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:

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