Maintaining social welfare and opportunity in the face of severe ecological pressures requires frameworks for managing and governing long-term social–ecological change. In this paper we analyse two recent frameworks, adaptive management and transition management, outlining what they could learn from each other. Though usually applied in different domains, the two conceptual frameworks aim to integrate bottom-up and top-down approaches, and share a focus on the ability of systems to learn and develop adaptive capacity whilst facing external shocks and long-term pressures. Both also emphasize learning from experimentation in complex systems, but transition management focuses more on the ability to steer long-term changes in system functions, whilst adaptive management emphasizes the maintenance of system functions in the face of external change. The combination of iterative learning and stakeholder participation from adaptive management has the potential to incorporate vital feedbacks into transition management, which in turn offers a longer-term perspective from which to learn about and manage socio-technical and social–ecological change. It is argued that by combining insights from both frameworks it may be possible to foster more robust and resilient governance of social–ecological systems than could be achieved by either approach alone. The paper concludes by critically reflecting upon the challenges and benefits of combining elements of each approach, as has been attempted in the methodology of a research project investigating social–ecological change in UK uplands. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.