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Self-Organized Governance Networks for Ecosystem Management: Who Is Accountable?

Thomas Hahn, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University


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Governance networks play an increasingly important role in ecosystem management. The collaboration within these governance networks can be formalized or informal, top-down or bottom-up, and designed or self-organized. Informal self-organized governance networks may increase legitimacy if a variety of stakeholders are involved, but at the same time, accountability becomes blurred when decisions are taken. Basically, democratic accountability refers to ways in which citizens can control their government and the mechanisms for doing so. Scholars in ecosystem management are generally positive to policy/governance networks and emphasize its potential for enhancing social learning, adaptability, and resilience in social-ecological systems. Political scientists, on the other hand, have emphasized the risk that the public interest may be threatened by governance networks. I describe and analyze the multilevel governance network of Kristianstads Vattenrike Biosphere Reserve (KVBR) in Southern Sweden, with the aim of understanding whether and how accountability is secured in the governance network and its relation to representative democracy. The analysis suggests that the governance network of KVBR complements representative democracy. It deals mainly with "low politics"; the learning and policy directions are developed in the governance network, but the decisions are embedded in representative democratic structures. Because several organizations and agencies co-own the process and are committed to the outcomes, there is a shared or extended accountability. A recent large investment in KVBR caused a major crisis at the municipal level, fueled by the financial crisis. The higher levels of the governance network, however, served as a social memory and enhanced resilience of the present biosphere development trajectory. For self-organized networks, legitimacy is the bridge between adaptability and accountability; accountability is secured as long as the adaptive governance network performs well, i.e., is perceived as legitimate. Governing and ensuring accountability of governance networks, without hampering their flexibility, adaptability, and innovativeness, represents a new challenge for the modern state.

Key words

adaptive capacity; adaptive cycle; adaptive governance; bridging organizations; ecosystem service; informal institutions; leadership; naturum; panarchy; path dependency

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087