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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.

 

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.

 

Community power and institutional dependence in the renewable energy sector

The speed and progress of transitions towards renewable energy systems varies greatly between European member states. Among others, these differences have been attributed to the emergence of grassroots initiatives (GIs) that develop radical ideas and sustainable practices. The goal of this paper is to understand the differences in the emergence of GIs for renewable energy in relation to the institutional characteristics of Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. We analyze the possibilities of GIs to emerge and act within three dimensions: the material-economic, the actor-institutional and discursive dimension. We conclude that conditional factors lie within the material-economic dimension in terms of the biophysical conditions, the structure of the economy, energy dependency and the energy market. Within the actor-institutional dimension, we conclude that the presence or absence of fossil fuel incumbents, such as regional utilities, strongly influence the possibilities of GIs. Within the discursive dimension, openness for alternative discourses proved to be enabling for GI-activities, as well as democratized knowledge production. In addition to these conditions of possibility, GIs can also act despite dominant institutions, albeit limited. Finally, GIs need a strong network with knowledge institutes, technology developers and political parties in order to achieve institutional change that enables GIs to flourish. Without institutional space, GIs remain subjected to the dominant power-relations, and cannot exert much influence upon the energy system.

Henk-Jan Kooij, Marieke Oteman, Sietske Veenman, Karl Sperling, Dick Magnusson, Jenny Palm, Frede Hvelplund (2017) Between grassroots and treetops: Community power and institutional dependence in the renewable energy sector in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Energy Research & Social Science, 37: 52–64

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