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EGT

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.

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.

 

The Persistence of Tightly Coupled Conflicts. The Case of Loisaba, Kenya

Contributing to the debate on the multidimensional nature of resource-based conflicts in political ecology, and building upon Niklas Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory, we have studied the persistent and shifting nature of conflicts as well as their dependencies on other conflicts in and around Loisaba conservancy. This private conservancy is situated in northern Laikipia (Kenya). For a long time, its management was focused on wildlife conservation, high-end tourism and commercial ranching. Developments and events at neighbouring ranches and community conservation areas shifted this focus. Decades of more or less peaceful regional co-existence has recently transformed into conflictual, sometimes even violent situations. At first sight, these emergent conflicts seem related to recurrent droughts, competing resource dependencies, national elections, or incitements by wealthy and influential politicians. For this study, however, we conceptualise conflicts as particular kinds of discourses that emerge, exist and change. This happens not only according to their own internal logics, but also through their dependencies with other conflict discourses. In this paper, we characterise the relations between conflicts on a range from tight to loose couplings and introduce three related forms of coupling (overpoweringresisting, and resonating)to provide a more detailed understanding of how conflicts may interrelate.

Pellis A, Pas A, Duineveld M. The Persistence of Tightly Coupled Conflicts. The Case of Loisaba, Kenya. Conservation & Society 2018;16:387-96

Social licensing and mining in South Africa: Reflections from community protests at a mining site

Mining companies are increasingly being required to adhere to the requirements of a social licence to operate. Although this licence is largely seen as an informal agreement, the South African government is increasingly looking to formalise it. Social and labour plans and community trusts to ensure local ownership are two policy approaches used to foster the idea of a social licence to operate. We consider a case in which much conflict has been experienced. Based on 10 in-depth interviews and an assessment of court documents and media reports, our case study shows that community trusts should not be viewed as automatically ensuring a larger degree of local buy-in. They are problematic in many ways. In practice they could increase community conflict. They do not address historical concerns about dispossession and exclusion, and formalising local ownership in law will not necessarily resolve local conflicts. To create a community trust it is first necessary to identify a community, and communities are not necessarily unified structures. And finally, governance requirements complicate community trusts.

Matebesi, S., & Marais, L. (2018). Social licensing and mining in South Africa: Reflections from community protests at a mining siteResources Policy.

Social networks, collective action and the evolution of governance for sustainable tourism on the Gili Islands, Indonesia

This article examines how social networks among actors in the tourism sector have facilitated the evolution of self-organized institutions for governance on the island of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. Increasing tourism for SCUBA diving and nightlife is driving rapid social-ecological change and challenges for sustainability in relation to waste management, social-political cohesion and conservation. While strong social networks were a sufficient means to initiate governance among the island’s few early businesses in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, an increasing number of actors (i.e., new SCUBA businesses and hotels) and more tourists are challenging the ability of social networks to be the foundation of effective governance, where there is now an evident need for the evolution of governance to more effectively address sustainability challenges. This article combines quantitative social network analysis with the qualitative analysis of interview data, participant observations and an ethnographic examination of the island’s changing social-political sphere of cooperation to examine the evolution of governance. Our results can be separated into two parts. (1) From past to present, examining how governance institutions and collective action have emerged from strong social networks. (2) From present to future, how these social networks are being undermined as the foundation for the island’s governance institutions that they created, due to growth and changing social-ecological conditions. This article draws on Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) as an overarching frame to examine the linkages between social networks and collective action, looking specifically at the role of multi-level governance, institutional change, path dependencies and discourse analysis.

Partelow, S., & Nelson, K. (2018). Social networks, collective action and the evolution of governance for sustainable tourism on the Gili Islands, IndonesiaMarine Policy.

 

Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western Canada

This paper investigates the linkages between speculation and resilience in resource-based communities (boomtowns) susceptible to economic swings (boom/bust) and reflect on the actual and possible roles of spatial planning to stabilize communities under conditions of boom, bust and speculation. The findings are based on a nested case study method, where the Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia are investigated more in detail through semi-structured interviews (N = 145) in 12 case communities. The paper shows that spatial planning must be understood broadly to discern its effects on community resiliency, with resiliency understood as the coordination of spatial organization. Planning, then, is crucial at two stages of development: in the choice of a settlement model and afterwards in the spatial embodiment of that model. The paper further highlights the importance of expectations and managing expectations in understanding and re-thinking the linkages between speculation and resilience, and the importance of associated ideologies in risk assessment and conceptualizations of resilience.

Deacon, L., Van Assche, K., Papineau, J., & Gruezmacher, M. (2018). Speculation, Planning, and Resilience: Case studies from resource-based communities in Western CanadaFutures. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2018.06.008.

Re-learning Public Spaces Summer School: 28 th June – 30th June and July 3rd 2018 (AMSTERDAM/WAGENINGEN)

You are welcome to join the Re-learning Public Spaces Summer School: 28 th June – 30th June and 3rd July. The Summer School will further develop your thinking about the social impact of your research. It is connected to an event that turns around the concept of traditional academic conferences, in the sense that participants will spend most of their time doing fieldwork and generating new insights, rather than solely reporting on their ongoing research. The Summer School will thus have the set-up of an Action Research Lab.

You can find the learning outcomes on the website: theurbanpublic.com/summer-school/

Mapping institutional work

This paper investigates the potential of mapping institutional work in communities as a method for both analyzing and formulating local development strategy. Twelve Canadian case communities experiencing dramatic ups and downs (‘boom and bust towns’) serve as the empirical base. Analytically, it finds that institutional work for strategy takes on very diverse forms, some of them not described in the literature, and further identify a special class of institutional work associated with leadership. Normatively, it demonstrates that mapping institutional work can be a structured process of self-reflection underpinning strategy. For the Canadian case study, it finds that lack of local autonomy is often a stumbling block for strategy. More broadly, the paper conclude that mapping institutional work for strategy works best when governance evolutions are grasped as context, and when strategy itself is understood in its complex, multifaceted nature: a narrative, a way of linking institutions, and an institution in itself.

Van Assche, K., Gruezmacher, M., & Deacon, L. (2018). Mapping institutional work as a method for local strategy; learning from boom/bust dynamics in the Canadian west. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 1-21.

The paper is part of a special issue that explores the concept of institutional work in the context of environmental governance. It aims to develop a better insights in the actions that underly plannend and unplanned changes in evolving governance contexts.

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