Pahl-Wostl, C. (2009). A conceptual framework for analysing adaptive capacity and multi-level learning processes in resource governance regimes. Global Environmental Change, 19(3), 354–365.

Pahl-Wostl begins the article with a very simple question:  how to implement sustainable resource governance and management regimes that are resilient to global and climate change?

Two approaches she suggests is adaptive governance and social learning, which have been identified as essential for governing social-ecological systems during periods of abrupt change.

She makes four assumptions in her paper:
1) Management of environmental resource regimes must undergo transition to more adaptive and integrated resource governance if they are to be sustainable;
2) Serious knowledge gaps and a lack of a sound conceptual base to understand learning and change in multilevel governance regimes hampers ability to address challenges in resource governance
3) More emphasis has to be given to network governance and processes of social and societal learning
4) Improving the analytical and normative understanding of resource governance regimes have to take into account that resource management is a political process.

She makes an important point that approaches to more adaptive and sustainable regimes cannot be too general (applying panaceas – see Ostrom et al. 2007), nor too specific (non-transferable). What is needed is a diagnostic approach taking into account complexity in a systematic fashion.

Management (analyzing, monitoring, keep state within desirable bounds) vs governance (different actors and networks that help formulate and implement enviro policy and/or policy instruments) for resources is clearly distinguished. This is followed by a useful discussion on the characteristics of governance of natural resources, touching on polycentricity. She argues that a fundamental shift from government to governance (including polycentricity, multilevel) has occurred.

The paper then goes on to discuss four dimensions that are used as a base for analyzing characteristics of environmental governance regimes.
1) Institutions and relationships and relative importance of formal and informal institutions
2) Actor networks with emphasis on the role and interactions of state and non-state actors
3) Multi-level interactions across administrative boundaries and vertical integration
4) Governance modes – bureaucratic hierarchies, markets, networks

Each of these four are discussed in great detail as they are identified as major structural characteristics of governance regimes.

The notion of a learning cycle and the single, double, and triple loop was quite interesting, when considering the type of learning needed for different degrees of change. This discussion on the degree of learning in policy processes that leads to change dovetailed clearly with the work that POLIS does, especially on the WAM/WSA file. This helped to clarify what these different loops might look like in a real life setting.

The framework developed for addressing the dynamics and adaptive capacity of resource governance regimes as multi-level learning processes may be helpful for aligning my own thinking about the type of approach I will be taking in my own research.


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