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International Institute for Innovation in Governance

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On space, planning, people, culture

The limits of transparency

The paper explores the implications of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory for the current debates on the nature of organizational transparency as an element of good governance. If transparency implies the exchange of information, then it may be taken, at a metaphorical level, to constitute a dimension of metabolism theorized by Bertalanffy’s open systems model. Yet, the model likewise lays bare some of the limits of transparency idea. Bertalanffy’s work on the nature of emergent properties, his critique of the stimulus–response scheme, and his perspectivistic account of the systemic perception of the environment all point in the direction of the impossibility of full transparency. Later systems‐theoretic work on operational closure and self‐referentiality has reinforced and even radicalized these insights, which are shown to resonate with some of the key arguments in the contemporary economics, sociology of knowledge, and business ethics.

Valentinov, V., Verschraegen, G., & Van Assche, K. (2019). The limits of transparency: A systems theory view. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

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Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land- and sea-based collective dilemma

Coral reefs are subject to multiple stressors. Global stressors include climate change and ocean acidification, while local stressors include overfishing and eutrophication. Some stressors stem from land-based activities, like intensive agriculture or sewage production, while others are sea-based, like fishing or diving. Processes that aim to tackle coral degradation are transpiring on different levels. These include the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, and the Coral Triangle Initiative, which foresees the installation of marine protected areas and conservation planning. This paper uses Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) to understand the current processes of changes in governance influencing coral reef health. EGT sees the change of governance as an evolutionary process. It emphasises that discourses play a crucial role in understanding governance evolution. Power, in particular power-knowledge in the Foucaultian sense, plays a crucial role as a driving factor. Governance does not change in a vacuum, but according to EGT is shaped by path, inter- and goal dependencies. Of late, the role of materiality – ecological and technological conditions – has been stressed as an important driver of governance change. The paper considers the main threats to corals identified in the literature and analyses how those factors mentioned by EGT help us to understand the observed governance changes. The case of coral reefs was chosen as it represents an example of extremely diverse processes of institutional changes. Therefore, it is well suited to learn if EGT helps in understanding governance changes observed in the marine sector.

Schlüter, A., Vance, C., & Ferse, S. (2019). Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land-and sea-based collective dilemmaMarine Policy, 103505.

The social, the ecological, and the adaptive.

Based on biological insights, Ludwig von Bertalanffy coined general systems theory (GST) and later expanded his perspective, exploring what GST could mean for other disciplines and other types of systems. We make a case for the relevance, or rather, the importance, of GST for coming to a new understanding of the resilience of social‐ecological systems and the possible forms of adaptive governance that might increase such resilience. After analyzing the conceptual structure of the resilience paradigm and of GST, we identify concepts in resilience thinking where GST provides new confirmation or modifies the perspective: complexity, evolution, self‐organization, and adaptation. We discuss post‐Bertalanffy developments in the interdisciplinary and twinned fields of systems theory and complexity studies that can provide bridging concepts between GST and resilience thinking. In conclusion, we emphasize the need for both cognitive and institutional resilience to foster adaptive governance. We highlight the management of couplings between systems and the switching between forms of understanding and forms of organization, where self‐organization and more centralized forms of steering can alternate and combine.

Van Assche, K., Verschraegen, G., Valentinov, V., & Gruezmacher, M. (2019). The social, the ecological, and the adaptive. Von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory and the adaptive governance of social‐ecological systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science. https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.2587

The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock-in

Over the last 15 years, research on carbon lock‐in has investigated why decarbonization evolves so slowly in Western industrialized countries. In this paper, we argue that the role of discourses has been overlooked in the literature on carbon lock‐in. We argue that discourses are both part of lock‐in mechanisms and, using the concept of discursive turning points, important factors in explaining change. This implies that we need to carefully investigate the dominant discourses that constitute and justify the very technologies, institutions and behaviors of the status quo. For the case of the German energy transition, we demonstrate the importance of discursive turning points for overcoming carbon lock‐in, based on a literature review. Germany’s long‐standing lock‐in of fossil fuels and nuclear power was undermined by the rise of the energy transition discourse. This discourse transitioned from a very marginal position to dominance through a number of factors, winning against the energy mix discourse. Over time the energy transition discourse became de‐radicalized. Coal has been able to defend its role in the German energy mix in the name of affordability and energy security. While renewables continue to grow, this happens alongside a remaining carbon lock‐in. We conclude that discursive lock‐in and discursive turning points are useful analytical tools that help to explain how the transition to renewable energies unfolds. In future research, the interaction between discursive lock‐ins and other types of lock‐in should be investigated.

Buschmann, P., & Oels, A. (2019). The overlooked role of discourse in breaking carbon lock‐in: The case of the German energy transitionWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, e574.

The risky business of planning reform

In many countries throughout the EU recent planning reforms have reduced the possibilities for comprehensive and long-term planning. This paper explores the factors that explain why one of these countries, Poland, lost many of its tools for coordinating the policies and practices affecting spatial organization at the local level. The study, based on the discourses of spatial planners, traces the institutionalisation of local spatial planning in Poland since the 1920s identifying dominant policy paradigms and internal and external determinants leading to the reform in the early 1990s. It shows that the planning reform was driven by attempts to adapt planning institutions to changing political and legal environments after 1989. The new institutional framework that emerged from the reform failed to introduce alternative and effective forms of local spatial planning. Once options for planning were reduced, it became difficult to revive them. The case of Poland shows that a revision of long-term planning institutions might have unexpected outcomes and that it might be difficult to restore particular instruments and planning approaches once they have been removed from the toolbox of the planning system institutionalisation of local spatial planning in Poland since the 1920s identifying dominant policy paradigms and internal and external determinants leading to the reform in the early 1990s. It shows that the planning reform was driven by attempts to adapt planning institutions to changing political and legal environments after 1989. The new institutional framework that emerged from the reform failed to introduce alternative and effective forms of local spatial planning. Once options for planning were reduced, it became difficult to revive them. The case of Poland shows that a revision of long-term planning institutions might have unexpected outcomes and that it might be difficult to restore particular instruments and planning approaches once they have been removed from the toolbox of the planning system.

Niedziałkowski, K., & Beunen, R. (2019). The risky business of planning reform–The evolution of local spatial planning in Poland. Land Use Policy, 85, 11-20.

Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional Change

Colin Hay’s and Vivien Schmidt’s responses to my previous critical engagement with their respective versions of neo-institutionalism raise the issue of how scholars may account for the ideational power of political processes and how ideas may generate both stability and change. Even though Hay, Schmidt, and I share a common philosophical ground in many respects, we nevertheless diverge in our views about how to account for ideational power and for actors’ ability to navigate a social reality that is saturated with structures and meaning. There continues to be a need for an analytical framework that incorporates discourse and a constitutive logic based upon the power in ideas. Post-structural institutionalism (PSI) analyzes discourse as knowledge claims by means of the concept of a constitutive causality, analytically identified in respect to institutions, such that the substantive content of ideas/discourse provides ideational power and generates immanent change.

Larsson, O. (2019). Advancing Post-Structural Institutionalism: Discourses, Subjects, Power Asymmetries, and Institutional ChangeCritical Review, 1-22.

An evolutionary perspective on experimental local governance arrangements

Population decline, welfare state reforms and austerity measures pressurise the liveability of rural areas in the Netherlands and call upon local governments and communities to adapt and renew their mode of governance. This paper reports on three Dutch experimental governance arrangements which are analysed through the lens of Evolutionary Governance Theory. The study focuses on how decision-making roles change while these arrangements unfold and how the three municipalities institutionalise these changes in the course of time. The study produces three main conclusions. First, the readiness and preparedness of local governments to shift decision-making roles with citizens proved to be of main influence on governance change. Second, local residents’ commitment importantly affected the progress of the experiments, while social cohesion and tangible outputs strongly influenced the extent and continuity of such commitment. Third, although the arrangements took place in the same period of time and abovementioned context, the level of institutionalisation of shifting roles between government and residents differed among the cases. Certain pathways of evolving decision-making roles seem to be more stable than others. It is in this area that the extent of both formal and informal institutionalisation seems to play an important role.

Ubels, H., Bock, B., & Haartsen, T. (2019). An evolutionary perspective on experimental local governance arrangements with local governments and residents in Dutch rural areas of depopulationEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2399654418820070.

Governance and the coastal condition: Towards new modes of observation, adaptation and integration

The conceptual framework of evolutionary governance theory (EGT) is deployed and extended to rethink the idea of coastal governance and the possibilities of a coastal governance better adapted to challenges of climate change and intensified use of both land and sea. ‘The coastal condition’ is analyzed as a situation where particular modes of observation and coordination were possible and necessary, and those observations (and derived calculations of risk and opportunity) are valuable for the governance of both land and an argument is constructed for a separate arena for coastal governance, without erasing the internal logic of pre-existing governance for land and sea. This entails that coastal governance is destined to be a place of (productive) conflict, as much as of policy integration. Policy integration will be more difficult and more important in coastal governance, as this is an arena where the effects of many land based activities and activities at sea become visible and entangled. Policy integration in coastal governance does however require deep knowledge of the governance path and existing forms of integration there (e.g. in planning), and it exists in an uneasy tension with the requirements of adaptive governance. This tension further contributes to the complexity and complex-prone character of coastal governance. Neither complexity nor conflict can be avoided, and coastal governance as an image of balanced decision- making is (positively) presented as a productive fiction.

Van Assche, K., Hornidge, A. K., Schlüter, A., & Vaidianu, N. (2019). Governance and the coastal condition: Towards new modes of observation, adaptation and integrationMarine Policy.

 

Institutional Work in Environmental Governance

In this Special Issue of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, we interrogate and evaluate the concept of institutional work in the domain of environmental governance, by bringing together diverse papers spanning a range of substantive and theoretical approaches. The papers apply the concept of institutional work across fields of regional development, water governance, climate change adaptation, and urban planning, and disciplines of planning, sociology, political science, geography, and anthropology. As a whole, the Special Issue contributes to a growing body of literature exploring the role of agency in processes of institutional change. This has implications for environmental governance scholarship, which emphasizes the role of institutions across all scales from local to global and to understanding transformations in governance systems within which institutional change plays a central role.

Papers in the Special Issue

The special issue begins with a paper by Raoul Beunen and James Patterson titled “Analysing institutional change in environmental governance: exploring the concept of ‘institutional work’”, which critically reflects on the notion of institutional work and its potential for contributing to understanding institutional change in environmental governance. It elaborates on the intellectual background of the concept beginning with its use in the domain of organisational studies, but then extends into some of the particularities of the domain of environmental governance. This leads to recommendations about how institutional work should be reconceptualised to encompass both purposive and non-purposive actions, and the effects of these actions.

Lotte Bontje, Sharlene Gomes, Zilin Wang and Jill Slinger, in their paper “A narrative perspective on institutional work in environmental governance – insights from a beach nourishment case study in Sweden” study the different narratives through which actors link discourses with institutions. These narratives reflect ideas about social-environmental issues, the relevance and impact of existing institutions, and the need for alternative ones. It shows how these different narratives function as institutional work.

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher and Leith Deacon, in their paper “Mapping institutional work as a method for local strategy; learning from boom/bust dynamics in the Canadian west” explore the theoretical and the practical relevance of institutional work for analysing complex landscape dynamics. They show that institutional work can be a useful analytical tool for researchers and practitioners alike, to inform strategising for institutional change.

Saskia Bisschops and Raoul Beunen, in their paper “A new role for citizens’ initiatives: the difficulties in co-creating institutional change in urban planning” apply institutional work to analyse how different forms of institutional work interact and how these interactions are shaped by various contingencies. They show that both purposive and non-purposive actions matter, and that attempts to change institutions might lead to a series of actions through which institutions are in fact maintained, rather than changed.

Emmy Bergsma, Mendel Giezen, Bart Schalkwijk and Chris Büscher, in their paper “Adapting to new realities: an analysis of institutional work in three cases of Dutch infrastructure planning” explore different institutional environments in which Dutch infrastructure planning organisations try to shape institutional change. Their paper points to the nested nature of institutions and shows how a focus on institutional work can increase the reflective capacity of both researchers and organisations.

Tanya Heikkila and Andrea Gerlak, in their paper “Working on learning: how the institutional rules of environmental governance matter” build on the idea of reflective capacity by exploring how rules structuring an environmental governance arena can enable or constrain institutional work. They analyse how formal and informal rules shape learning processes, and point to forms of institutional work that can help to foster learning.

Monica Vasile, in her paper “The enlivenment of institutions: emotional work and the emergence of contemporary land commons in the Carpathian Mountains” places emphasis on the role of emotion in institutional work. This shows how institutional changes emerge from the complex relations between actions and actors, in which institutional work is often non-purposive. It also brings attention to the histories of specific places and to the interplay between institutions and encompassing flows of narratives.

Chris Riedy, Jennifer Kent and Nivek Thompson, in their paper “Meaning work: reworking institutional meanings for environmental governance” further explore the importance of meaning making processes. They draw on two cases studies, one about local democratic innovation employed by Noosa Council in Queensland, Australia and another about the international campaign to divest from fossil fuels, to analyse the narratives that actors create and mobilise in order to promote institutional changes. They show that institutional work may in practice centre on ‘meaning work’.

Lastly, Jeremy Pittman, in his paper “The struggle for local autonomy in biodiversity conservation governance” explores the multi-level context of institutional work, focussing on actions through which local actors aim to create and maintain local autonomy. Analysing biodiversity conservation in the Canadian prairies, it shows how local actors struggle to find a balance between higher level rules and local practices. This brings attention to the multiple sets of (formal and informal) institutions that matter in a particular context, and that institutional work may involve actors within a single arena or across different levels.

Patterson, J. J., & Beunen, R. (2019). Institutional work in environmental governance. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

The special issue was edited by Raoul Beunen and James Patterson from the Open Universiteit, the Netherlands. It is part of the research project Learning and Innovation in Resilient Systems.

 

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