Environmental multi-actor governance versus the environmental policy perspective: what’s the difference and why is it critical?

2013 EEEN Forum

Igor Struyf, Flemish Environment Agency

Persistent environmental problem sets – such as climate change, the depletion of various critical natural resources and environmental pollution beyond critical thresholds – reveal and boil down to fundamental flaws in major socio-technical systems (STSS) such as the ones that organise spatial planning, energy production and use, and mobility and transport in our societies.
The idea that these STSs ought to qualitatively ‘transition’ to substantially more environmentally friendly states over the next decades is rapidly gaining ground. Over the last 15 years, first academia and then governmental policy communities around the world have increasingly gained interest in and taken the perspective of how STSs could transform via so-called system innovation processes.

When adopting a perspective of (transformation of) entire societal (sub-)systems – i.e. which do not (necessarily) primarily or centrally consist of organisational actors from the policy domain that go through environmental policy cycles (i.e. the environmental policy perspective), the fundamental question arises how governmental environmental policy initiatives, strategies, policy mixes, (innovation) programmes and the evaluation thereof can then be adequately perceived, approached and accommodated for as an integral part of environmental multi-actor governance.

One avenue to start tackling this question is to adopt and apply an organisational network perspective on STSS in general and policy developments in particular. In this context, the concept and practice of Multi-Actor Governance (MAG) is gaining ground in both innovation and transition suidies as well as increasingly in policy circles.

Moreover, all main types of societal/organisational actors that collectively shape STSS and their consisting organisational networks – business, government, consumers/citizens, etc. – adopt particular, complex ‘political-organisational’ perspectives 1 on (certain aspects of) the underlying environmental problem sets, and dispose of a different and varying ‘room to manoeuvre’ (agency) to contribute to transforming STSS.

Given that ‘(policy) evaluations are needed to increase knowledge about what works when it comes to policies and measures as being part of political programmes’ and that ‘evaluation is an important tool for ongoing learning and knowledge‘, this presentation explores:

  1. New, additional (network) roles of policy actors within a perspective of STS transformation and environmental multi-actor governance in organisational networks;
  2. General rules of thumb, criteria and indications for the adequateness of environmental policy initiatives, strategies, policy mixes, (innovation) programmes and the evaluation thereof.

1 This construct can be developed by means of (an extended version of) the PAIR-matrix [Diepenmaat (1997)] concept. This tool identifies the positions, actions, interests and roles of an actor, as well as its motivations, objectives, relative power status and mutual trust within the organisational networks they are part of [Smith et al. (2005)].

 

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