What is ‘environmental governance’? A working definition

By Edward Challies and Jens Newig

As researchers, we are fully aware that ‘governance’ (like many similar concepts) is multi-facetted, ambiguous and subject to changing interpretation over time. Yet in practice we tend to assume we know what we mean when we employ the term – at least in our research team.

As university teachers, however, we cannot rely on this implicit shared understanding, and need to be more explicit. For teaching purposes, the two of us have therefore developed our own working definition of environmental governance – drawing on previous work by scholars of governance, and of environmental governance in particular.

‘Governance’ has emerged as a prominent topic in disciplines across the social sciences at large. Since the mid-1990s, cross-disciplinary governance research has increasingly grappled with shifting roles of and interactions among societal and political actors engaged in efforts to govern all facets of social life. While the term is ubiquitous, its usage varies and many definitions exist. In the political science tradition, discussion of governance has tended to be rather state-centric, concerned with “change in the pattern and exercise of state authority from government to governance” (Bevir and Rhodes 2011, p. 203). Governance, in this context, refers to a bundle of (new) governing practices and structures characterised increasingly by market mechanisms and network forms, as opposed to primarily by hierarchical state-based modes of governing (see Rhodes 1997; Stoker 1998; Pierre and Peters 2000). The main challenge for states then becomes one of retaining legitimacy and effectiveness in steering relatively ‘autonomous self-governing networks of actors’ (Stoker 1998), or ‘self-organising inter-organisational networks’ (Rhodes 1997).

Despite the importance of various combinations of network and market relations for contemporary governance, and their significant implications for the role and meaning of the state, we adopt here a rather broader conceptualisation of governance (following Kooiman 1993, 2003), which encompasses a wide spectrum of interactions among societal actors (within and across the public and private sectors, civil society and the citizenry) aimed at securing collective interests. According to Kooiman, governance – as ‘social political interaction’ – comprises  “the totality of interactions in which public as well as private actors participate, aimed at solving societal problems or creating societal opportunities; attending to the institutions as contexts for these governing interactions; and establishing a normative foundation for all those activities” (2003, p. 4).

In specifying governance arrangements in the environmental context, Lemos and Agrawal (2006, p. 298) identify as relevant the full range of “regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes”. They stress that while governance is distinct from government, it does encompass the actions of the state, alongside diverse non-state actors (ibid.).

Such definitions allow for consideration of a range of ‘new’ modes of environmental governance (see Driessen et al. 2012), combining aspects of network and market relations without neglecting the (still important) activities of governments, and provide for engagement with the widely invoked ‘shift from government to governance’ (Rhodes 1996; Peters and Pierre 1998) as a contingent tendency rather than a clean break with the past.

On the basis of this perspective on governance, we can define environmental governance as

the totality of interactions among societal actors aimed at coordinating, steering and regulating human access to, use of, and impacts on the environment, through collectively binding decisions. Environmental governance arrangements may be directed towards a range of causes – including conservation and environmental protection, spatial and land use planning, (sustainable) management of natural resources, and the protection of human health – and operate across scales to address local and global environmental problems.

Within this we seek to acknowledge a variety of motives for environmental governance. These may range from rather more ecocentric motivations to conserve and protect the environment for its intrinsic value, to instrumental rationales for the sustainable management of resources for human benefit, to the mitigation of immediate or long-term hazards and risks to human health and wellbeing. We also try to capture the implications of intensifying global interconnectivity, and the way in which this increasingly forces governing actors to confront problems that escape their immediate reach and jurisdiction.

As an analytical field, environmental governance research describes scientific and scholarly endeavour to understand and explain these relationships. As a normative project, environmental governance seeks to achieve some degree of balance between collective social interests and environmental protection. This can be thought of, again following Kooiman (2003), as solving social-environmental problems and/or realising social-environmental opportunities, however these might be defined in a given context.

 

Cited literature

Bevir, M. and R.A.W. Rhodes (2011) The Stateless State, in The SAGE Handbook of Governance, ed. M. Bevir. London: Sage: 203-17.

Driessen, P.P.J., C. Dieperink, F. van Laerhoven, H.A.C. Runhaar and W.J.V. Vermeulen (2012) ‘Towards a Conceptual Framework for The Study of Shifts in Modes of Environmental Governance – Experiences From The Netherlands.’ Environmental Policy and Governance 22 (3): 143-60.

Kooiman, J. (1993) Social-Political Governance: Introduction, in Modern Governance: New Government-Society Interactions, ed. J. Kooiman. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage: 1-8.

Kooiman, J. (2003) Governing as Governance (London: Sage).

Lemos, M.C. and A. Agrawal (2006) ‘Environmental Governance.’ Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31: 297-325.

Peters, B.G. and J. Pierre (1998) ‘Governance without Government? Rethinking Public Administration.’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 8 (2): 223-43.

Pierre, J. and B.G. Peters (2000) Governance, Politics and the State (New York: St. Martin’s Press).

Rhodes, R.A.W. (1996) ‘The New Governance: Governing without Government.’ Political Studies 44 (4): 652-67.

Rhodes, R.A.W. (1997) Understanding Governance. Policy Networks, Governance, Reflexivity and Accountability (Buckingham: Open University Press).

Stoker, G. (1998) ‘Governance as Theory: Five Propositions.’ International Social Science Journal 50 (155): 17-28.

Workshop on “Rethinking the governance of European Water protection” 

By Nadine Schröder

When:  January 8th-9th 2019

Where: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig

Organizers:

Nadine Schröder  (Leuphana University Lüneburg)

Barbara Schröter (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF))

Frank Hüesker (UFZ Leipzig)

Content:

During this workshop we want to discuss on European Water governance and to address frameworks/ lenses/ concepts/ theories and methods to research water governance: Which factors, levels and scales do they focus on? Which roles play participation, sector integration and basin approaches? We draw conclusions how the governance might be improved in favor of better performance: Which factors may influence local, regional and national success or failure? Are best-practice examples identifiable empirically? Additionally, we critically reflect how the chosen frameworks and methods predetermine the findings of regulating parameters. We aim for joint products as results of the workshop, like e.g. a special issue, a book, joint conference panels, seeding joint projects, work on the science-policy interface, a manifest and so on, which is open to be discussed and depends on the interest of the participants.

You can have a look at the abstract and preliminary program here:

Preliminary Program

Abstract

 

Report

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: newig@uni.leuphana.de.

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 http://coupled-itn.eu/.

Application deadline: 24 November 2017.

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.

Papers

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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If at first you don’t succeed.. Institutional Failure in the Public Sector

A review of Public Policy and Administration’s special issue on policy failure

By Pim Derwort

In many ways, failure is an inevitable part of life. In many cases, it is also something we would rather not be reminded of and may be hard to accept. Some of the most inspirational movies and stories teach us how to accept or ‘let go’ and ‘move on’ from failure, or to learn from our mistakes on a personal level and generally become better persons for it. But what happens when failure occurs in the public sector?

In the public sector, ‘getting it wrong’ can have significant (and damaging) consequences for those affected. It can significantly damage the public’s trust in the political system, damage individual’s careers and, in extreme cases, may even lead to injury or loss of life. While failure may be just as inevitable, it is all the more important to prevent or learn from mistakes. Yet, in the public policy realm, plenty of examples remain of cases where important lessons remain unlearned, mistakes are buried, responsibility is deflected and the causes of the original failure continue unchallenged. Often, the same – or at least similar – mistakes are repeated time and again.

So what exactly do we understand by ‘failure’? Failure is often defined as the “lack of success”, or alternatively, as a “lack or deficiency of a desirable quality”. Judged by this definition, ‘failure’ is a negative concept, defined largely by the absence of concepts with more positive associations like ‘success’ or ‘quality’. As with general definitions of ‘failure’, definitions of ‘policy failure’ vary, and there have been considerable conceptual difficulties in providing a commonly accepted definition of ‘policy failure’. In its simplest form, failure has been defined as the ‘mirror image of success’ (McConnell, 2010). The difference between success and failure is, however, not always clear-cut. In many cases policies are not an outright success or outright failure, and may succeed in some respects while failing in others. There are many reasons why a policy may fail. A policy may be poorly designed and fail to tackle the problem it was intended to solve or largely be symbolic (e.g. Newig, 2007). Alternatively, a well-designed policy may unexpectedly fail due to unforeseen circumstances or simply not have the effect intended.

Failure can be measured in different ways, and is often subject to interpretation. Disagreement over whether a policy actually should be considered to have failed may arise depending on who is asked (see e.g. Bovens & ‘t Hart, 2011). Policy failures, inevitable or not, are not necessarily problematic. If it is possible to identify the causes of the failure, it may also be possible to adapt the policy or to replace it with one that is better suited. More problematic, however, are persistent policy failures, in which the same type of failure is repeated over time

In July 2015, Public Policy and Administration dedicated a special issue to the topic of ‘policy failure’. In this issue, the authors argue that, despite the volume of literature on policy success and failure, much of it has so far focused on conceptualisations of (different types of) failure, with considerably less attention for the sources of the problems leading to recurrent failures (Howlett, Ramesh & Wu, 2015, p.209). In addition, it is argued that a great deal of the research only examines the causes and characteristics of failed policies in individual cases, rather than looking at the broader political or socio-economic environment in which these policies are embedded (Peters, 2015, p.261), thus limiting our ability to learn from past mistakes. Therefore, the goal of this special issue is to improve our understanding of recurring failures by “examining a wide range of factors both within and beyond a policy subsystem” (Howlett, Ramesh & Wu, 2015, p.209).

Some of the contributions in this issue help improve our understanding of ‘policy failure’. In an attempt to overcome some of the conceptual difficulties, McConnell develops a ‘working definition of ‘failure’, arguing that “a policy fails, even if it is successful in some minimal respects, if it does not fundamentally achieve the goals that proponents set out to achieve, and opposition is great and/or support is virtually non-existent (2015, p.221). Failure is not only limited to policies and other contributions focus on failure in terms of, e.g. ‘state failure’, ‘governance failure’ and ‘implementation failure’ Importantly, Peters (2015, p.264) argues specific failures may only be “a symptom of a broader failure in governing”, and that, to be able to identify these forms of failure, it is important to look beyond just the proximate causes of observed policy failures per se, instead aiming to identify the more deeply seated roots of failure.

In my opinion, there are two main “lessons” to take away from this special issue:

  • Firstly, future research should continue to build on Peters’ thoughts and look beyond individual categories of failure, instead developing a better understanding of the bigger picture. To this end, I would like to propose that it is important to look at the concept of ‘institutional failure’.
  • Secondly, throughout the special issue, and indeed the wider literature, ‘failure’ largely continues to be regarded as something negative. McConnell is the only author to briefly refer to possible “positive benefits” that might ensue from failure in his contribution (2015, p.227), unfortunately without going into further detail. Further attention should be paid to the ways in which failure can allow us to learn important lessons and act as a driver for positive change.

The concept of ‘institutional failure’ has been interpreted in different ways, depending on the disciplinary perspective adopted. From a neo-classical economics perspective, it has been defined as “private and government sector failure” (Pitelis, 1992). Alternatively, from a sustainability perspective, it has been defined in terms of resource sustainability or the inability to conserve resources (Acheson, 2006). The innovation approach (Woolthuis et al., 2005) divides institutional failure into ‘hard institutional failure’ (failures in the framework of regulation and the legal system) and ‘soft institutional failure’ (failures in social institutions such as political culture and social values). Finally, while not everyone agrees (see e.g. Stacey & Rittberger, 2003), another perspective refers to institutions as organisations, regarding institutions as actors/players in their own right. Following these different definitions, the concept of ‘institutional’ failure is sufficiently broad to capture all of the different concepts mentioned above.

In his work, Newig (2013) identifies these as “productive functions” of failure, in that they may allow for valuable lessons to be learned, can trigger adaptations towards sustainability or purposefully destabilise existing unsustainable structures. Currently, these ideas are not yet sufficiently developed and there appear to be few systematic studies into the lessons that (institutional) failure can provide to scholars and practitioners. Focusing on institutional failure and its productive functions will therefore be at the heart of my PhD project over the next three years.

 

References:

Acheson, J.M. (2006). ‘Institutional Failure in Resource Management’. Annual Review of Anthropology, 35, pp.117-134.

Bovens, M. and ‘t Hart, P. (2011) Understanding Policy Fiascoes. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Howlett, M., Ramesh, M. & Wu, X. (2015). ‘Understanding the persistence of policy failures: The role of politics, governance and uncertainty’. Public Policy and Administration,30(3-4), pp. 209-220.

McConnell, A. (2010). Understanding Policy Success: Rethinking Public Policy. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

McConnell, A. (2015). ‘What is policy failure? A primer to help navigate the maze’. Public Policy and Administration,30(3-4), pp.221-242.

Newig, J. (2007). ‘Symbolic Environmental Legislation and Societal Self-Deception’. Environmental Politics, 16(2), pp.279-299.

Newig, J. (2013). ‘Produktive Funktionen von Kollaps und Zerstörung für gesellschaftliche Transformationsprozesse in Richtung Nachhaltigkeit’. In: Rückert-John, J. (Ed.)(2013). Soziale Innovation und Nachhaltigkeit, Innovation und Gesellschaft. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Peters, B.G. (2015). ‘State failure, governance failure and policy failure: Exploring the linkages’. Public Policy and Administration,30(3-4), pp.261-276.

Pitelis, C. (1992). ‘Towards a Neo-classical Theory of Institutional Failure’. Journal of Economic Studies, 19(1), pp.14-29.

Stacey, J. & Rittberger, B. (2003). ‘Dynamics of formal and informal institutional change in the EU’. Journal of European Public Policy, 10(6), pp.858-883.

Woolthuis, R.K., Lankhuizen, M. & Gilsing, V. (2005). ‘A system failure framework for innovation policy design’. Technovation, 25, pp.609-619.