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.

Towards Sustainability in EU-Brazil Trade Negotiations

By Jens Newig, Benedetta Cotta, Johanna Coenen, Andrea Lenschow, Edward Challies and Almut Schilling-Vacaflor

While European countries and EU policies have made some progress in enhancing domestic sustainability, we are pretty much failing when it comes to taking responsibility for the far-away consequences of our way of living. Chemical pollution and loss of native forests are two striking examples of such distant effects of our local meat production that relies on Brazilian soy imports as protein-rich animal feed. We call such distant effects “global telecoupling”. Labels for sustainable production standards developed by private industry and non-governmental organizations (such as by the Round Table for Responsible Soy) have not proven overly effective. Governmental bodies in Europe should therefore stronger than they did previously take up their responsibility to pass effective policies. In our team, we are currently studying the  governance responses to unsustainable global telecoupling, in the DFG-funded project “GOVERNECT”, and the EU-ITN “COUPLED”.

With a view to current EU-Brazil trade negotiations, an open letter was published yesterday in Science, with co-signatories including 602 scientists from every country in the EU and two Brazilian Indigenous organizations, which together represent over 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups. The letter calls to prioritize human rights and the environment in EU trade talks with Brazil.

Participatory and collaborative environmental governance – just symbolic exercises to sustain unsustainability?

By Jens Newig

No matter if it’s about siting new landlines, declaring protected areas or developing water management plans: Citizen panels, stakeholder roundtables and deliberative decision-making have become commonplace in Western democracies. While great hopes have been placed in such participatory and collaborative forms of governance to advance environmental sustainability, the debate is now more nuanced and partly skeptical as concerns both their democratic and their sustainability-oriented benefits. Ingolfur Blühdorn and Michael Deflorian from WU Vienna add an interesting facet to this debate, building strongly on Ingolfur Blühdorn’s earlier work on simulative politics and democracy. Their thought-provoking article entitled “The Collaborative Management of Sustained Unsustainability: On the Performance of Participatory Forms of Environmental Governance” was published just two weeks ago in Sustainability.

What makes this an interesting read is its broader sociological perspective. Rather than asking how governance does or should function to achieve normative goals, the article investigates why participatory and collaborative forms of governance are proliferating and which societal functions are served through these. The authors start out by arguing that collaborative and participatory forms of governance are neither (1) particularly democratic nor (2) likely to be effective in the sense of their transformative potential towards sustainability. This, they argue is because (1) collaborative and participatory forms of governance are typically coopting citizens or selectively empowering only some actors who do not have a clear democratic mandate, and (2) because “their proliferation has, as yet, not taken modern consumer societies much closer to the great socio-ecological transformation”. This, the authors speculate, is “perhaps because the prevailing forms of decentralized and collaborative governance are explicitly designed not to disrupt the established order and are, therefore, structurally unable to deliver the kind of change that scientists and environmental movements demand.” If this is so, then why are collaborative and participatory decision-making processes becoming so prevalent?

The key to understanding this apparent puzzle, the authors argue, lies in the performative aspect of governance. Referring to the title of our 2018 paper on conceptualizing the “performance of participatory and collaborative governance”, the authors re-interpret the notion of ‘performance’. In a nutshell, they distinguish

  • performance as delivery of outputs – both in a “democratic” and in a substantive (“systemic”) sense – from
  • performance as theatrical display, enactment or illusion in the sense of symbolic or simulative politics.

It is this second perspective that the article focuses on, proposing “that these new modes of environmental governance have become so prominent because they actually correspond very closely to the particular dilemmas, preferences, and needs of contemporary consumer societies—notably the desire to sustain particular lifestyles and understandings of freedom and self-realization, which are known to be socially and ecologically destructive (unsustainable)”. Hence, new modes of environmental governance, “if assessed from the perspective of these contemporary dilemmas, preferences, and needs, they do actually perform exceptionally well. More specifically, they provide contemporary consumer societies with a practical policy mechanism that helps them to reconcile the widely perceived seriousness and urgency of socio-environmental problems with their ever more visible inability and unwillingness to deviate from their established societal order, patterns of self-realization and logic of development.” Put simply, while we cannot achieve sustainability and at the same time continue the established logic of consumption, participatory governance helps us to at least symbolically resolve this apparent contradiction. ‘Symbolic’ stems from the Greek term symballein, meaning to ‘throw together’ – here otherwise irreconcilable aims (I’ve written earlier about symbolic politics and legislation, as it happens in a special issue edited by Ingolfur Blühdorn). Hence, ‘performing’ collaborative governance gives us the feeling of teaming up for sustainability, while at the same time we do not give up on our unsustainable lifestyles. As a consequence, these collaborative practices contribute to stabilizing (rather than transforming) current systems of unsustainability – thus the argument of the authors.

While I find these lines of arguments illuminating, my main point of criticism concerns the lacking empirical grounding. The authors illustrate their points by three empirical cases, but these of course cannot be representative. We should be aware, therefore, that the performative functions identified here may apply to some cases of participatory and collaborative governance, but not to others.

Assuming we do strive for environmental sustainability, and assuming further that governance (by whatever mode) can play a vital, if not indispensable role in this – what insights do we gain from this article? In terms of normative guidance, this paper may leave us with a fatalistic impression that not much can actually be done, because – and so long as – societies embrace the “notions of freedom, self-determination, self-realization”, which are “firmly based on the principle of sustained unsustainability”. Having said that, I see three productive lessons we may take from the article:

  • First, the paper is enlightening for all those of us who either adhere to rationalist and instrumentalist models of decision-making, or who see decision-making through the lens of power-play (in which big business tends to ‘win’). Having read this paper, one can no longer claim not to have heard of the potential dangers of participatory and collaborative governance – not just because it may be ineffective but also because in a subtle, hidden, yet striking way it may serve to obscure its symbolic functions which result in sustaining unsustainability.
  • Second, these insights by no means imply an empirically grounded verdict! Despite its three examples, this is not an empirical paper. In fact, the jury is still out on how participatory and collaborative environmental governance actually delivers (to avoid the term ‘performs’) in both a democratic and a sustainability-oriented sense. What is required, more than ever, is solid empirical evidence of which modes of governance ‘deliver’ und under what circumstances.
  • Third, from a governance perspective, it is one thing to be aware about the potential deficiencies and misleading hopes of participation; it is another to ask: What is the alternative? Should we go “back” to strong state-based decision-making? Is there just too much governance and too little government? Arguably, we not only don’t know enough about the delivery of participatory and collaborative governance, but also we lack robust evidence on the role of expert-led decisions, the role of administrative capacities and of elite-networks in shaping decisions for environmental sustainability.

All in all, I highly recommend this enlightening article – not least for use in teaching sustainability governance courses, confronting students with sobering insights on the functions of participatory and collaborative governance, and triggering discussions about ways to effectively govern towards sustainability – including or not collaborative forms.

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

What is governance of global telecoupling?

By Jens Newig

Telecoupling challenges notions of environmental governance

Recently, a concept has been gaining ground in the academic discourse that is challenging our notions of environmental governance. This concept, which has emerged from global land systems research, is termed ‘telecoupling’ (see Friis et al. 2016). Roughly, telecoupling means that human-induced processes in one part of the globe impact in a certain way on a distant part (or parts) of the world. Another term for this is ‘global inter-regional connectedness’. What makes telecoupling a relevant concept is that it allows for the description of flows between globally distant places in a common language, and to problematise how these flows impact e.g. on the environment or local livelihoods. One example of telecoupling is that of commodity chains such as the soy chain between Brazil and Germany. Brazilian soy is fuelling German meat production, causing surplus nitrate accumulation in Germany, and tropical deforestation in Brazil (Lenschow et al. 2016). Other examples are the shipping of electronic waste from Europe to Africa, which contaminates local environments and jeopardises the health of communities. Or migrants from Nepal, working in the United Arab Emirates, who through remittances induce land-use change in Nepal (cited in Eakin et al. 2014). In principle, such global linkages have been described in the literature for quite a while. However, the new concept of telecoupling allows researchers to view these linkages through a common ‘systemic’ lens.

Why should telecoupling challenge our thinking on environmental governance? Well, currently scholars on environmental governance have been thinking either in terms of:

  • existing governance arrangements, such as global treaties – how they come about, and how they help to solve environmental problems; or
  • governance processes, such as participatory, networked or collaborative governance, and how this may benefit the environment; or
  • governance structures, such as multi-level or polycentric governance – and, again, how these my benefit the environment; or, finally,
  • particular classes of environmental problems, such as transboundary pollution, and how they can be tackled through bilateral or multilateral action.

From a slightly different angle, there is an established literature on global commodity chains. As commodity chains typically comprise private companies, there is also a literature on the private governance of such chains (Bernstein and Cashore 2012), as well as a critical literature on how individual consumers through their choices can help alleviate sustainability issues in distant places, or how generally transnational corporations should be more strongly regulated (Dauvergne and Lister 2010).

But what all these established literatures have seldom done is to address the particular sustainability problems caused by telecoupled linkages from a wider governance perspective. Only recently are we witnessing the emergence of a literature addressing the governance of telecoupling in particular (Challies et al. 2014; Eakin et al. 2017; Lenschow et al. 2016; Oberlack et al. 2018; Liu et al. 2018). Most contributions to this literature are developing from within the global land change research community.

Different understandings of governance

In two funded research projects (GOVERNECT and COUPLED), colleagues and I are working to apply a governance lens to telecoupled phenomena. Through this, we seek to link ‘established’ governance concepts with recent developments from within the land change community. Earlier this year I was at a highly inspiring workshop on “Governance in Telecoupled Land Systems” in Berne, Switzerland (mainly organized by Christoph Oberlack, as well as by Andrea Lenschow, Jonas Nielsen, Cecilie Friis, Julie Zähringer, and myself). Christoph did a brilliant job in bringing together researchers from several countries and research traditions in an effort to come to grips with the issues of governing global telecoupling. As is often the case when different research perspectives meet, understandings of what constitutes ‘governance’ in – or of – telecoupling, varied quite a bit, which is one of the outcomes of the Berne workshop.

Let’s take as an example the study by Hamilton-Hart (2015) on the governance of palm oil production.  Palm oil is a prime example of telecoupling because of the complex and long-distance commodity chain, the patterns of migrant workers involved, and the immense environmental and sustainability issues induced mainly in the producing region. The author observes that “[m]arket demand has driven the expansion of the palm oil industry in South-East Asia, but the industry could not have developed without a complex set of governance institutions and authoritative interventions. These institutions and interventions … involve both public and private actors. Together, they have developed a palm oil industry that is, in significant ways, regionalised. In contrast, regional cooperation to govern the negative externalities associated with palm oil production is at a very low level. The institutions that provide a degree of regulatory governance are largely transnational, often private, and very limited in their ability to constrain negative social, economic and environmental impacts. … [T]he failures of regulatory governance are rooted in the successes of the facilitating governance framework that has supported palm oil development.” (Hamilton-Hart 2015: 179, emphasis added).

What we can learn from this example is that two very different kinds of governance regimes are at work: One which has been facilitating the telecoupled system in the first place, and one which the author refers to as ‘regulatory governance’, aiming “to govern the negative externalities associated with palm oil production” (but which in this case is not delivering particularly well). Adding to this, governance which facilitates telecoupling may also be unintentional in this respect. For example, European Union Renewable Energy Directive, demanding a 10% share of biofuel in gasoline, has been driving unsustainable land use change in distant regions (Eakin et al. 2014).

To complicate matters, there is yet another kind of governance often mentioned in the literature describing telecoupled commodity chains or value chains (see, e.g. Gereffi et al. 2005; Challies 2008). This essentially refers to how chain actors (private companies, mostly) co-ordinate in order to maintain an effective functioning of a value chain – for example, whether and how chain relations are producer-driven, or co-ordinated in a network-like manner. In short, this kind of governance refers to how the telecoupled chain is maintained and organised from within.

Towards a typology of governance related to telecoupling

Taken together, we can hence distinguish three different types of governance related to telecoupling. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call these ‘telecoupling governance’ types 1, 2, and 3.

  • In type 1, governance induces telecoupling. State-based or other governance interventions create the regulatory framework that enables a telecoupled phenomenon to develop. In the above-mentioned case, such governance interventions enabled the development of a palm-oil producing industry in SE-Asia, with all its negative externalities. Likewise, regional governance (e.g. EU biofuel policy) may show unsustainable sideffects in distant parts of the world. Type 1 telecoupling governance thus often creates unsustainability.
  • In type 2, governance co-ordinates telecoupled flows. Commodity or value chains are governed by (private) chain actors. Insofar as the telecoupled chain causes sustainability problems, governance of this type serves to maintain these problems. However, such within chain governance is increasingly paying attention to adverse sustainability effects, and how they might be alleviated by these very chain actors (Bush et al. 2015).
  • In type 3, finally, governance directs telecoupling towards sustainability. Or at least, it attempts to do so. Governance here seeks leverage points to ‘solve’ the sustainability problems created by telecoupling in either of the connected regions, or in spillover regions (Liu et al. 2018). This refers to state-based environmental governance, possibly including private and civic actors, as well as to non-state actor and multi-stakeholder initiatives (Lenschow et al. 2016).

These three types are ordered in a logical sequence of creating and facilitating telecoupling (type 1), maintaining and co-ordinating telecoupled chains (type 2), and alleviating the negative consequences of telecoupling (type 3). However, this order does not imply strict temporality. For example, chain governance (type 2) may have already started when state authorities consolidate an enabling regulatory framework (type 1).

From a sustainability governance perspective, type 3 may appear most relevant. Numerous forms of governance arrangements fall under this category. To name just a few, these include state policies such as financial aid, compensation payments, technological co-operation, trade barriers or mandatory product labelling; impact assessments and permitting procedures in producing regions; bi- or multilateral trade agreements, international conventions, as well as multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil. Having said that, governance of type 2 is gaining importance for sustainability as private actors increasingly recognize their responsibility in alleviating adverse effects of their economic activity. Accordingly, recent papers on the topic have addressed the problems and potentials of governing chains towards sustainability, for example regarding coffee (Donovan and Poole 2014) or rubber (Dwyer and Vongvisouk 2017).

Ultimately, type 1 governance may bear the greatest potential for sustainability improvements. Rather than going by a ‘cleaning up’ mechanism (as type 3 governance may suggest), adverse effects of telecoupling should ideally be considered in advance. However, the mere application of a pecautionary principle, as it is well established in many more regionally-based institutions of environmental governance, is certainly easier said than done for complex telecoupled settings. Systematically incoporating considerations on telecoupling effects in major impact assessment procedures could be a start.

I thank my colleagues in the GOVERNECT project – Andrea Lenschow, Ed Challies, Benedetta Cotta and Almut Schilling-Vacaflor – for valuable comments.

 

Cited literature

Bernstein, S. and B. Cashore (2012) ‘Complex global governance and domestic policies: Four pathways of influence.’ International Affairs 88 (3): 585-604.

Bush, S.R., P. Oosterveer, M. Bailey and A.P.J. Mol (2015) ‘Sustainability governance of chains and networks: a review and future outlook.’ Journal of Cleaner Production 107: 8-19.

Challies, E., J. Newig and A. Lenschow (2014) ‘What role for social–ecological systems research in governing global teleconnections?’ Global Environmental Change 27: 32-40.

Dauvergne, P. and J. Lister (2010) ‘The Power of Big Box Retail in Global Environmental Governance: Bringing Commodity Chains Back into IR.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies 39 (1): 145-60.

Donovan, J., and N. Poole (2014). Changing asset endowments and smallholder participation in higher value markets: evidence from certified coffee producers in Nicaragua. Food Policy, 44, 1-13.

Dwyer, M., and T. Vongvisouk (2017). The long land grab: market-assisted enclosure on the China-Lao rubber frontier. Territory, Politics, Governance, 1-19.

Eakin, H., R. DeFries, S. Kerr, E.F. Lambin, J. Liu, P.J. Marcotullio, P. Messerli, A. Reenberg, X. Rueda, S.R. Swaffield, B. Wicke and K. Zimmerer (2014) Significance of Telecoupling for Exploration of Land-Use Change, in Rethinking Global Land Use in an Urban Era, eds. K.C. Seto and A. Reenberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 141-61.

Eakin, H., X. Rueda and A. Mahanti (2017) ‘Transforming governance in telecoupled food systems.’ Ecology and Society 22 (4): 32.

Friis, C., J.Ø. Nielsen, I. Otero, H. Haberl, J. Niewöhner and P. Hostert (2016) ‘From teleconnection to telecoupling: taking stock of an emerging framework in land system science.’ Journal of Land Use Science 11 (2): 131-53.

Gereffi, G., J. Humphrey and T. Sturgeon (2005). The governance of global value chains. Review of International Political Economy, 12(1), 78-104.

Hamilton-Hart, N. (2015) ‘Multilevel (mis)governance of palm oil production.’ Australian Journal of International Affairs 69: 164-84.

Lenschow, A., J. Newig and E. Challies (2016) ‘Globalization’s limits to the environmental state? Integrating telecoupling into global environmental governance.’ Environmental Politics 25 (1): 136-59.

Liu, J., Y. Dou, M. Batistella, E. Challies, T. Connor, C. Friis, J.D.A. Millington, E. Parish, C.L. Romulo, R.F.B. Silva, H. Triezenberg, H. Yang, Z. Zhao, K.S. Zimmerer, F. Huettmann, M.L. Treglia, Z. Basher, M.G. Chung, A. Herzberger, A. Lenschow, A. Mechiche-Alami, J. Newig, J. Roche and J. Sun (2018) ‘Spillover systems in a telecoupled Anthropocene: typology, methods, and governance for global sustainability.’ Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 33: 58-69.

Oberlack, C., S. Boillat, S. Brönnimann, J.-D. Gerber, A. Heinimann, C. Ifejika Speranza, P. Messerli, S. Rist and U. Wiesmann (2018) ‘Polycentric governance in telecoupled resource systems.’ Ecology and Society 23 (1): 16.

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).

Cantabria
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.

Reference

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.

 

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.

Mechanisms

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).