Toward comparative institutional analysis of polycentric social-ecological systems governance

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In this paper, we develop a conceptual approach that allows better understanding of what determines the performance of polycentric governance. The paper first identifies discrete structural alternatives of polycentric governance types (Public Service Industries). We suggest that efficient performance of Public Service Industries is shaped by variations in social-problem characteristics (determining potential types of governance) and constitutional and overarching rules (of people's choosing), which jointly determine the credibility with which citizen-consumers are able to discipline the activities of agents involved in governance. We illustrate this approach through the case of transnational biofuel governance in the European Union. We find that constitutionally granted (lack of) transparency and accountability are, in this case, pivotal for relatively inefficient governance of public goods. However, we also acknowledge the difficulties of assessing performance of polycentric governance based on single case studies. To overcome this problem, we suggest Comparative Institutional Analysis, which selects case studies according to social problem characteristics that are responsible for particular kinds of performance (e.g., efficiency) of polycentric governance types. This would allow scholars associated with the Bloomington School of Political Economy but also scholars analyzing governance from perspectives adopting similar assumptions to learn more about how constitutional rules shape the performance of polycentric governance types to build sound policy recommendations derived from this.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Policy and Governance
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)269-283
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2018