Optimizing dispatching policy in a networked, multi-machine system is a formidable task for both field experts and operations researchers due to the problem’s stochastic and combinatorial nature. This paper proposes an innovative variation of co-evolutionary genetic algorithm (CGA) for acquiring the adaptive scheduling strategies in a complex multi-machine system. The task is to assign each machine an appropriate dispatching rule that is harmonious with the rules used in neighbouring machines. An ordinary co-evolutionary algorithm would not be successful due to the high variability (i.e. noisy causality) of system performance and the ripple effects among neighbouring populations. The computing time for large enough populations to avoid premature convergence would be prohibitive. We introduced the notion of derivative contribution feedback (DCF), in which an individual rule for a machine takes responsibility for the first-order change of the overall system performance according to its participation in decisions. The DCFCGA effectively suppressed premature convergence and produced dispatching rules for spatial adaptation that outperformed other heuristics. The required time for knowledge acquisition was also favourably compared with an efficient statistical method. The DCF-CGA method can be utilized in a wide variety of genetic algorithm application problems that have similar characteristics and difficulties.