Saturday, December 11, 2010

Disentangling Scale Approaches in Governance Research

As part of the Scaling and Governance programme of Wageningen University, Katrien Termeer, Maartje van Lieshout and myself have worked on a position paper on different approaches to scale in governance research, particularly monocentric, multilevel and adaptive governance.

The paper has just been published in the open access journal Ecology and Society: You can also download the article as pdf.

This is the abstract:

The question of how to govern the multiscale problems in today’s network society is an important topic in the fields of public administration, political sciences, and environmental sciences. How scales are defined, studied, and dealt with varies substantially within and across these fields. This paper aims to reduce the existing conceptual confusion regarding scales by disentangling three representative approaches that address both governance and scaling: monocentric governance, multilevel governance, and adaptive governance. It does so by analyzing the differences in (1) underlying views on governing, (2) assumptions about scales, (3) dominant problem definitions regarding scales, and (4) preferred responses for dealing with multiple scales. Finally, this paper identifies research opportunities within and across these approaches.

The following table gives a summary of the comparison.

Table 1. Comparing scale approaches in governance theories.

Monocentric governanceMultilevel governanceAdaptive governance
Governing paradigmCentral authority steering societyInteractions between public and private actors, from local to global levelComplex interplay of social and ecological systems
Scale definitionsFocus on levels at the jurisdictional scale, especially size (number of inhabitants) and territorial scope of government unitsFocus on multiple levels at the jurisdictional and spatial scaleFocus on spatial, temporal, institutional, knowledge, and other scales, each including different levels
Why do scales matter?The ideal scale can provide both governance capacity and citizens’ trustGovernance must operate at multiple levels in order to capture variations in the territorial reach of policy externalitiesComplex interactions across scales and levels are important drivers in social-ecological systems
Problem definitionsInappropriate size of governments, regional gap, overlapping jurisdictionsInefficiency, coordination costs, and lack of democratic legitimacyScale mismatches and unaddressed interdependencies between levels
Dominant responsesStructural reforms (amalgamation, new authorities) and clarification of responsibilitiesDesigning and implementing coordination procedures and multilevel policy arrangementsEnhancing the fit between relevant scales and creating better linkages between levels

The reference for the article is:

Termeer, C. J. A. M., A. Dewulf, and M. van Lieshout. 2010. Disentangling scale approaches in governance research: comparing monocentric, multilevel, and adaptive governance. Ecology and Society 15(4): 29. [online] URL:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Talk at the Cradle-to-Cradle Network thematic seminar on Governance

The website of the Interreg project "Cradle-to-Cradle Network" has reported on the thematic seminar on Governance that took place in Leuven in July. Our Cycloop network was contracted by the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) for the perspective study on governance for cradle-to-cradle. The presentations of Johan Hovelynck and myself presented at the thematic seminar are available online.

The following was reported on the project website:

“It is clear from conversations during the last two days that ‘governance’ is in some ways less tangible than other C2C areas, such as product design, where one can set clear criteria to decide to what extent a product is C2C. In the C2CN project ‘governance’ was set up next to the other target areas, but it’s really an activity that cuts across the three other target areas.” Johan Hovelynck, Triagram.

Furthermore, Mr. Art Dewulf (Wageningen University) explored different approaches to governing change in a multi-actor perspective and presented a brief overview of corresponding lead-roles. Accordingly, he presented some initial findings on governance practices in domains related to environment and sustainability, close to the target areas in the C2CN project. To conclude, Art looked into organisational conditions for multi-actor governance, strategies of government actors and, finally, at some dilemma’s and tensions that seem implied in a governance approach."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management

An article by Marcela Brugnach (now at University of Twente), Hans-Jorgen Hendriksen, Peter van der Keur and myself has just been published on-line in the Journal of Environmental Management. On the basis of existing literature, and illustrated with the Guadiana case, we address the question of how to deal with the ambiguity resulting from the simultaneous presence of multiple frames in natural resources management.

This is the abstract:

Coping with ambiguities in natural resources management has become unavoidable. Ambiguity is a distinct type of uncertainty that results from the simultaneous presence of multiple valid, and sometimes conflicting, ways of framing a problem. As such, it reflects discrepancies in meanings and interpretations. Under the presence of ambiguity it is not clear what problem is to be solved, who should be involved in the decision processes or what is an appropriate course of action. Despite the extensive literature about methodologies and tools to deal with uncertainty, not much has been said about how to handle ambiguities. In this paper, we discuss the notions of framing and ambiguity, and we identify five broad strategies to handle it: rational problem solving, persuasion, dialogical learning, negotiation and opposition. We compare these approaches in terms of their assumptions, mechanisms and outcomes and illustrate each approach with a number of concrete methods.

Brugnach, M., Dewulf, A., Henriksen, H. J., & van der Keur, P. More is not always better: Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management. Journal of Environmental Management, In Press, Corrected Proof.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Uncertainties in climate change projections and water management

The interdisciplinary paper on "Uncertainties in climate change projections and regional downscaling in the tropical Andes: implications for water resources management" has been accepted and published in the open access journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. This is the full reference:

Buytaert, W., Vuille, M., Dewulf, A., Urrutia, R., Karmalkar, A., and Célleri, R.: Uncertainties in climate change projections and regional downscaling in the tropical Andes: implications for water resources management, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 14, 1247-1258, doi:10.5194/hess-14-1247-2010, 2010.

The paper can be downloaded here. My contribution focuses on the possibilities of adaptive (rather than "predict-and-control") approaches in the face of severe uncertainties about future scenarios.

The cooperation with Wouter Buytaert (now at Imperial College in London) has also recently resulted in a research grant from the UK Natural Environment Research Council for a project entitled "Towards a virtual observatory for ecosystem services and poverty alleviation", as part of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme. Guided by three diverse case studies in the Andes and the Amazon basin, we will develop techniques and methods for the identification of priority issues and beneficiaries, communication of model simulations, and integrating local managers' knowledge and practice in modelling systems.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interdisciplinary knowledge integration

An article I worked on with ex-colleagues from Leuven (Johan Hovelynck, Greet François and Tharsi Taillieu) has just appeared on the Environmental Science and Policy website.

Hovelynck, J., Dewulf, A., François, G., & Taillieu, T. (in press). Interdisciplinary knowledge integration through group model building: recognizing dualities and triadizing the conversation. Environmental Science & Policy, doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2010.04.002

This articles adressess the challenge of integrating knowledge across different disciplines in environmental sciences by studying interdisciplinary group model building sessions. Dealing with dualities about how to develop and represent knowledge emerges as a key challenge for interdisciplinary knowledge integration, and the importance of creating a third position in these discussion is underlined.

This is the abstract:

As part of the inquiry into managing an interdisciplinary research process on adaptive water governance, we investigated the process of group model building (GMB) and, more specifically, the role of Unified Modeling Language (UML) in this process. An analysis of group interaction reveals several tensions in the process of knowledge integration, which can be grouped into three overarching dualities: ‘simplicity versus complexity’, ‘constraining versus containing’ and ‘defining versus refining’. As group members take different positions with regard to these dualities, these represent sources of tension and potential ‘stuckness’ of the GMB. Hence the question arises how the group can manage duality in ways that take the GMB beyond its opposing forces. We suggest that knowledge integration processes may benefit from early recognition of the dualities at hand and strategies aimed at creating ‘thirdness’, including some suggestions on the concrete forms such ‘thirdness’ may take.

The article can be downloaded here

Saturday, April 10, 2010

PhD and Assistant Professor positions at PAP

Our Public Administration and Policy Group is looking for candidates for two new positions:

(1) PhD position on the framing and governance of climate adaptation

As announced informally earlier on this blog, the Public Administration and Policy Group at Wageningen University now offers a position for a 4-year PhD project on “Making sense of climate impacts: understanding and dealing with the variety of climate change frames in governance processes”.

The project is part of the broader Knowledge for Climate programme on the governance of climate adaptation, carried out by five Dutch and three international universities. The aim of the research is to understand the variety of perspectives or frames on climate change and to develop ways of dealing with controversies in governance processes for climate adaptation. In these processes, governmental, societal and business actors try to implement adaptation strategies that can protect vulnerable Dutch regions (or 'hotspots') from the impacts of climate change. Fluency in Dutch is required for this position.

More information on the "Governance of climate adaptation" consortium programme can be found here and here. More information about the PhD project can be found here.

To apply for this job (before April 25), go to

(2) Assistant Professor (Tenure Track position)

As an Assistant Professor you will participate in the research program “changing governance, governing change”. Within this context you can develop your own research line. You will cosupervise PhD’s and lecture public administration and governance to students both in social and natural sciences at Wageningen University. In addition, you are expected to contribute actively to the acquisition of research grants, consultancy and research projects. Both Dutch and international candidates are welcomed!

To apply for this job (before April 30), go to

Feel free to forward this information to colleagues or potential candidates.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

(Re)framing uncertainties in water management practice

The title of this post is also the title of the recently completed dissertation by Dr. (!) Nicola Isendahl at the University of Osnabrück. Before a commission consisting of Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Jens Newig, Carolin Rettig and myself, Nicola defended her dissertation succesfully on March 24th!

Apart from a theoretical and methodological discussion of uncertainties, frames and water management strategies, the dissertation summarizes the results of three journal articles. The third one (actually the second in the order of the dissertation), entitled "Using framing parameters to improve handling of uncertainties in water management practice" has just been published in Environmental Policy and Governance and can also be downloaded here. With an eye to practical usefulness, a recurring theme in Nicola's dissertation, the identified parameters or dimensions of how water managers frame uncertainties, are used as starting points for developing strategies for dealing with the uncertainties. Some of these strategies involve reframing how the uncertainties are understood to identify new options. This is a quote from the abstract:

"We apply recently developed parameters of the framing of uncertainty in two sub-basins of the Rhine, the Dutch Kromme Rijn and the German Wupper. We present and discuss the results of a series of stakeholder interactions in the two basins aimed at developing strategies for improving dealing with uncertainties. The strategies are amended and synthesized in a check-list based on the uncertainty framing parameters as a hands-on tool for systematically identifying improvement options when dealing with uncertainty in water management practice."

Given the policies of the University of Osnabrück, the whole dissertation should become publicly available soon.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Manuscript published for discussion" !?

The title of this post was the surprising subject of a recent e-mail I got from a scientific journal. It's not the review method I'm used to, but a quite interesting one nonetheless.

I recently made a contribution to a paper by Wouter Buytaert and others, entitled "Uncertainties in climate change projections and regional downscaling: implications for water resources management", which has now appeared in the on-line journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions (you can find it here). It will undergo a kind of public on-line review. These are some of the instructions given by the journal:

"In addition to the Author Comments, you and your co-authors can individually publish Short Comments under your names. Short Comments can also be published by all other members of the scientific community. To foster scientific discussion, please forward this information to your co-authors and any other interested colleagues. Please respond to the Referee Comments and relevant Short Comments published in the discussion forum of your paper as soon as possible in order to stimulate further discussion by interested scientists."

After responding to the comments by referees and colleagues and revising the paper, an editorial decision will be made whether or not to publish the paper in the ISI journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. I'm curious to see how this will work and, of course, you are all invited to comment!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Knowledge for Climate PhD position “Making sense of climate impacts" at Wageningen University

After favourable review by scientific and societal referees, the Knowledge for Climate board has decided to fund the full proposal submitted by our "Governance of Climate Adaptation" consortium! The consortium has been awarded the Center of Excellence label. In the framework of this 4-year research and action programme, we are looking for candidates for the following PhD position at our group (

“Making sense of climate impacts: Understanding and dealing with the variety of climate change frames in governance processes”

Promotor: Prof. Dr. Katrien Termeer
Co-promotor: Dr. Art Dewulf

Behind the apparent consensus that climate change is an important issue, a world of different perspectives or frames emerges (Benford & Snow, 2000; Chong & Druckman, 2007; Dewulf, et al., 2009; Schön & Rein, 1994). Effective, legitimate and resilient adaptation strategies require more than a broad agreement that climate change is important. First, in a new and not yet institutionalized policy domain, tuning with sectors like spatial planning, water, nature, agriculture, industry or infrastructure becomes crucial – these different worlds need to be connected somehow and the spatial scale for doing so is not self-evident. Second, in a multi-level governance context (Hooghe & Marks, 2003), tuning is also needed between local, regional, national and international levels on the administrative scale, which operate with different frames of reference. Third, the time scale for climate change goes much further than the usual planning horizon of governments, companies or societal organizations (Haug, et al., 2009). The long term scenarios for climate impacts, although plausible, do involve margins of uncertainty, which can be used as excuses not to act (Keeling, 2009).

All of this provides endless possibilities to frame the seriousness, urgency or scale of climate adaptation in widely diverging ways. The increasingly polarized discussion between ‘climate sceptics’ and ‘climate alarmists’, which has reached the mainstream media and political parties, testifies to this. Therefore, the variety of climate adaptation frames is likely to play an important role in climate adaptation governance processes, and we assume that the way these frame differences are handled will affect the progress and outcomes of these governance processes.

The aim of this research project is to answer this key question: How to realize effective, legitimate and resilient adaptation strategies in a situation of diverging frames about spatial, temporal and administrative scales for climate adaptation, within and between governments, businesses, scientists, societal actors and the media? The following research questions will be addressed:
  • How do the actors in climate adaptation policy processes interactively deal with their frame differences?
  • What is the potential of these ways of dealing with frame differences to prevent (or stir up) controversies?
  • What is the influence of climate frames in the media on climate frames or controversies in policy processes?
  • Which interventions for dealing with multiple frames can contribute to effective, legitimate and resilient climate adaptation and how?
The research will be carried out in cooperation with stakeholders from Dutch regional 'hotspots' for climate adaptation, therefore fluency in Dutch is required. Are you interested or do you know potential candidates? Please contact art . dewulf @ wur . nl (without the spaces).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Upcoming conferences and calls for papers

A number of interesting conferences later this year have their calls for papers out now:

The "Deltas in times of climate change" conference (Rotterdam, 29 September - 1 October 2010 ) has extended the deadline for abstract submission until March, 15th. The call for abstracts can be found here. There's a thematic session on governance and economics of climate adaptation where my colleague Katrien Termeer is one of the convenors. This quote from the website gives an idea about the issues that will be addressed:

Governance of adaptation is a so called 'wicked' problem. It involves many challenges: the multi-actor challenge because many actors and institutions are involved with different stakes, resources and strategies, the multi-level challenge because which geographic level to address which adaptation tasks is unclear; the multi- scale challenge because climate adaptation requires a constant alternation of short-term action and long-term anticipation; the multi-sector challenge, because many societal sectors are involved and climate adaptation lacks a settled climate policy domain itself and; the multi-perception challenge, because of the uncertainties and the various perceptions about risks, adaptation problems and solutions.

As I announced earlier on this blog, the 17th Annual Conference on Multi-Organisational Partnerships, Alliances and Networks (MOPAN) will be organized by Steve Cropper at Keele University (UK), 28th - 30th June 2010. The conference theme is Collaboration: Dynamics, Movement, Change. Collaboration: Dynamics, Movement, Change.The Conference joins this year with the ESRC Research Seminar on Collaborative Futures (which will form a stream of the Conference on Tuesday 29th June) and the British Academy of Management Special Interest Group on Inter-Organisational Relations. Abstracts need to be submitted by Monday 12th April 2010.

The call for papers for the Berlin Conference of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (8-9 October 2010) is out as well. The deadline for paper abstracts is April 6, with full papers due September 20. This year’s conference will adress the “Social dimensions of environmental change and governance”.

Finally, the Climate 2010 Conference will take place from 1-7 November 2010 and is organised by the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences at a very special location: in cyberspace - through discussion fora, virtual blackboards, expert live chats and video podcasts. The website presents this conference as "The World´s CO2-friendly Scientific On-line Climate Conference". This conference takes place for the third time, focusing this year on "Climate Change and the Sustainable Management of Water Resources". Abstracts need to be submitted online by 31 March.

There are probably more interesting conferences coming up. Leave a comment about conferences that you want to bring to people's attention!