Complexity and Adaptive Policy Systems: CALFED as an Emergent Form of Governance for Sustainable Managemennt of Contested Resources


  • David Booher Center for Collaborative Policy
  • Judith Innes University of California Berkelley


adaptive management, collaborative governance, resource management, sustainable development


In the 1990's, California's paralyzing conflict over the San Francisco Bay-Delta led to the creation of the CALFED process, a collaborative effort involving 25 state and federal agencies and dozens of major stakeholders that evolved to adaptively manage this massive water system. Unlike traditional governance institutions based on hierarchical command and control structures, CALFED is characterized by networks of stakeholders and agency officials who have worked together in a largely self-organizing way. This process has led to adaptation of system operations and created innovative practices such as the Environmental Water Account, which is a complex water banking system designed to deal in a real time way with environmental needs. CALFED has had significant success in improving water and ecosystem management practices. The story of CALFED reflects emergent practices of governance and illustrates the challenges that arise as collaborative self-organizing governance coexists with traditional forms. The science of complex adaptive systems provides a rich source for understanding governance models such as CALFED and their potential to improve public policy. This paper reports on some of the results of over ten years of research carried out by scholars at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at the University of California Berkeley ( and the Center for Collaborative Policy at California State University Sacramento (

Author Biographies

David Booher, Center for Collaborative Policy

Senior Policy Advisor, Center for Collaborative Policy; Adjunct Faculty, Department of Public Policy and Administration, Ca. State University Sacramento

Judith Innes, University of California Berkelley

Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California Berkeley



How to Cite

Booher, D., & Innes, J. (2006). Complexity and Adaptive Policy Systems: CALFED as an Emergent Form of Governance for Sustainable Managemennt of Contested Resources. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2006, Sonoma, CA, USA. Retrieved from



Organizational Transformation & Social Change