Tuesday, December 6, 2011

PhD position on “Multi-actor governance for sustainable materials management”

In the framework of the policy support centre on sustainable materials management (SuMMa) of the Flemish government that will start in 2012, a PhD position is available on the topic of “Multi-actor governance for sustainable materials management”. The PhD researcher will be employed at the HUBrussel and jointly supervised with Wageningen University. The promoter of the PhD research will be Prof. Dr. ir. Katrien Termeer (Wageningen University) and co-promoters will be Marc Craps (HUBrussel) and myself.

For more information or to apply, please contact Marc Craps or Art Dewulf.

Description of the project

The governance challenges for sustainable materials management are manifold. Entire production and consumptions systems need to be innovated to be able to close the materials circle, requiring transformations from linear supply chains to production-consumption-production cycles. Even without considering the challenges of redesigning material flows on a global level, these transformations present difficult exercises in steering society in a more sustainable direction. Multi-actor governance, implying cooperation between a wide range of public and private actors, is required to make this happen. Working across the boundaries of organizations will be necessary, between government organizations, designers, industries, retailers, NGO’s, consumers, research and education etc. Closing materials cycles creates new interdependencies between government and businesses (e.g. coordinating innovations in materials processing with regulations on production systems and waste treatment), and between producers and consumers (e.g. producers start to depend on consumers for their supply of reusable materials).
Multi-actor governance implies a broad innovation in the public policy field. Focusing on policy networks and policy communities is both more encompassing and discriminating. It involves attention to informal, non-governmental as well as formal, governmental mechanisms, and further differentiation of actors and relationships within the government as well as in society. In any policy domain, a variety of actors take initiatives to achieve their objectives and develop relationships to influence the outcomes. This multi-actor process shapes societal coordination. The patterns that emerge do not rest solely on government authority, but on a multiplicity of in(ter)dependent actors, specific to the policy arena. As such, the networks that develop in this process are – at least to large extent – self-organizing. They function as informal social systems, rather than bureaucratic structures, based on mutual, open-ended commitment, rather than formal contracts.
This research project involves answering fundamental questions, like how can existing concepts and theoretical frameworks on multi-actor collaboration be further developed to make them relevant and applicable for the complex sustainability challenges of materials management? It also involves applied research questions related to the concrete Flemish cases and practices at the core of this research proposal.


We are looking for a social scientist with a background in public administration, policy sciences, organization sciences, or communication sciences and a keen interest in multi-actor governance and interaction processes in complex sustainability issues. Academic writing skills are important, because the dissertation will be composed of journal articles in international peer reviewed journals. Fluency in Dutch and English and good communication skills are required to work with stakeholders in cases of sustainable materials management. Experience with empirical research projects, interdisciplinary research, group process facilitation and both qualitative and quantitative research methods will be considered as an advantage.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Discursive interaction strategies for 'doing differences'

This year, I finally took the time to submit a paper that I still consider to be one of the best parts of my dissertation, despite (or perhaps thanks to) the fact that involves an unusual combination of things: a conceptual framework based on multi-actor change, interactional framing theory, dealing with dualities and discursive psychology, a methodological approach based on discourse and conversation analysis, a case of hydraulic modeling for an irrigation system and a context of development cooperation in South America. I'm very happy it has now been accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science as part of a special issue on qualitative approaches to change. The comments by the reviewers and the editorial guidance by Inger Stensaker really helped me to turn this paper into a coherent and digestable article - so I hope. The key contribution is the identification of a set of interaction strategies for dealing with differences in issue framing (see figure). The article is due to appear in 2012, but the pre-print can be downloaded here.

Issue framing in conversations for change: discursive interaction strategies for ‘doing differences’

Art Dewulf and René Bouwen

In conversations for change between multiple actors about complex issues, differences in issue framing are bound to emerge. When the participants frame the meaning of an issue in diverging terms, they face the challenge of dealing with this frame difference in the further conversation. We draw on literature on framing, dualities and interaction to explore how participants in conversations deal with these frame differences through language-in-interaction. With discourse and conversation analysis as a methodological approach, we analyzed interaction sequences in the context of multi-actor projects of natural resources management. We identify five interaction strategies that involve different ways of ‘doing differences’: frame incorporation, frame disconnection, frame polarization, frame accommodation and frame reconnection. The discursive characteristics of each of these interaction strategies can be understood by considering the multiple interactional challenges faced by participants when they engage in conversations for change.