New book: Evidence for causal mechanisms linking participation with environmental governance outcomes

By Jens Newig

In the EDGE project, we have been researching intensively the link between participation in decision-making and environmental governance outcomes. Our new book, lead-edited by Elisa Kochskämper, examines these links through eight qualitative case studies. We employ a causal-mechanism approach, which helps us identify the precise mechanisms through which participatory governance forms lead (or don’t lead) to improved environmental governance outcomes. So although our approach is highly qualitative in nature, we use it to rigorously trace causal hypotheses.

Our empirical field of study is participatory processes that were set up to implement the European Water Framework Directive in Germany, Spain, and the UK. The Directive mandates participatory river basin management planning across the European Union, with the expectation (among European policymakers and the European Commission) that participation will deliver better policy outputs and implementation.

Here are two examples of how our approach works.

The first shows how broad participation in Cantabria (Spain) does generate social learning, empowerment and acceptance by participants – even though the results of the participatory process were ultimately ignored by the authorities and not taken up in further planning (see figure below). However, the fact that the collected measures were not actually incorporated into the river basin management plan, and had not been implemented, did not diminish participants’ satisfaction with the process. The environmental NGO representative put it as follows (page 77 in the book):

Although I don’t know whether they recognised our proposals for the final measures, I think the participatory process was very good per se. […] I think this was an activity that left everyone very satisfied for the mere fact of participating […]. That we were sitting face-to-face with different officials and that we could give our opinion in public, and being taken seriously from the beginning (MC:ENGO).

Participatory planning process in the Miera and Campiazo basins. Dashed lines indicate no clear connection. Crossed out lines indicate a disconnect

The second example is a local participatory forum in Schleswig-Holstein (Germany). This case is revealing regarding the hypothesized mechanism that increased representation of environmental concerns in a decision-making process either: (a) fosters environmental advocacy, impacting positively on the environmental quality of the output; or – quite the contrary – (b) weakens the position of environmental groups vis-à-vis other actors, impacting negatively on the environmental quality of the output. The case shows how both sub-mechanisms can be found within one single case: On the one hand, environmental NGOs were particularly active in addressing river connectivity, and this was clearly reflected in the agreed list of actions, thus supporting (a). On the other hand, the pressing issue of nutrient pollution from agriculture was left out of discussions and therefore not addressed in the output. A likely explanation lies in the trustful setting that developed over several years of on-going interaction in the working group. In this setting, environmental interests, too, went along in the general spirit of proposing feasible and readily implementable measures, leaving aside the more conflictive – but nonetheless highly pressing – issue of agricultural nutrient pollution. We conclude, therefore, that ENGOs have been co-opted to a certain degree, which supports (b).

The comprehensive structured comparative approach has produced new insights into the link between participation and environmental outputs and impacts. The overall picture is telling: we observed increasing quality of policy outputs with increasing ‘intensity’ of participation. However, the details are more nuanced, as the two above examples may suggest. Ultimately, we observed a trade-off between ambitious environmental planning and actual implementability of measures. Our analysis revealed that processes either produced measures of a high environmental standard, addressing the main water problems, but that were overly ambitious and not implementable, or they produced feasible measures that were subsequently implemented, but were generally of a lower environmental standard. This hints to important questions of environmental policy implementation that go beyond claims of participation.


Kochskämper, Elisa; Challies, Edward; Jager, Nicolas W.; Newig, Jens (eds.) (2018): Participation for Effective Environmental Governance: Evidence from European Water Framework Directive Implementation. Earthscan Studies in Water Resource Management series. London: Earthscan / Routledge.


New PhD position on governance and policy analysis in globally telecoupled systems

We are now seeking to fill a 100% PhD position on “Governance institutions for sustainability in globally telecoupled systems” within the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie ETN Graduate School ‘COUPLED’, starting 1 July 2018 for a duration of 36 months.

Topic: Globally telecoupled systems such as commodity chains, long-range pollution or distant policy-driven effects present complex new challenges for sustainability governance. These are often beyond the capabilities of individual states and even multilateral institutions to regulate. At the same time, the policy and governance interventions of governments and other actors themselves often have a range of unforeseen consequences and knock-on effects. Taking European Union (EU) environmental policy as its primary vantage point, this research will: (1) identify key institutions, networks of actors and instruments deployed to govern for sustainability in specific case studies of telecoupled systems (e.g. global trade and supply chains and networks), and (2) assess their impacts with particular attention to so-called ‘policy-driven displacement’ effects, policy spillovers and feed-backs (e.g. increased deforestation resulting from EU biofuels policy). On the basis of this analysis, the research will (3) identify governance levers for effective intervention at multiple levels (from multilateral to local) and among different actors (e.g. governmental, private sector, civil society) to address policy-driven displacement effects.

In carrying out this work, the ESR will: (1) Conduct interviews and documentary research to chart networks and key actors and structures associated with EU efforts to govern for sustainability in telecoupled systems (focusing on certain specific cases such as agricultural commodity chains or raw resource flows); (2) analyse and assess the effectiveness (success factors and barriers, social and environmental impacts) of different governance arrangements and their unintended policy-driven displacement effects; and (3) propose potential policy and governance interventions for increased sustainability in telecoupled systems. The ESR will be jointly supervised by Prof. Jens Newig, Dr. Edward Challies and Prof. Patrick Meyfroidt (Earth and Life Institute, Catholic University of Leuven). Potential secondment placements include the German Federal Environmental Ministry in Berlin (Germany) and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium).

Location: Leuphana University Lüneburg is a young university, focusing on sustainability, cultural and political science, education, and management and entrepreneurship, and has repeatedly been awarded for innovation. The Research Group on Governance, Participation and Sustainability, led by Prof. Newig, is affiliated both with Leuphana’s Faculty of Sustainability and with its Centre for the Study of Democracy. A multidisciplinary group of senior and early-career social scientists, it focuses on addressing the big challenges of governance in the context of environmental and sustainability politics.

We seek: a candidate with an above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Political Science, Human Geography, Sustainability Science or cognate discipline. We expect a strong interest in environmental policy and governance. Excellent written and spoken English is essential, and experience with both qualitative and quantitative methods (e.g. Social Network Analysis) would be advantageous.

Mobility Rule: Please note that at the time of recruitment, candidates must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Germany for more than 12 months in the last 3 years (in accordance to the funding programme of the ETN). Leuphana University Lüneburg is an equal opportunity employer committed to fostering heterogeneity among its staff. Applications by qualified individuals are strongly encouraged. Disabled applicants with equal qualifications will be given priority consideration.

Contact: Prof. Dr Jens Newig; e-mail:

Applications including a letter of motivation, full CV, a draft proposal, relevant certificates/transcripts, and contact details for two references shall be submitted via the project website

Application deadline: 24 November 2017.

Now published: Disentangling the causal mechanisms that link participation and collaboration to environmental outcomes

By Jens Newig

Many agree that participation and collaboration is relevant, if not indispensable, for environmentally sustainable governance outcomes. Others maintain that public government is best equipped to effectively address environmental problems. In our new paper from the ‘EDGE’ project we try to move the debate forward by looking precisely at the causal mechanisms through which participatory and collaborative forms of governance may improve (or deteriorate) environmental outcomes of public decision-making processes.

The paper is rather analytical in that we disentangle:

  1. different dimensions of participation: Who participates? What decision-making power is delegated to participants? How do participants communicate and interact?
  2. different dimensions of outcomes: Outputs on paper (plans, agreements, policies, etc.) versus the support of outputs and their actual implementation
  3. the different mechanisms through which participation and collaboration likely work towards (or against) environmental outcomes,
  4. different contextual factors such as the capacity of stakeholders, problem complexity or the degree of conflict (we call these ‘conditioning variables’).

This analytical ‘disentangling’, we believe, helps us to identify trade-offs: For example, a collaborative process involving local resource users may lead to a conservation plan with less environmental aspiration as envisaged by a nature-protection agency (because local users do not strictly favour conservation). But at the same time, this plan may be more accepted by local communities and better implementable.


This figure shows an overview of the causal mechanisms we identified, organised in five thematic clusters. Plus signs (+) denote reinforcing relationships, minus signs (–) denote weakening relationships. For example, the top left arrow combines mechanisms M I.1a (positive influence of “opening up” on representation of environmental concerns) and M I.1b (negative influence).

We hope that this framework of causal mechanisms will futher stimulate debate on the functions of participation, and ultimately be useful for guiding empirical research. To this end, we will draw on this framework to organise our empirical findings from the EDGE case survey meta analysis.

You can find the paper, which is published Open Access in the Policy Studies Journal (early view), here:

Newig, J. / Challies, E. / Jager, N.W. / Kochskaemper, E. / Adzersen, A. (2017). The Environmental Performance of Participatory and Collaborative Governance: A Framework of Causal Mechanisms. Policy Studies Journal (early view).

New project: Governance of global telecoupling – and two open post-doc positions

By Jens Newig

In recent years, more and more research has been pointing to the importance of distant connections of natural and social processes for issues of global unsustainability. Land-use scientist have labelled this phenomenon, which might entail global commodity chains, migration, or the spread of diseases, “telecoupling”. While there have been substantive advances in describing the flows and the associated implications for environmental sustainability, we know little about how to govern such telecoupled global linkages.

Our new project, which is jointly led by Andrea Lenschow from Osnabrück University, Edward Challies and myself, will investigate how state, private and non-governmental actors have sought to govern the (un)sustainability implications of telecoupling in the past; what (polycentric) policy-networks have emerged in doing so; and, together with key state and non-state actors we will map out scenarios for more effectivley governing global telecoupling for environmental sustainability.

We’ve already published two papers on this (see below), which seek to contribute to a conceptual framework.

For deepening conceptual work and conducting empirical case studies, we will be employing two full-time post-docs for three years. The job ad can be downloaded here.

Funding: German Research Foundation.

> More information on the project GOVERNECT.


Challies, E., Newig, J., & Lenschow, A. (2014). What role for social-ecological systems research in governing global teleconnections?. Global Environmental Change : Human and Policy Dimensions, 27, 32-40. 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.015

Lenschow, A., Newig, J., & Challies, E. (2016). Globalization’s limits to the environmental state? Integrating telecoupling into global environmental governance. Environmental Politics, 25(1), 136-159. doi:10.1080/09644016.2015.1074384. [Free Open Access Content]

Now published: Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Finally, the first paper is out from our Leverage Points project. It’s led by Dave Abson, and lays out a conceptual framework and research agenda, all around the notion of “deep leverage points”. Please share it through your networks.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.31.56.pngThe paper draws on Donella Meadows’ notion of “deep leverage points” – places to intervene in a system where adjustments can make a big difference to the overall outcomes. Arguably, sustainability science desperately needs such leverage points. Despite years of rhetoric on sustainability science bringing about “transformation”, the big picture is still pretty dull: globally at least, there is no indication that we’re starting to turn around the patterns of exponential growth that characterize our era. A potential reason is that much of sustainability science has focused on parameters and feedbacks, rather than system design or “intent” (see above) — when actually, it’s changing a system’s design…

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The perils of technocratism: Will environmentalists learn from Brexit?


Excellent thoughts by colleagues from Seattle, highlighting the role of justice and participation in sustainability transformation.


By Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash.  What do the Brexit vote, the rise of Trump and Sanders, and apathy towards climate change mitigation have in common? The perils of relying on technocratism to justify policy choices.

Much will be written on why the British have voted for Brexit. There are already dire predictions about the future of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the world economy. Mainstream newspapers are puzzled as to why the British voted for the exit even though it might hurt them. They blame populism, the rise of the far right, fears about immigration, economic globalization and so on.

While this is true, the mainstream media has not seriously engaged with the source of voter dissatisfaction with the EU. More broadly, we ought to ask: why are voters less willing to take marching orders from the economic and scientific elites? Why are they willing to…

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