Even unmanaged ecosystems are characterized by combinations of stability and instability and by unexpected shifts in behavior from both internal and external causes. That is even more true of ecosystems managed for the production of food or fiber. Data are sparse, knowledge of processes limited, and the act of management changes the system being managed. Surprise and change is inevitable. Here we review methods to develop, screen, and evaluate alternatives in a process where management itself becomes partner with the science by designing probes that produce updated understanding as well as economic product.