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If markets are framed as complex systems, then the pathways to impact are hard to anticipate, and the reasons for market under-performance may lead to intractable issues of power, culture and social norms. Adaptive management has been hailed as the way to deal with this uncertainty. Yet while the idea of being adaptive - modifying what we do in response to new conditions - is intuitively easy to grasp, examples of adaptive management remain elusive, and the term means many different things to many different people.

To avoid adding yet another term to the long list of development buzzwords, this brief draws lessons from the use of adaptive management in natural resource science. It looks at how adaptive management has moved from paper to practice, extracting a set of six principles underpinning its real-world application. Reflecting on their own journey running the Lab, an International Labour Organization (ILO) project using a market systems approach to improve working conditions in developing economies, the authors share how adaptive management could be used to unlock greater impact.