International Institute for Innovation in Governance



Special Issue “Environmental Policy and Governance: Evolutionary Perspectives”

This Special Issue explores evolutionary perspectives on environmental policy and governance. It focuses on human attempts to plan, organize and steer their physical environment. Steering is a matter of coordination, of managing the effects of policy in the world and in governance itself. Environmental governance can be a matter of limiting damage to and enhancing the quality of physical environments, it can be natural resource governance and it can be focused on the development of rural economies—often tied to their physical environment. In other words, through environmental governance, people try to understand and attempt to organize their environment. The authors in this Special Issue demonstrate that understanding and organizing are constantly co-evolving. How something is conceptualized within governance and the position that perspective takes in governance, shapes and at the same time is shaped by traditions of organizing, rooted in the presence of particular actors, institutions and forms of knowledge. The co-evolution of these different elements never ceases, and therefore the interplay between power and knowledge takes places before, during and after the formulation of policies, plans and laws for the environment. Policies are reused, reinterpreted, reinforced and undermined in a context of changing actors, institutions and forms of knowledge implied in the taking of collectively binding decisions.

Why Governance Is Never Perfect: Co-Evolution in Environmental Policy and Governance

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher and Raoul Beunen

Editorial Full text

Evolutionary Perspectives on Environmental Governance: Strategy and the Co-Construction of Governance, Community, and Environment

Raoul Beunen, Kristof Van Assche and Monica Gruezmacher

The attention to sustainability transformations and related processes of learning, innovation, and adaptation has inspired a growing interest in theories that help to grasp the processes of change in governance. This perspective paper and the Special Issue of which it is part explore how evolutionary perspectives on environmental governance can enrich our understanding of the possibilities and limits of environmental policy and planning. The aim of this paper is to highlight some key notions for an evolutionary understanding of governance theory and to show how such an evolutionary perspective can help to develop a more integrated perspective on environmental governance in which the temporal dimension and the effects of steering attempts play a pivotal role. It is argued that the effects of environmental governance on the material environment, community, and governance itself must be considered in their interrelation. Such insight in couplings and co-evolutions can be of great value in the everyday practice of environmental policy and governance and even more so when attempting to transform the governance system towards more ambitious and coordinated goals. View Full-Text

Relating Social and Ecological Resilience: Dutch Citizen’s Initiatives for Biodiversity

Roel During, Kristof Van Assche and Rosalie Van Dam

Social resilience and ecological resilience are related and distinguished, and the potential of social resilience to enhance resilience of encompassing social-ecological systems is discussed. The value of resilience thinking is recognized, yet social resilience needs to be better understood in its distinctive qualities, while resisting identification of social resilience with one particular form of governance or organization. Emerging self-organizing citizen’s initiatives in The Netherlands, initiatives involving re-relating to nature in the living environment, are analyzed, using a systems theoretical framework which resists reduction of nature to culture or vice versa. It is argued that space for self-organization needs to be cultivated, that local self-organization and mobilization around themes of nature in daily life and space have the potential to re-link social and ecological systems in a more resilient manner, yet that maintaining the diversity of forms of knowing and organizing in the overall governance system is essential to the maintenance of social resilience and of diverse capacities to know human-environment relations and to reorganize them in an adaptive manner. Conclusions are drawn in the light of the new Biodiversity Strategy. View Full-Text

The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions

Patrick Huntjens and René Kemp

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic offers an opportunity for dealing with persistent problems, through a transformative recovery process. It is a crisis that offers opportunities for dealing with three interrelated crises: the ecological crisis (climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, pollution and ecosystem destruction), the confidence crisis (people losing trust in government, politics, companies, regular news channels, science, each other and the future), and the inequality crisis (the widening of the gap between rich and poor). Our argument is that sustainability transitions will not succeed without a different economy and another social contract with rights and duties of care for the environment and the well-being of others, including future generations. A different social contract is not only desirable from the point of view of sustainability and fairness, and justice and equality, but it is also necessary to restore citizens’ trust in politics, government, companies and each other. In the paper we discuss mechanisms towards a Natural Social Contract: systemic leverage points for system transformations and possibilities for co-evolutionary governance by actor coalitions interested in transformative change. The combination of those three elements helps to synchronize different agendas and reduce the chance that they will work against each other. View Full-Text

Regional Cooperation in Waste Management: Examining Australia’s Experience with Inter-municipal Cooperative Partnerships

Steven Tobin and Atiq Zaman

Effective governance and inter-organisational cooperation is key to progressing Australia’s journey toward the circular economy. At the local governance level, inter-municipal cooperative partnerships in waste management (‘IMC-WM’ partnerships) are a widespread phenomenon throughout Australia, and the world. This paper aims to analyse waste management in Australia through a governance perspective and inaugurate the scholarship on understanding the complex interactions between actors and institutions designed for regional cooperation. To this end, we explore the partnerships’ institutional characteristics, joint activity outputs and the internal relations observed between participants. Data were collected through a nationwide census survey of Australia’s IMC–WM partnerships and a short online questionnaire to the municipal policy actors (councillors, executives and council officers) who participate in them. The investigation observes that a diversity of innovative institutional responses has emerged in Australia. However, within these partnerships, a culture of competitiveness antithetical to sustainability is also detected. Despite competitive behaviours, the partnerships perform very well in cultivating goodwill, trust, reciprocity and other social capital values among their participants—as well as a strong appreciation of the complexity of municipal solid waste (MSW) policy and the virtues of regional cooperation. This dissonance in attitudes and engagement dynamics, it is suggested, can be explained by considering the cultural-cognitive influence of broader neoliberalist paradigms. As the first scholarly investigation into Australia’s experience with regional cooperation in waste management, this research reveals the macro-level structures and ascendent micro-institutional dynamics shaping the phenomenon. View Full-Text

To See, or Not to See, That Is the Question: Studying Dutch Experimentalist Energy Transition Governance through an Evolutionary Lens

Martijn Gerritsen, Henk-Jan Kooij, Martijn Groenleer and Erwin van der Krabben

Experimentalist forms of governance have burgeoned across policy areas and institutional contexts in recent years. Recognizing that experimentalist forms of governance can evolve along a plethora of distinct pathways, this paper inquires how the evolutionary nature of experimentalism can be explored in greater depth. Linking the framework of experimentalist governance to that of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT), the paper identifies three driving mechanisms of contingency in experimentalism: governance being (1) self-referential, (2) rooted in observation, and (3) steered by dependencies. The paper then refers to recent efforts in the realm of energy transition governance in the Netherlands to illustrate how these contingency mechanisms can help to interrogate the variegated evolutionary pathways that experimentalist governance may have in practice. Building on this Dutch empirical context, the paper puts forward evolutionary path- and context-mapping as a fruitful tool for identifying and disentangling the myriad of pathways along which experimentalism may manifest itself. View Full-Text

Shock and Conflict in Social-Ecological Systems: Implications for Environmental Governance

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher and Raoul Beunen

In this paper, we present a framework for the analysis of shock and conflict in social-ecological systems and investigate the implications of this perspective for the understanding of environmental governance, particularly its evolutionary patterns and drivers. We dwell on the distinction between shock and conflict. In mapping the relation between shock and conflict, we invoke a different potentiality for altering rigidity and flexibility in governance; different possibilities for recall, revival and trauma; and different pathways for restructuring the relation between governance, community and environment. Shock and conflict can be both productive and eroding, and for each, one can observe that productivity can be positive or negative. These different effects in governance can be analyzed in terms of object and subject creation, path creation and in terms of the dependencies recognized by evolutionary governance theory: path, inter-, goal and material dependencies. Thus, shock and conflict are mapped in their potential consequences to not only shift a path of governance, but also to transform the pattern of self-transformation in such path. Finally, we reflect on what this means for the interpretation of adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. View Full-Text

Evolutionary Perspectives on the Commons: A Model of Commonisation and Decommonisation

Prateep Kumar Nayak and Fikret Berkes

Commons (or common-pool resources) are inherently dynamic. Factors that appear to contribute to the evolution of a stable commons regime at one time and place may undergo change that results in the collapse of the commons at another. The factors involved can be very diverse. Economic, social, environmental and political conditions and various drivers may lead to commonisation, a process through which a resource is converted into a joint-use regime under commons institutions and collective action. Conversely, they may lead to decommonisation, a process through which a commons loses these essential characteristics. Evolution through commonisation may be manifested as adaptation or fine-tuning over time. They may instead result in the replacement of one kind of property rights regime by another, as in the enclosure movement in English history that resulted in the conversion of sheep grazing commons into privatized agricultural land. These processes of change can be viewed from an evolutionary perspective using the concepts of commonisation and decommonisation, and theorized as a two-way process over time, with implications for the sustainability of joint resources from local to global. View Full-Text

Flat ontology and evolving governance

This paper explores the consequences of a flat ontology for planning theory and practice through the lens of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT). It presents a perspective in which the ontological hierarchies assumed in planning and beyond are left behind, but also one that allows for understanding how hierarchies and binaries can emerge from and within governance and specifically planning. In this perspective planning is conceptualised as a web of interrelated social-material systems underpinning the coordination of policies and practices affecting spatial organization. Within this web, different planning perspectives and planning practices co-exist and co-evolve, partly in relation to the wider governance contexts of which they are part. We explore and deepen our understanding of the consequences of flat ontology by focusing on the interrelations between power and knowledge and the varied effects of materiality on planning and governance as materiality can play roles ranging from latent infrastructure to main triggers of change. We conclude our paper by assessing the consequences for the positionality of planning in society, stressing the need for more reflexive and adaptive forms of planning and governance, and reflection on what such forms of planning could look like. We argue that despite the abstract nature of discussions on ontology in and of planning, the conceptual shifts that result from thinking in terms of flat ontologies can significantly affect planning practices as it can inspire new ways of observing and organizing.

Keywords: Planning; Evolutionary Governance Theory; theory and practice; flat ontology

Beunen, R., Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K. (2021) Flat ontology and evolving governance: consequences for planning theory and practice . disP – The Planning Review 57 (2): 112-123.

Understanding public trust in water managers

Public trust in water managers is often considered an important precondition for the effective implementation of sustainable water-management practices. Although it is well known that general public trust in government institutions is under pressure, much less is known in the literature on water governance whether such distrust also affects general and task-specific trust of the wider public in water managers. In addition, empirical studies on the determinants of such trust seem to be scarce. To fill those gaps, this study aims to measure general and task-specific public trust in water managers in the Netherlands and to assess how a selected group of potential determinants is related to general- and task-specific trust in water managers. To this end, we employ an original survey among a representative sample of the Dutch population (N = 2262). We find that trust in water managers in the Netherlands is generally high, but that it also comes with some task-specific variations. People have more trust in the flood-protection capacities of the water managers than in the capacities to successfully manage surface-water quality, nature conservation, and drought management. Using linear regression models, we subsequently find that individual-level variations in trust in water managers are best explained by one’s general level of political trust. Additionally, we also show that both risk perceptions and self-evaluations of how informed people feel themselves about water management are important factors with (curvilinear) relations with trust in water managers. Overall, we conclude that water managers are under specific conditions able to build themselves well-established reputations and relatively high trust levels based on their performances. Nevertheless, trust development is far from entirely in the hands of the water managers themselves as we also conclude that trust evaluations of water managers are not immune from negative generalized political evaluations and public perceptions on water related risks.

Voogd, R., De Vries, J.R. & Beunen, R. (2021) Understanding public trust in water managers: Findings from the Netherlands. Journal of Environmental Management. Volume 300, 15 December 2021, 113749.

Steering in Governance: evolutionary perspectives

Steering has negative connotations nowadays in many discussions on governance, policy, politics and planning. The associations with the modernist state project linger on. At the same time, a rethinking of what is possible by means of policy and planning, what is possible through governance, which forms of change and which pursuits of common goods still make sense, in an era of cynicism about steering yet also high steering expectations, seems eminently useful. Between laissez faire and blue-print planning are many paths which can be walked. In this thematic issue, we highlight the value of evolutionary understandings of governance and of governance in society, in order to grasp which self-transformations of governance systems are more likely than others and which governance tools and ideas stand a better chance than others in a particular context. We pay particular attention to Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) as a perspective on governance which delineates steering options as stemming from a set of co-evolutions in governance. Understanding steering options requires, for EGT, path mapping of unique governance paths, as well as context mapping, the external contexts relevant for the mode of reproduction of the governance system in case. A rethinking of steering in governance, through the lens of EGT, can shed a light on governance for innovation, sustainability transitions, new forms of participation and self-organization. For EGT, co-evolutions and dependencies, not only limit but also shape possibilities of steering, per path and per domain of governance and policy.

Table of Contents:

Steering in Governance: Evolutionary Perspectives
By Raoul Beunen and Kristof Van Assche

Steering as Path Creation: Leadership and the Art of Managing Dependencies and Reality Effects
By Kristof Van Assche, Martijn Duineveld, Monica Gruezmacher and Raoul Beunen

Economic Transitions in South Africa’s Secondary Cities: Governing Mine Closures
By Lochner Marais, Verna Nel, Kholisa Rani, Deidré van Rooyen, Kentse Sesele, Phia van der Watt and Lyndon du Plessis

Irritation Design: Updating Steering Theory in the Age of Governance
By Marc Mölders

Social Investment Policies in the EU: Actively Concrete or Passively Abstract?
By Gaby Umbach and Igor Tkalec

Strategy and Steering in Governance: The Changing Fates of the Argentine Planning Council
By Rodrigo Alves Rolo, Kristof Van Assche and Martijn Duineveld

What Is the Role of the Government in Wildlife Policy? Evolutionary Governance Perspective
By Krzysztof Niedziałkowski and Renata Putkowska-Smoter

Mitigating Pro-Poor Housing Failures: Access Theory and the Politics of Urban Governance
By Katja Mielke and Helena Cermeño

Policy Assemblages and Policy Resilience: Lessons for Non-Design from Evolutionary Governance Theory
By Kris Hartley and Michael Howlett

Long-term perspectives & strategy

The journal Futures has published a special issue on Long-term perspectives and strategy. This special issue analyses and reflects on relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. While dismissing high modernist planning and acknowledging constraints to long-term policies, the different contributions in this volume, each in their own way, contend that strategy is necessary to face the challenges of our times. The fifteen articles highlight different aspects of the possibilities of and limits to strategy in governance, to turn long-term perspectives into strategy and strategy into reality. They all examine how long- term perspectives and issues are constituted by different governance practices and emerge in rather different policy contexts, which points to the need to better understand the diverse interplay between strategy, long-term perspectives and patterns of policy integration. Furthermore, the contributions emphasize how long-range governance requires careful attention to issues of temporality, the management of uncertainty and the interplay between the short term and the long term.

Strategy for collectives and common goods: Coordinating strategy, long-term perspectives and policy domains in governance

Kristof Van Assche, Gert Verschraegen, Monica Gruezmacher

Strategic openings: On the productivity of blended long-term perspectives in spatial strategy. A Dutch case study

Ferry van de Mosselaer, Martijn Duineveld

Strategy’s futures

Liliana Doganova, Martin Kornberger

There is no such thing as a short-term issue

Michael K. MacKenzie

Assessing the options for combatting democratic myopia and safeguarding long-term interests

Jonathan Boston

Breaking through the epistemic impasse: Ending homelessness with the invention of ‘functional zero’ in the Anglo-American world

Joshua Evans, Tom Baker

What makes long-term perspectives endure? Lessons from Dutch nature conservation

Raoul Beunen, Iulian Barba Lata

Governing through strategies: How does Finland sustain a future-oriented environmental policy for the long term?

Vesa Koskimaa, Lauri Rapeli, Juha Hiedanpää

Anticipating and planning for mine closure in South Africa

Lochner Marais, Anri de Lange

Shaping future perspectives in policy advice under deep, long-term uncertainty. The case of the Dutch Delta Committee

S.A. Van ‘t Klooster, S.A. Veenman

Prospects of a transition to the knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia and Qatar: A critical reflection through the lens of spatial embeddedness and evolutionary governance theory

Abbas Ziafati Bafarasat, Eduardo Oliveira

Governing technological zones, making national renewable energy futures

Shana Lee Hirsch

‘Solving for X?’ Towards a problem-finding framework to ground long-term governance strategies for artificial intelligence

Hin-Yan Liu, Matthijs M. Maas

Reinvention paths and reinvention paradox: Strategic change in Western Newfoundland communities

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Kelly Vodden, Ryan Gibson, Leith Deacon

Strategic spatial planning through pragmatic blueprints: Forms and levels of adaptivity in modernist planning of the Dutch IJsselmeerpolders

Terry van Dijk

Institutional innovation in conservation law

In 2016, the Fitness Check of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives concluded that, in order to reach their most important objectives, the implementation of both directives needed to be improved. This paper analyses the institutional changes that characterise the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives in the Netherlands. These institutional changes include revisions of the rules embedded in Dutch nature conservation law, the introduction of new policy instruments, and the emergence of widely shared concepts and additional norms and rules that are used in decision-making procedures. In the first phase of the implementation of these directives, their legal requirements were integrated into national laws. In later years, national aims and rules were gradually removed from conservation law, and new instruments and rules were added. The analysis shows that most important drivers for institutional change were a discourse focusing on ways to stretch the legal requirements of the two directives and the interpretation of key concepts and rules that emerged in assessment and decision-making procedures and court rulings. In sum, these institutional changes have not improved the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives and have made it more difficult to ensure the sustainable conservation of species and their habitats in the Netherlands.

Beunen, R. & Kole, S. (2021). Institutional innovation in conservation law: experiences from the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives in the Netherlands. Land Use Policy, Volume 108, September 2021, 105566

Strategy for the long term

This special issue analyses and reflects on relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. While dismissing high modernist planning and acknowledging constraints to long-term policies, the different contributions in this volume, each in their own way, contend that strategy is necessary to face the challenges of our times. The fifteen articles highlight different aspects of the possibilities of and limits to strategy in governance, to turn long-term perspectives into strategy and strategy into reality. They all examine how long- term perspectives and issues are constituted by different governance practices and emerge in rather different policy contexts, which points to the need to better understand the diverse interplay between strategy, long-term perspectives and patterns of policy integration. Furthermore, the contributions emphasize how long-range governance requires careful attention to issues of temporality, the management of uncertainty and the interplay between the short term and the long term.

Van Assche, K., Verschraegen, G., & Gruezmacher, M. (2021). Strategy for the long term: pressures, counter-pressures and mechanisms in governanceFutures.

Futures Special Issue: Linking strategy, long term perspectives and policy domains in governance

Collective visions and expectations for the long- term future shape and influence what kind of governance strategies are used, while the latter encode, perform and transform what is meant by ‘long-term’ governance challenges and perspectives. The unique character of linkages between long term perspectives and strategies per institutionalized policy domain is something deserving investigation: water governance and pension policy each envision a long term, but these are different, and the translation into strategy follows different paths.

This investigation can shed a light on the possibilities and limits of strategies which link policy domains, which transcend their topical or geographical boundaries. Such strategies in some cases can materialize an imagined future for a community, the community associated with the governance system, a community which to a certain extent is always imagined but can nevertheless transform and be transformed by governance. Climate change policy can address an imagined world community, attempt to both create and change that community by strategy which aims to coordinate states and many policy domains within them. Locally, a comprehensive plan can aim to guide the development of a city, an pursue policy coordination through a spatial frame.

In this issue, we intend to bring together an interdisciplinary group of authors to investigate the relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. We would like to invite contributions from diverse disciplines, including but not limited to policy studies, environmental studies, public administration, planning, sociology, geography, cultural studies, political science, management studies. We are open to studies of all domains of governance, each marked by their own temporalities, forms of looking forward, remembering and coordinating, each with their own relations to other policy domains.

We argue that a more thorough understanding of the linkages between long term perspective, strategies and particular policy domains [and their values, narratives, strategies] in governance helps to grasp anew the possibilities and limitations of strategy in governance. One can speak of a reassessment of the possibilities of steering, of pursuing public goods at larger scales. Another contribution of this collection can be new insight in the possibilities and mechanics of so-called place based development, here not restricted to local, participatory, ‘community based’ development, but understood as development articulated in and pursued by governance in a particular spatial frame, either inside or beyond the sphere of local/regional/national government.

More information:

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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