The Earth system is experiencing social-environmental changes (for example, overexploitation of natural resources, biodiversity loss, and climate change) at a pace that is unprecedented in human history. In this context, adaptation is a societal response, which can minimise the adverse impacts of such changes. Successful adaptation rely on the capacity of individuals, communities, organisations and governments to adapt to different disturbances. It involves a better understanding of relevant conditions that enable society to prevent, mitigate and adapt to impacts of social-environmental changes. One of such conditions refers to institutions – that is, the sets of rules (legislation, policies, decision-making procedures) and social norms that structure human interactions; and, therefore affect how society respond to environmental change. While it has been recognised that institutions play a critical role in determining a system’s ability to adapt, there is still relatively limited efforts to assess the characteristics of institutions that enhance adaptive capacity. This study seeks to examine how institutions support adaptive capacity, and the underlying conditions for building and mobilising such capacity. It draws on case studies from natural resource management in Cambodia, Vietnam and Australia. Lessons from this study may prove useful to other natural resource management contexts and jurisdictions, particularly those featuring changing environmental, socio-economic and political settings.