Understanding how institutions change is critical to improving environmental governance at all scales. In this paper we explore the concept of ‘institutional work’ within broader theorising about institutional change and evolving governance. Institutional work focuses on the role of actors in creating, maintaining, or disrupting institutional frameworks (Lawrence et al., 2009. It is a concept that has been proposed in the organisational studies literature, and offers promising opportunities for pushing forward thinking on institutional change, which remains one of the most pertinent but challenging topics for strengthening environmental governance in a complex and rapidly changing world. In this paper, we rethink and redefine institutional work to make it fit for use in the context of multi-actor, multi-level environmental governance. We survey key theories about institutional change in the literature, and argue that institutional work should have a central place within this theorising. Drawing on these insights, we argue that institutional work should involve both the actions taken by actors, as well as the resulting effects. We identify a critical need for attention to the multi-actor nature of institutional work in environmental governance, including its fundamentally political character, the cumulative effects of action taken by multiple actors, and communicative and discursive dimensions. More attention also needs to be given to the temporal dimensions of institutional work such as the recurring and sequential order of actions. Overall, the concept of institutional work opens up new possibilities for tackling the longstanding challenge of institutional change in environmental governance.

The paper is published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management

Beunen, R. & Patterson, J.J.  (2017) Institutional Change in Environmental Governance: Exploring the Concept of ‘Institutional Work’. Journal of  Environmental Planning and Management. Online first: DOI:10.1080/09640568.2016.1257423