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The Neglect of Governance in Forest Sector Vulnerability Assessments: Structural-Functionalism and “Black Box” Problems in Climate Change Adaptation Planning

Adam M. Wellstead, Michigan Technological University
Michael Howlett, Simon Fraser University; Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
Jeremy Rayner, University of Saskatchewan


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Efforts to develop extensive forest-based climate change vulnerability assessments have informed proposed management and policy options intended to promote improved on-the-ground policy outcomes. These assessments are derived from a rich vulnerability literature and are helpful in modeling complex ecosystem interactions, yet their policy relevance and impact has been limited. We argue this is due to structural-functional logic underpinning these assessments in which governance is treated as a procedural “black box” and policy-making as an undifferentiated and unproblematic output of a political system responding to input changes and/or system prerequisites. Like an earlier generation of systems or cybernetic thinking about political processes, the focus in these assessments on macro system-level variables and relationships fails to account for the multi-level or polycentric nature of governance and the possibility of policy processes resulting in the nonperformance of critical tasks.

Key words

climate change; forestry; governance; structural functionalism
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087