Discussed from the perspectives of chaos and complexity theory, this paper examines three approaches to the adaptation of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) organisations in the face of development pressures. First, conventional ‘reductionist’ approaches are shown to be at odds with the emerging understanding that complex ‘people-environment’ systems cannot be deconstructed into their causal components. Second, ‘inductionist’ approaches adopted to identify generic ‘rules’ for intervention are shown to take insufficient account of the behavioural idiosyncrasies that characterise human organisations. Third, and in response to the weaknesses of the first two approaches, complexity theory lends support to methods of ‘interest-based negotiation’ as a pathway to organisational facilitated self-restructuring. The paper argues that, within certain limits, methods of interest-based negotiation can be applied to solicit organisation-specific rules that draw CBNRM organisations away from development-induced conflict and social exclusion towards an ‘edge of chaos’ where creativity and adaptation flourish.