The 1990s saw a shift in approaches to natural resource management regimes. As Andersson and Ostrom show, the centralized approach to resource management of the preceeding decades began to shift in favour of a more decentralized, community-based approach to natural resource management, especially of common pool resources. Common pool resource are those resources that “are costly to exclude others from using [as] one person’s harvest leaves less for others to harvest” (74).
What we see is a shift to decentralization, but an important consideration is that local governments in decentralized regimes respond differently to their assigned roles. This is largely due to the complexity of resource systems.
Polycentricity is understood as “the relationship among multiple authorities with overlapping jurisdictions…[and includes analysis] of how actors at different levels of governance interact and influence each other’s decision-making” (73).
The authors address the problem of promoting decentralization as the only solution to centralization of natural resource management. There are certainly advantages of local governance regimes for common-pool resources (e.g. local knowledge, reliance on disaggregated knowledge, establishing parallel systems of rule making), as well as a number of disadvantages (costs, disengagement of local groups, poor/inappropriate selection of rules, local tyrannies, risk of stagnation, conflict among users), but the authors argue that the feasibility of any given governance structure likely to depend on a series of context specific factors (e.g. nature of resource to be governed, existence of monitoring and enforcement of rules, interaction and collaboration with other actors external to the community). Polycentric approaches help to address disadvantages to decentralization by bringing in the perspective that regimes consider “relationships among governance actors, problems, and institutional arrangements at different levels of governance” (77).
What this article provides for my own research is a basis for understanding how polycentric approaches to complex natural resource regimes can address limitations of decentralization. This is achieved by recognizing that scale and multi-level considerations is critical for context-specific design of regimes. As well, another helpful bit is that the authors provide a rational for using polycentric approaches in complex natural resource regimes.