2016-02-19Diskussionpapier DOI: 10.18452/3132
The polycentricity approach and the research challenges confronting environmental governance
Literature on environmental governance has shown renewed interest in polycentricity and polycentric governance, a perspective that has been first suggested by Vincent and Elinor Ostrom throughout studies of metropolitan governance in the sixties. This paper is to provide greater clarity to the recent discussions of polycentricity by introducing the polycentricity approach based on the different roles that the concepts of polycentricity and polycentric governance and associated theoretical claims adopt in research on environmental governance. The polycentricity approach aims to connect these perspectives in a coherent way. Based on revisiting the Ostroms’ writings on polycentricity, I distinguish between its use as ontological, operationalizing and sensitizing concept, as normative and positive theory, and as analytical framework. I use these perspectives to review the literature on environmental governance that relates to polycentric governance. The distinction of uses of concepts proves helpful to organize the literature and uncover research gaps. These gaps are: the role of constitutional and meta-constitutional rules and social problem characteristics for polycentric governance, ways to distinguish the domain of overarching rules and the domain of polycentric governance, the way polycentric governance shapes public agents’ behavior in acts of public service provision, and the relation between constitutional rules, polycentric governance structures and innovative criteria to evaluate social-ecological system performance such as robustness, resilience, etc. The polycentricity approach allows us to coherently link these gaps in one framework guiding research.
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