Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The concepts of knowledge and power in the literature on the governance of climate adaptation

A systematic review of the concepts of knowledge and power in the literature on the governance of climate adaptation has just been published in the on-line open access journal Ecology and Society. The first author is Martijn Vink, who works at our Public Administration and Policy group on a PhD project about framing processes in the governance of climate adaptation, as part of the Knowledge for Climate research programme on the governance of adaptation.

The role of knowledge and power in climate change adaptation governance: a systematic literature review

Martijn Vink, Art Dewulf and Catrien Termeer (Ecology and Society, 18(4): article 46)
The long-term character of climate change and the high costs of adaptation measures, in combination with their uncertain effects, turn climate adaptation governance into a torturous process. We systematically review the literature on climate adaptation governance to analyze the scholarly understanding of these complexities. Building on governance literature about long-term and complex policy problems, we develop a conceptual matrix based on the dimensions knowledge and power to systematically study the peer-reviewed literature on climate adaptation governance. We find that about a quarter of the reviewed journal articles do not address the knowledge or power dimension of the governance of climate change adaptation, about half of the articles discuss either the knowledge or the power dimension, and another quarter discuss both knowledge and power. The articles that do address both knowledge and power (1) conceptualize the governance of climate adaptation mainly as a complex system of regulatory frameworks and technical knowledge, (2) assume that regulatory systems can be easily adapted to new knowledge, (3) pay little attention to fluid or unorganized forms of power, e.g., negotiation, and knowledge, e.g., learning, and (4) largely neglect the interplay between the two. We argue that more research on this interplay is needed, and we discuss how puzzling and powering are a promising pair of concepts to study this.
The article can be read and downloaded at

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scale sensitivity: the fifth governance capability?

In a recent article, we identified four governance capabilities (Termeer et al. 2013): (1) reflexivity, or the capability to deal with multiple frames in society and policy; (2) resilience, or the capability to flexibly adapt to frequently occurring and uncertain changes; (3) responsiveness, or the capability to respond wisely to changing agendas and public demands; and (4) revitalisation, or the capability to unblock deadlocks and stagnations in policy processes. These four capabilities are based on different theoretical notions, imply different ways of observing, result in different ways of acting, and require different enabling conditions in the governance institutions

In a chapter for the upcoming book "Scale-sensitive governance of the environment" - resulting from the Scaling and Governance research programme at Wageningen University - we introduce "scale sensitivity" or "rescaling" as a fifth governance capability. We define this as the capability to observe and address cross-scale and cross-level issues. The archetypical cross-scale issue for environmental problems is the mismatch between the scale of a problem and the scale at which it is governed. But understanding and addressing cross-level issues, e.g. vertical interplay between different levels of governance, is also key to scale sensitivity.

The full references is: Termeer, C., & Dewulf, A. (2014). Scale-sensitivity as a governance capability: observing, acting and enabling. In F. Padt, P. F. M. Opdam, C. J. A. M. Termeer, & N. Polman (Eds.), Scale-sensitive governance of the environment. Wiley.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Looking for a postdoc on adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services

Update 30 Aug: the vacancy is on-line and open for applications at

Update 27 Aug: due to technical problems this vacancy wrongly shows up as "expired" on the academictransfer website. The vacancy is still open for applications until 15 Sep, and the website will be corrected soon.

Our Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen University is looking for a postdoc to carry out research in the ESPA project “Adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation enabled by environmental virtual observatories (MOUNTAIN-EVO)”. We are looking for a social science researcher in this cross-disciplinary project with Imperial College London and the University of Birmingham. This position will involve working with local researchers in mountain regions in Peru, Ethiopia, Kyrgizstan and Nepal and synthesizing the social science insights on the potential of participatory monitoring, knowledge co-generation and environmental virtual observatories for adaptive governance of ecosystem services in these mountain regions. The project will be under supervision of dr. Art Dewulf and prof. Katrien Termeer of the Public Administration and Policy group. For more information on the MOUNTAIN-EVO project, see

We are looking for ambitious and enthusiastic scientist, with a PhD in a relevant social scientific discipline and with cross-disciplinary research skills.

The ideal candidate:
has a PhD in the field of public administration, political science, development studies, environmental studies or other relevant social scientific discipline
is familiar with the literature on ecosystem services, adaptive governance and poverty alleviation
has experience with doing research in the global South and is prepared to travel to the different case study areas for study visits
has published internationally in refereed scientific journals Is able to write articles and reports, to which many researchers contribute
has published internationally in refereed scientific journals
has excellent communication and writing skills in English (knowledge of Dutch or Spanish is an advantage)

We offer a postdoc position for 36 months with an intended starting date of 1 December 2013. The official job announcement can be found at and is open for applications until 15 September. For more information contact art . dewulf @ wur . nl (without the spaces).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Contrasting frames in policy debates on climate change adaptation

Just published on-line in WIREs Climate Change: “Contrasting frames in policy debates on climate change adaptation”. I was invited to write this "Focus Article" for one of the Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews journals, which means it’s not reporting on original research but reviewing existing studies on framing climate change adaptation, and indicating some avenues for future research.

Contrasting frames in policy debates on climate change adaptation

The process by which issues, decisions, or events acquire different meanings from different perspectives has been studied as framing. In policy debates about climate change adaptation, framing the adaptation issue is a challenge with potentially farreaching implications for the shape and success of adaptation projects. From the
available literature on howthemeaning of climate change adaptation is constructed and debated, three key dimensions of frame differences were identified: (1) the tension between adaptation and mitigation as two contrasting but interrelated perspectives on climate change; (2) the contrast between framing climate change
adaptation as a tame technical problem, and framing climate change as a wicked problem of governance; and (3) the framing of climate change adaptation as a security issue, contrasting state security frames with human security frames. It is argued that the study of how climate change adaptation gets framed could be enriched by connecting these dimensions more closely with the following themes in framing research: (1) how decision-making biases lead to framing issues as structured technical problems; (2) the process of scale framing by which issues are situated at a particular scale level; and (3) the challenge of dealing with the variety of frames in adaptation processes.

The paper can be found or downloaded here

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Framing scale increase in Dutch agricultural policy 1950–2012

Maartje van Lieshout, who is close to finishing her dissertation at our group, has published an article about scale framing in agricultural policy in NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences. This time, a historical data set of policy documents dating back to 1950 serves as the basis to analyze continuity and change in the framing of scale increase in agriculture.

Framing scale increase in Dutch agricultural policy 1950–2012
M. van Lieshout, A. Dewulf, N. Aarts,  C. Termeer

In this paper, we study how agricultural policy, and particularly how scale increase, has been framed by the responsible ministers over the last six decades. We analyse the different interpretations attached to scale increase and other policy issues, in a longitudinal study of the memoranda accompanying the yearly national budget for the Ministry of Agriculture. Our analysis provides a nuanced explanation for the continuous use of the contested concept of scale increase. We show that the framing of Dutch agricultural policy has undergone considerable changes regarding issues and solutions, the role of international policy and issues from other policy domains. We find that the policy and the policy frames have become more diverse, interdependencies have increased and as a result policy has become more complex and self-referential. Part of our findings can be explained as the occurrence of a paradigm shift. However this does not explain the continuous presence of the logic of scale increase as the way forward for Dutch agriculture. We state that the self-referential agricultural policy system has aimed to continuously improve itself by means of scale increase, without discussing or critically reflecting on the functioning of the system itself. In this process language played a powerful role: changing the language helped to maintain the existing system or paradigm in which scale increase is continuously positively framed as the solution for Dutch agriculture.

The paper can be found at or downloaded below.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bridging knowledge frames and networks in climate and water governance

A book edited by Jurian Edelenbos, Nanny Bressers and Peter Scholten about "Water Governance as Connective Capacity" has just been published by Ashgate. Together with Marcela Brugnach, Katrien Termeer and Helen Ingram, we contributed a chapter on "Bridging knowledge frames and networks in climate and water governance". 
Here's an extract from the introduction to the chapter:
Addressing the challenge of water governance in view of climate change requires the best of available knowledge, sensible ways to deal with the inherent uncertainties, and, as we will argue in this paper, bridging diverging knowledge frames and networks. The fate of diverse knowledge frames and networks in the climate domain is directly relevant for water governance – why investing in e.g. hydropower or water storage capacity if climate change isn’t much of a problem, as climate skeptic activists and some political parties claim. In a field as knowledge-intensive as water and climate policy – without sophisticated models climate change wouldn’t even be recognized as an issue – a thorough understanding is needed of how knowledge is produced in networks, how knowledge links to conflicting perspectives or frames and how diverse ways of knowing can be bridged.
This is the reference:
Dewulf, A., Brugnach, M., Termeer, C. & Ingram, H. (2013). Bridging knowledge frames and networks in climate and water governance. In: J. Edelenbos, N. Bressers & P. Scholten (Eds). Water governance as connective capacity, pp 229-247. Ashgate.
The book is available at Amazon and also as a PDF ebook

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation

More than a year ago we drafted a one-page project idea about citizen science, virtual observatories, social networks and adaptive governance for the ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) call of the British Research Council. Then followed a number of important steps, including a brainstorming session in a coffee bar in Lima, an exercise in interdisciplinary proposal writing and a joint effort to draft a response to the reviews. Last month, Wouter Buytaert (PI of the proposal at Imperial College), David Hannah (Co-PI at Birmingham) and myself (Co-PI at Wageningen) were invited to defend our proposal in London. A week later we received the good news that the proposal had been recommended for funding by the ESPA board!

The project is meant to start in the fall, and we will be looking for a social science postdoc (3-year, full time, based at Wageningen) in this cross-disciplinary research project. This position will involve working with local researchers in  mountain regions in Peru, Ethiopia, Kyrgizstan and Nepal. The title and a summary of the project can be found below.

Adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation enabled by environmental virtual observatories (MOUNTAIN-EVO)

Ecosystem services (ESS) management can alleviate poverty if it is embedded in local processes of adaptive governance that rely on continuous monitoring and knowledge co-generation. This is especially the case in remote mountain regions, where poverty is often interlocked with multiple ecosystem threats, data scarcity, and high uncertainties. In these environments, it is paramount to generate locally relevant knowledge about multiple ESS and how they impact local livelihoods. This is often problematic. Existing environmental data  collection tends to be geographically biased towards more densely populated regions, and prioritised towards strategic economic activities that bypass the poor. Data may also be locked behind institutional and technological barriers and monopolised by the better educated or politically connected. These issues create a “knowledge trap” for data-poor regions, which is especially acute in remote and hard-to-reach mountain regions. This project will blend cutting-edge concepts of adaptive governance with technological breakthroughs in citizen science and knowledge co-generation to break this vicious circle.

Our central research question is how recent conceptual and technological innovations in environmental sensing, data processing, interactive visualisation and participatory knowledge generation can be leveraged to implement demand-driven, interactive and multidirectional approaches to knowledge generation about ESS. Our approach to this question is built around the notion of Environmental Virtual Observatories: decentralised and open technology platforms for knowledge generation and exchange that enable participation of marginalised and vulnerable communities bypassed by the traditional mechanisms.

Our case studies are 4 remote and poor mountain regions characterised by acute degradation of ESS, in particular water supply, soil fertility, and land cover. We will implement a process of participatory data collection and processing on these ESS and their trade-offs, embedded in the local NGO and educational setting. Mechanisms of continuous evaluation and improvements will be set up, and tested for usefulness, robustness and impact on human wellbeing. Our goal is not to develop specific solutions to specific problems. Rather, we will leverage the cross-disciplinary nature of our consortium to create a flexible and adaptive set of tools, methods and concepts to promote resilient ESS for poverty alleviation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

PhD position on the role of social media hypes and controversies in sustainability governance

As part of the Informational Governance research programme at Wageningen University, a proposal for a Phd project submitted by Noelle Aarts (Strategic Communication group) and myself (Public Administration and Policy group) has been granted! We are now looking for a PhD candidate on the following topic:

Social media as the new playing field for the governance of sustainable agro-food systems: Twitter hypes, controversies and stakeholders’ strategies

Governmental, business and civil society organizations engaged in the governance of sustainable agro-food systems face the challenge of dealing with an increasingly important but capricious public sphere formed by the social media. Public and private decision-making processes about sustainable agro-food systems are increasingly affected by both hypes and controversies in the social media, often through their interplay with mass media like newspapers, radio or television. Little is known, however, about what happens to information about sustainable agro-food systems when it travels through social media networks, or when and how hypes or controversies arise. To deal with this capricious public sphere, governmental, business or civil society organizations are developing and trying out strategies for monitoring or engaging with social media, but little is known about what these communication strategies entail and what their impact is. By monitoring and analysing Twitter activity related to sustainable agro-food systems, this project will study (1) when and how information leads to hypes or controversies on Twitter; (2) which social media strategies are used by governmental, business and civil society organizations to deal with this new public sphere; and (3) what the impact is on public and private decision-making processes about sustainable agro-food systems.

We are looking for someone with a keen interest in communication and sustainability governance, familiarity with social media and ICT tools, and preferably a background in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The official job opening for a 4-year Phd position at Wageningen University can be found at The deadline for applications is March 17th. You can contact Noelle or myself if you need more information.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Call for papers on "Puzzling and Powering over long term policy problems" at IPA 2013

Together with Martijn Vink, we're organizing a panel on "Dealing with Long Term Policy Problems: Making Sense of the Interplay between Puzzling over Meaning and Powering over Interests"  at the Interpretive Policy Analysis conference 2013 in Vienna.

Paper proposals can be submitted here: (panel 10). The deadline is February 28. Here's the call for papers:

Intrinsic uncertainty over future societies creates complex challenges for policy makers to defining what should be done today to adequately deal with problems of tomorrow. Uncertainty might amplify the ambiguity in societal understandings of what is actually at stake and how important this is to society. Accordingly, politicians and civil servants experience difficulties in developing policies for uncertain futures in plural societies, but long term characteristics of policy problems may also put politicians in the position of postponing painful policies by projecting them over multiple political cycles beyond the politicians’ accountability. Or policymakers may employ the future as a framing vehicle for telling stories and making promises which appeal to current societal concerns. Hence, the uncertainty and ambiguity which comes with long term policy problems may yield specific complexity in policymaking processes. Conflict or controversy are never far away, as we currently see in welfare state reforms across Europe, climate change policy from the global to the local level, or the developments in the European project as a whole. 

This panel aims at exploring the interface between two themes which are central to the IPA conference series: on the one hand processes of interpretation and meaning construction in uncertain and ambiguous societal contexts, and on the other hand the mechanisms of power at work in policy processes. Starting from the traditional notions on puzzling over the societal meaning to the problem, and powering over interests for getting things done (Hall 1993, Culpepper 2002, Heclo 2010), we aim to develop a better understanding of how puzzling over meaning is marked by a context of power positions and processes, and how powering over interests is marked by particular ideas and a struggle over meaning. Considering the ambiguity which comes with intrinsic uncertain futures this interplay between puzzling and powering becomes especially interesting in view of complex long-term policy issues. Therefore we are inviting contributions that conceptually and/or empirically explore the interplay relations between puzzling over meaning and powering over interests. 

Papers may examine questions as
How does the process of puzzling and powering work in a decentred governance context? 
What is the role of powerful interests in shaping policy frames, and what is the role of convincing ideas in shaping power relations?
How can frame analysis, discourse analysis or other interpretive methods be used to study powering and puzzling?
Which concepts are useful to understand the interplay between puzzling and powering? 
How do processes of puzzling and powering over long term policy issues lead to policy action, controversy or apathy? 

These analyses could be applied to different long term policy issues, including social welfare, macro-economics, environment, food security, climate change, migration or globalisation issues.

Culpepper, P. D. 2002. Powering, puzzling, and 'pacting': the informational logic of negotiated reforms. Journal of European Public Policy 9:774-790.
Hall, P. A. 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25:275-296.
Heclo, H. 2010. Modern social politics in Britain and Sweden : from relief to income maintenance. ECPR Press, Colchester.