Tag Archives: adaptive governance

Conference “Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology”

via Emily Boyd
International Conference “Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology – Actor Constellations, Institutional Arrangements & Strategies”
Call for abstracts: The deadline for abstract submissions has been extended to March 24, 2010.
October 28-29, 2010, University of Twente, The Netherlands.
The conference is organized by the Institute of Innovation and Governance Studies (IGS) of the University of Twente. Internationally, the conference will be run as a key event of the European Forum for ‘Studies into Policies for Research and Innovation’ (Eu-SPRI Forum; succeeding the PRIME Network of Excellence).

For emerging science and technology (EST) governance becomes tentative when it is designed as a dynamic process to manage interdependencies and contingencies. Tentative governance aims at creating spaces of openness, probing and learning instead of trying to limit options for actors, institutions and processes. It answers political and organizational complexities with explorative strategies, instead of relying only on orthodox or preservative means. Tentative governance is a particularly pertinent issue for EST such as nanotechnology, life sciences, genomics and other emerging fields of innovations with the potential to radically transform domains and sectors,. These fields are subject to a broad array of inherent uncertainties related to technological shape, configurations and applications and the resulting societal benefits and risks. At the same time, actor constellations and practices related to knowledge production, innovation and societal appropriation are in the process of emerging and largely differ from established technologies. This poses specific challenges to the governance of these fields, which has to address ill-defined and sometimes ‘moving targets’. Simultaneously, promises and expectations abound. Many actors from government, academia, industry, and civil society expect that EST will constitute “key technologies of the future” and that some may even lead to a “next industrial revolution”. Thus, developing appropriate governance modes seems all the more important. However, modes of governance are usually attuned to established technologies. Innovative modes of governance under headings such as ‘reflexive governance’, ‘transition management’, ‘Constructive Technology Assessment’, ‘Ethical, Legal and Societal Issues (ELSI) Studies’, or ‘Real-Time Technology Assessment’ are only now emerging. What we are seeing, in other words, is a co-evolutionary growth of innovative modes of governance and constellations, practices and technologies in EST. Hence, it can be argued that governance modes, be they regulatory approaches, institutional arrangements or modes of coordination among various actor constellations turn out – and probably even need – to be tentative in order to respond to the uncertainties and to be prepared for further dynamics. We assume that tentative governance is neither a particularly desirable or worrisome approach, but rather an empirical phenomenon. The aim of the conference is to identify and elaborate the specific governance challenges of EST and to discuss ways of responding to them. Papers may address these issues conceptually or empirically for EST in general or for a specific innovation. We invite interdisciplinary contributions from policy and regulatory governance studies, legal studies, higher education studies, science and technology studies, technology assessment and innovation studies.
More info about paper submission, sessions etc, here.

Are There Limits to Adaptive Governance?

by Emily Boyd

From a development perspective adaptive governance (AG) raises questions about how do you measure fair, efficient and effective processes, who are the winners and losers? The concept of ‘good’ governance in the context of development is about procedural justice and fairness and all that entails to try to stamp out inequalities. It is normative and connected to human rights. Many rely on concepts of ‘good’ governance to set transparent goals in decision-making processes.

For instance, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai stated recently that without good governance, Africa was unlikely to overcome its numerous poverty challenges. In the case of SES or coupled climate and development, we are still searching for ways to think about what governance means for understanding coupled, complex, interconnected climate change, ecosystem and development challenges across multiple actors in cities, forests, coastal areas etc. The question that haunts us is whether AG is a ‘utopia’ where getting the principles right leads to a system of management that hides inequalities across scales?

AG emerged from understanding about adaptive management and co-management in natural resource management. AG is in a sense the scaled up version of co-management across hierarchies of decision-making and knowledge. Co-management is by no means a panacea and encounters broad challenges of who is accountable and for what? (e.g. see the work of Plummer and Armitage). Early research from the development community tried to break out of the hegemonies that surround natural resource management and sought to increase understanding for, and interest in, the continual evolution of local knowledge, through farmers own experimentation with crops, soils, and irrigation and with the dynamics of social networks for spreading knowledge as well as risks (for example the work of Chambers, Scoones & Thompson, Leach) (www.ids.ac.uk).

What came out of that work was a revisionist agenda that was much more nuanced about the politics of knowledge. Yet, what was missing from that early work was the resilience dimensions of ecological and climatic change – the stuff that we know now, e.g. the importance of flips, thresholds, feedbacks etc. – and also how knowledge relates to resilience. This is perhaps where adaptive governance can lend a hand specifically to ask questions about how to govern complex climate – development interactions given the imperfections of the ‘real’ world and the inequalities of uneven development.

Let us think about adaptive governance simply as a heuristic to help to pose new critical questions and tease out understandings about features of change, institutional flexibility, scale, and learning in social and ecological systems. Adaptive governance opens up arenas for asking questions about up scaling collective action e.g. the work of Per Olsson and others on the governance of the Great Barrier Reef. Another example is in examining the importance in ecological forecasting (Clark et al 2003). An emerging imperative is to incorporate feedback mechanisms into ecological forecasts, which are essential to predicting ‘potential’ tipping points. How best to manage tipping points also requires consideration of the social dynamics and ways to collectively understand and think about this. The co-production of knowledge looks to be an important part of this.

Adaptive governance also opens up new ways to conceptualize how actors and organizations respond and reorganize following shocks in coupled systems, e.g. the 2005 dieback in Amazonia and 2005 floods in Mumbai and helps us to ask questions about how networks and learning platforms (e.g. in planning for a 2 degree world) connect across different levels of organization in managing for resilience.

Thus to conclude, yes there are limits to adaptive governance. We must avoid panaceas. However it is early days, and the concept has opened up avenues to think critically and engage across disciplines. It is now from further theoretical and empirical work we will get a better grasp of the utility and limits of AG. In the meantime, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Further reading

Clark, et al (2003). “Ecological Forecasts: An Emerging Imperative”, Science 293, 657.

Plummer, R. and DR. Armitage (2007). “Charting the new territory of adaptive co-management: a Delphi study”, Ecology and Society 12(2):10 [online] URL:http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art10/

Derek, A., Melissa, M. and R. Plummer (2008).” Adaptive co-management and the paradox of learning”, Global Environmental Change Vol.18 (1):86-98.