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

Power/knowledge and natural resource management: imagining, creating and protecting the commons

This special issue of Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning draws the attention to ongoing concerns about the management of natural resources (NRM): their exploration, extraction, processing, and commodification is still happening in ways that are perceived to be socially unjust and ecologically unsustainable. The special issue seeks to highlight how the Foucaultian notion of power/knowledge remains underused and underdeveloped in the realm of environmental and resource governance. The contributors argue that any improvement in NRM to social justice or sustainability will have to pass through the knot of power/knowledge. Revealing the actual functioning and effects of current NRM opens potential for critical thinking, shifts power relations and questions the core assumptions of experts or economic outcomes.

Content of the special issue:


Power/Knowledge in Natural Resource Management

The will to knowledge: natural resource management and power/knowledge dynamics
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen & Martijn Duineveld

Partnerships for development in the extractive sector: protecting subterranean interests?
Javier Arellano-Yanguas & María del Pilar Bernal-Gómez

Partnerships for Development (PfD) is the antidote that extractive industries have used over the last decade to counteract the proliferation of conflicts with local communities. Normatively, the concept of ‘partnership’ positions companies as actors on an equal footing with others in their attempts to collaborate to achieve development outcomes. This article analyses how the PfD strategy has been crafted and implemented in the extractive sector and assess its potential to contribute significantly to local development. Using the Foucauldian framework on power/knowledge and genealogy, we explain how, in a relatively short time, the interaction between context, preexisting discourses, and actors’ interests shaped the PfD discourse and made it famous. The second part of the paper goes beyond the normative conceptualisation and analyses the implementation of PfD through the case studies of the Antamina copper mine in Peru and the Pacific Rubiales oil operation in Colombia. The companies use the PfD discourse to advance their interest vis-à-vis the different stakeholders, minimising the risk of conflicts and cultivating their reputation. These companies resort to the fragmentation of bargaining spaces and rely on the legitimacy provided by paid experts. The result is that PfD has limited capacity to promote local sustainable development.

Small-scale fisheries within maritime spatial planning: knowledge integration and power
Svein Jentoft

The coasts hold great potential for ‘Blue Growth’, and major industrial and infrastructural developments are already happening there. Such growth, however, comes with risks to marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Competition for space and resources intensifies, turning the coast into an area of social and political conflict, including contestation about knowledge. I argue that there is a need for institutional innovation that allows knowledge integration and conflict resolution to be more interactive and synergistic. The paper critically analyses discourses and practices of interactive governance and co-management while visiting Foucault’s power/knowledge concept for investigating the normativity and effects of participation discourses and practices. This is followed by a discussion of multiple governance paths and their different combinations of resources and forms of expert and local social and ecological knowledge so as to see how they can help resolve conflicts, and enhance governability within maritime spatial planning (MSP) in a way that also serves to create a level playing field for all stakeholders. A particular focus will be on the small-scale fisheries sector, which is the lest powerful stakeholder and the most vulnerable to external pressures. Will MSP help to empower or further marginalize small-scale fishers and fisheries communities?

Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta
Marian Weber, Naomi Krogman, Lee Foote & Rebecca Rooney

The legitimacy of wetland decisions depends on how science and values are integrated and reflected in wetland management decisions. Natural capital and ecosystem services (ES) have become integral to how we think about ecosystem management however there is no consensus on how these concepts should be applied in management. Through the example of Alberta’s wetland policy, we show how policies designed to mainstream natural capital and ES in decision-making are aligned with liberal governance arrangements that emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a governance gap between individual wetland decisions and collective ecological outcomes. The Alberta wetland policy highlights three challenges to embracing the natural capital metaphor in a liberal government context: lack of consensus on policy objectives; case by case enforcement of policy leading to continued wetland drainage; and minimal consequences for non-compliance. The combination of norms about what is fair in terms of government intervention in land use decisions and scientific uncertainty about wetland ecosystem function makes it difficult to achieve consensus on limits to wetland loss contributing to continued loss of wetland ecological function. The discussion highlights the necessity of renewed political discourse about freedom, power, and justice in relation to collective economic and ecological security.

Governing the water user: experiences from Mexico|
Edwin Rap & Philippus Wester

This article traces a policy shift that makes the ‘water user’ the main subject of water governance. From a Foucauldian perspective on governmentality these new subjectivities accompany neo-liberal governmental technologies to devolve autonomy from state institutions to an active user base, whilst retaining some ‘control at a distance’. The expectation is that individual subjects will incorporate control mechanisms and internalize norms and that this leads to new publicly auditable forms of self-regulation. The article questions the underlying assumption that policy necessarily accomplishes its strategic effects through governmentality. For this purpose, it draws on an ethnographic case study of how policy produced a new power/knowledge regime and how different societal actors and ‘user’ groups responded to that. The study specifically investigates the Mexican policy of irrigation management transfer during the 1990s, by which government transferred the public control over irrigation districts to locally organized water users’ associations (WUAs). The article argues that governmental technologies make and govern the ‘water user’ by discursively and materially constituting an organizational arrangement for user management (WUA), more than by directly acting on individuals’ self-regulated conduct. The analysis contributes to a broader reflection on the role of power/knowledge in natural resources management and decentralized resources governance.

Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen , Martijn Duineveld & Monica Gruezmacher

In this paper, we present a conceptual framework extending Foucaultian insights on the relations between power and knowledge to link up with current insights into studies of natural resource management (NRM) and more broadly environmental studies. We classify discourses in NRM according to understandings of social–ecological systems and argue that grasping those larger contexts can push NRM in a different direction, forming a base for more informed and inclusive decision-making. We then reconstruct the importance of materiality, the physical world, for the functioning of NRM within social–ecological systems. The concept of livelihoods is added to our developing Foucaultian frame, as material/discursive entwinements which structure responses of many stakeholders in NRM. Finally, we present an expansion of Foucaultian NRM into adaptive governance thinking as a logical outcome of basic insights into power/knowledge, developed and contextualized in current NRM and its critical analyses.

Materiality in natural resource management: a systems theory view
Vladislav Valentinov

This short paper is a commentary on Van Assche et al.’s article [(2017). Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, this issue]. A Luhmannian systems-theoretic perspective proposed in this commentary reaffirms the Foucaultian conceptualization of natural resource management as a site for the interaction of discourses constituting social reality through radical entwinements with materiality, with livelihoods being a key example of such entwinements. Several extensions of Duineveld et al.’s argument are proposed. First, the Luhmannian perspective stresses the problematic nature of such entwinements in view of the inherent system–environment adaptation problems. Second, the idea of livelihoods advocated by the authors is interpreted as the reflection of the sensitivity to the environment beyond the limits imposed by the systemic operational closure and complexity reduction. Third, it is argued that even though specific discursive constructions of materiality may underpin adaptive governance with respect to specific environmental segments, they cannot guarantee system–environment adaptation in any general sense, primarily in view of the unknowability of the environment and the incommensurability of discourses.

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