Participatory Governance and the Impact of Scales on Democratic Legitimacy and Effectiveness

Collective decisions on the governance and organization of communities, which are always made on spatial scales, typically involve scale-related trade-offs between participation, democratic legitimacy and effectiveness. Environmental governance, in particular, is confronted with specific problems, given the characteristic scales of geo-ecological interdependencies.

The aim of the project GoScaLE is to develop a better understanding of the role that governance scales play in the participatory implementation of (environmental) regulatory policies in complex and nested multi-level systems. The implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive (WFD) serves as an example. The WFD creates new institutions throughout the EU, introduces new governance scales through River Basin Management and has to be implemented involving citizens and organized stakeholders.

GoScaLE aims to test a series of hypotheses that were drawn from recent debates about multi-level governance, public participation, collaborative governance, policy implementation as well as complex social-ecological systems. These hypotheses will be further specified and existing contradictions will be identified. With in-depth, multi-scale case studies, (participatory) decision-making processes of WFD implementation, their effectiveness and legitimacy as well as causal mechanisms are studied comparatively and empirically.

Collaborating with the partners in the joint project cluster WaterScale, project results are expected to contribute to a consistent, empirically informed theory of participatory environmental governance that is enhanced by the interplay of natural and political-administrative scales.

GoScaLE is funded by the German Research Foundation as part of the collaborative project ‘WaterScale – Water Governance and Problems of Scale. The Example of Institutionalizing River Basin Management through the EC-Water Framework Directive’ (www.waterscale.info) with a volume of € 170’000.

Project lead: Jens Newig. Team: Wiebke Grund, Nicolas Jager, Daniel Schulz.


Newig, J., & Moss, T. (2017). Scale in environmental governance: moving from concepts and cases to consolidation. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 19(5), 473-479 [free open access content].

Newig, J., Schulz, D., & Jager, N. (2016). Disentangling Puzzles of Spatial Scales and Participation in Environmental Governance – The Case of Governance Re-scaling Through the European Water Framework Directive. Environmental Management 58(6): 998-1014 [free open access content].

Jager, N. W., Challies, E., Kochskämper, E., Newig, J., Benson, D. Blackstock, K., Collins, K., Ernst, A., Evers, M., Feichtinger, J., Fritsch, O., Gooch, G., Grund, W., Hedelin, B., Hernández-Mora, N., Hüesker, F., Huitema, D., Irvine, K., Klinke, A., Lange, L., Loupsans, D., Lubell, M., Maganda, C., Matczak, P., Parés, M., Saarikoski, H., Slavíková, L., van der Arend, S., & von Korff, Y. (2016). Transforming European Water Governance? Participation and River Basin Management under the EU Water Framework Directive in 13 Member States. Water, 8 (156).

Moss, T., & Newig, J. (2010). Multilevel Water Governance and Problems of Scale: Setting the Stage for a Broader Debate. Environmental Management, 46(1), 1-6.

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