Progress beyond the state-of-the-art


Society is faced with a wide variety of rapidly evolving and intricate policy problems that demand complicated choices between possible solutions. Unfortunately, important choices in these fields must often be taken under conditions characterised by uncertainty as societies become more and more complex and interdependent. Decisions therefore often have to be taken in a setting where a lack of knowledge of coming conditions is usual and where large numbers of people will be affected. When policies fail to achieve their aims, or where policy-makers are perceived to be inadequate, a lack of public support often develops, and in retrospect, a lack of legitimacy. Research has shown that many societies are in fact faced with problems of decreasing legitimacy, that is, the public now have less faith in government than they did for 20-30 years ago. Decisions made by political leaders, managers, and administrators are questioned more and more, and negative reactions to what are considered sub-optimal policies have become more aggressive. How then to make better decisions, or at least to make sure that decisions are accepted by society and seen as legitimate? If the polity (the political and administrative institutions of government) is unable to solve societal problems by itself, then must government develop into something more? Many contemporary writers feel so, and claim that a way out of the dilemma is to move from government to governance. Governance is seen here as including politics and administration, civil society, and economic interests as three different actors with established formal and informal institutions. Cohen and Arato (1994) describe civil society as being between the state and economic interests, and in line with this typology civil society is defined here as a sphere of activity separate from the politico-administrative and business sectors. Shared decision-making and implementation allows (and may force) formally non- political actors to share responsibility with the polity, and thus possibly increase the perceived legitimacy of decisions and policy. The necessity of increased legitimacy for decisions and policy noted above is especially important in the fields of sustainable ecosystem governance and biodiversity, where the implementation of policies is often dependent on their acceptance by stakeholders and the public. Participation by these groups therefore becomes more and more necessary as problems diversify and become more spatially diffuse.

The future state of ecosystems will be the result of a combination of societal, economic and ecological influences. Yet our ability to predict the future is handicapped by our present state of knowledge, as well as by present values, norms and beliefs. Faced with these dilemmas it is sometimes claimed that governance, or even good governance can provide possible solutions to problems of ecosystems and sustainability sketched out above. Governance, however, may present advantages, but also creates problems. First, there is the question of definition. As Rhodes has pointed out, ‘the term ‘governance’ is popular but imprecise. It has at least six uses, referring to: the minimal state; corporate governance; the new public management; ‘good governance’; socio-cybernetic systems; and self-organizing networks (Rhodes 1996). If we content ourselves with the final aspect – self-organizing networks, then we can expect these to be formed be individuals or organizations, probably coming from a number of different spheres. The forms of interaction, if we use the self-governing network metaphor, will then take place in informal contexts as opposed to hierarchical organizations. Social network theory (Ward and Williams 1997) (Rhodes 1986), will lead us to expect that these networks will differ in the number and status of the actors involved, as well as in forms of interaction and the duration of that interaction. Of vital importance in this interaction are the nodal points of the network, actors, organizations or individuals who are able to play a role as communicators and gatekeepers. This leads us to look more closely at the interaction of actors, and at the institutional contexts within which this interaction may take place. Policy choices in sustainable ecosystem management involve trade-offs between alternative uses of scant resources, as well as choices between societal values, norms, and ideologies. Power, and different forms of power, lie at the centre of the debate on government, governance, ecosystem management and sustainability, although this is not always apparent, as power can be exercised in various forms. Steven Lukes has developed a characterisation of three forms of power (Lukes 2005), of which the power to determine a discourse, present or future, can be seen as one. The other forms of power are first-level power over others, exerted through control of decision-making procedures. Secondly, Lukes describes the power to determine an agenda, and thus steer the issues that can be discussed. Lukes also analyses a form of power that is exerted, consciously or unconsciously, over the very foundations of society and our thoughts, values and beliefs. This is the power that may prevent us from thinking freely about ways to achieve sustainability, to govern ourselves, or to formulate a future not simply based on present conditions. In ecosystem governance information is often a form of power, and we will analyse the use of information as a form of power, especially with institutions, in the LiveDiverse project.

The move to sustainable ecosystem governance also necessitates a greater understanding of the processes of institutions in governance, and involves analyses of the institutions (formal and informal) within which governance can be developed. These may be formal institutions that are created to embody and protect the values of societies, or informal institutions such as liberty, democracy, rights, citizenship, welfare, community and the rule of law. We also need to bear in mind the differences between institutional forms, between formal and informal institutions, and between institutional structures. Young claims that a ‘prevalent distinction of institutions is between rules of the game, or settled practices, and the formal organizations who are the players and who have formal hierarchies of decision-making’ (Young 1999) and the interaction of these will be looked at in detail in LiveDiverse. Institutions, in the form of organisational structures or norms and values, are important for sustainable ecosystem governance as we will attempt to demonstrate. We will also examine how information is treated in different ways in different institutional contexts. The role of institutions in ecosystem governance is not unproblematic, however, as there is no common understanding of what they are in different parts of the world. The reason for this is perhaps because there is here, as in many areas of policy analysis, a lack of comparative studies (Scott 1995). By including case areas from four continents LiveDiverse will help to produce new knowledge in this field. North claims that institutions create society’s structural incitement, and that economic achievements are built to a large extent on economic and political institutions (North 1998). He also states that individual’s and group’s beliefs, which determine their choices, are a result of learning over time, from generation to generation. Members of an institution are also considered to hold common values (Peters 1999), which can be ‘webs of interrelated rules and norms’ (Nee 1998), p.8). Peters and Pierre (Peters and Pierre 1998) also stress the way that informal institutions (norms, values, rules and practices) shape political behaviour, as do many others (Krasner 1983; Krasner 1993). Rowlinson (Rowlinson 1997) claims that organisations (formal institutions) are enclosed by (informal) institutions and social structures, such as laws and state legal systems, and formalinstitutions (or organisations) can be said to be associated with change and action, while informal institutions with stability and durability. However, this does not imply that actors within organisations cannot change routines and rules. In some cases they can, and will (Rowlinson 1997) p.89). The study of institutions takes place in a number of different streams, of which perhaps the most important can be categorised as sociological institutionalism, focusing on normative and cultural influences, rational-choice institutionalism, that looks for strategic, goal-oriented behaviour, and historical institutionalism, that stresses the influence of historical aspects of institutions. Knill (Knill 2001), on the other hand, following Mayntz and Scharpf (Mayntz and Scharpf 1975), distinguishes between institution-based and agency-based approaches. Anthropologists have also examined institutions, mainly in terms of their internal structures, their cultures of organisation, their roles in wider institutions, their relations to other organs of power and influence, their impact on the communities which they serve, and their roles as producers of ideas and ideologies.

Let us now return to the question of ecosystem governance, and attempt to place institutions within this context. Moving from a dialogue between two political actors, or a political actor and a part of an administration, we can visualise governance in the field of sustainability as the possible interaction between actors from three spheres; the ecological, economic, and societal spheres. Another way of putting this is to say that all three aspects must be taken into account if sustainable ecosystem governance is to succeed. We can also envisage this as an imaginary network-based interaction between three points of a triangle, and interaction would then occur, not as a dialogue between two spheres, but as a Trialogue between three spheres (Gooch 2004). These three pillars of the sustainability Trialogue would then be environment, society, andeconomy. The problem with biodiversity governance (and that is what human dimensions of biodiversity are, among other things, about) is that it is notoriously difficult to measure. To paraphrase Lord Kelvin, the inability to measure it will mean that improvements in governance are difficult to assess, and this realisation has led to a profusion of indicators designed to assess the quality of governance in place at the national level. Despite this abundance of indicators, it has been suggested, most recently in the 2nd World Water Development Report, that their level of robustness is seldom adequate for the task of monitoring environmental governance properly. Similarly, the UNDP Water Governance Facility notes that, [t]he recent centre-staging of governance as the most important challenge to improve water management and services provision has not been matched by developing robust indicators that can monitor and assess trends for national water governance reform. Our aim in LiveDiverse is to contribute to the development of indicators that can be used in biodiversity and livelihoods governance. The World Water Crisis is often described as a crisis of governance. It is argued that improving the way in which water is governed at the local, national and international levels can yield the greatest potential gain in addressing the current global water crisis. At the political level, governments have therefore voiced their strong support for improved governance through numerous international policy documents, such as the 2000 Ministerial Declaration of The Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century, the 2001 Bonn Keys of the International Conference on Freshwater, the 2002 Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the 2003 Ministerial Declaration of the Kyoto 3rd World Water Forum. The 2001 International Conference on Freshwater, for example, highlighted the fact that:
The essential key is stronger, better performing governance arrangements. National water management strategies are needed now to address the fundamental responsibilities of Governments: laws, rules and standard setting; the movement from service delivery to the creator and manager of an effective legal and regulatory framework. Effective regulatory arrangements that are transparent and can be monitored are the way to effective, responsive, financially sustainable services.

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