complexity of agreements. At the highest degree of power-sharing, a tribe or nation with treaty rights to fish might theoretically share jurisdiction with a government agency, and in practice at least share management authority” (Pinkerton, 1996, p. 56). 

In additional reading, Carlsson and Berkes (2005) share their definition as “power-sharing between the State and a community of resource users” (p. 1) with particular focus on the function (rather than structure) and process of “extensive deliberation, negotiation, and joint learning within problem-solving networks” (Abstract). Building on this, Natcher, David, and Hickey (2005), explain how co-management regimes often involve managing relationships between management partners and resource users from diverse cultures, value systems, perspectives, and backgrounds, when going about the work of stewarding resources. Co-management organizations can therefore act as bridges between knowledge systems, organizations, and resources, acting as common points in networks (Berkes and Armitage, 2009) In these cases, the process of co-management as partnership requires mutual respect, trust, transparency, and effective communication, which are themes discussed in a recent paper based on the experiences of multiple co-management boards under modern land claim agreements in the eastern arctic (Snook et al., 2019).

As identified by Berkes (1991), there are different “levels” of co-management systems, which are associated with varying “degrees of power-sharing between central government and local resource users” (p. 2). This makes co-management tough to define, as it must be taken in context in each situation. Additionally, it should be noted that governments and communities are also not homogenous entities and there are often a multitude of competing and/or collaborating interests and priorities present.

As I read more, I came to understand that ideally co-management is a process: the fluid act of participating in partnerships and relationships between governing bodies and resource users who may have different understandings, but who are working towards shared goals (in this context the goal is often sustainable management of living resources) or to solve shared problems.

Here are some key phrases that reverberate throughout many definitions:

  • Power-sharing and shared governance

  • Collaboration and partnership

  • Joint monitoring, research, and decision-making enhanced by multiple perspectives

  • Shared goals and space, but likely with different knowledge systems and perspectives present

  • Working to manage resources sustainably (including ecological, social, cultural, and economic sustainability)

  • Adaptive management

  • Stakeholder engagement and knowledge gathering

Practitioners: please feel free to share your own or favourite definition, key terms, or resources in the comments!


Armitage, D., Berkes, F., Dale, A., Kocho-Schellenberg, E., & Patton, E. (2011). Co-management and the co-production of knowledge: Learning to adapt in Canada’s Arctic. Global Environmental Change, 21(3), 995–1004.

Berkes, F., & Armitage, D. (2009). Co-management institutions, knowledge, and learning: Adapting to change in the Arctic. Études Inuit Studies, 33(1–2), 109–131.

Berkes, F., George, P., and Preston, R. (1991). Co-management: the evolution of the theory and practice of joint administration of living resources. Alternatives, 18: 12–18.

Carlsson, L., and Berkes, F. (2005). Co-management: Concepts and methodological implications. Journal of Environmental Management 75(1):65 – 76.

Pinkerton, E. (1996) “The Contribution of Watershed-Based Multi-Party Co-Management Agreements to Dispute Resolution: The Skeena Watershed Committee,” Environments 23(2): 51-68.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1997) Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Libraxus, Ottawa. 

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