Disentangling Puzzles of Spatial Scales and Participation in Environmental Governance: The Case of Governance Re-scaling Through the European Water Framework Directive

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This article attempts to shed new light on prevailing puzzles of spatial scales in multi-level, participatory governance as regards the democratic legitimacy and
environmental effectiveness of governance systems. We focus on the governance re-scaling by the European Water Framework Directive, which introduced new governance scales (mandated river basin management) and demands
consultation of citizens and encourages ‘active involvement’ of stakeholders. This allows to examine whether and how re-scaling through deliberate governance interventions impacts on democratic legitimacy and effective environmental policy delivery. To guide the enquiry, this article organizes existing—partly contradictory—claims on the relation of scale, democratic legitimacy, and environmental effectiveness into three clusters of mechanisms, integrating insights from multi-level governance, social-ecological
systems, and public participation. We empirically examine Water Framework Directive implementation in a comparative case study of multi-level systems in the light of the suggested mechanisms. We compare two planning areas in
Germany: North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony. Findings suggest that the Water Framework Directive did have some impact on institutionalizing hydrological scales and participation. Local participation appears generally both
more effective and legitimate than on higher levels, pointing to the need for yet more tailored multi-level governance approaches, depending on whether environmental knowledge or advocacy is sought. We find mixed results regarding the potential of participation to bridge spatial ‘misfits’ between ecological and administrative scales of governance, depending on the historical institutionalization of governance on ecological scales. Polycentricity, finally, appeared somewhat favorable in effectiveness terms with some distinct
differences regarding polycentricity in planning vs. polycentricity in implementation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)998 - 1014
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has been carried out within the project GoScaLE (Participatory Governance and the Impact of Scales on Democratic Legitimacy and Effectiveness) under grant no. 1207/3-1 of the German Research Foundation (DFG). GoScaLE was part of the collaborative project WaterScale (Water Governance and Problems of Scale. The Example of Institutionalizing River Basin Management through the EC-Water Framework Directive), www.waterscale.info . We thank Tim Moss, Frank Hüesker, and Wiebke Grund for discussions and comments on the research presented here.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Sustainability Science - Multi-level governance, Re-scaling, Democratic dilemma , Polycentric governance, Sustainable water resources management, Mandated participatory planning