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Scale and Governance: Conceptual Considerations and Practical Implications

Kasper Kok, Land Dynamics Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Tom (A.) Veldkamp, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands


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Policies have many unforeseen impacts on social-ecological systems at different levels of spatial and temporal scales. Partly because of this, both scale and governance have been and continue to be hotly debated and studied topics within many scientific disciplines. Although there are two distinct vocabularies, both communities seem to be struggling to come to terms with a shift that has common elements. This special feature has two types of contributions, three scoping papers, providing a state-of-the-art overview of the conceptual discussion, and six case study papers that set out to deal with the practicalities of combining scale and governance. The scoping papers strongly indicate that using the notion of complex systems, specifically the social-ecological system, is needed to improve the understanding of scale and governance. They furthermore confirm that both communities are shifting. Additionally, the papers show several promising ways forward to link scale and governance, even though they differ in their suggestions on most important courses of action and research agendas. The case study papers show that conceptual advances have not been taken up to their full extent in practice. Importantly, none of the papers is being very specific on the definition of the term governance. Additionally, most attention is given to spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional scales, largely ignoring, for example, network and knowledge scales. What is urgently needed are more case study papers that explicitly make use of the conceptual literature and through that attempt to link scale and governance. Ultimately, there is a challenge to more effectively include nonscientists in the debate. A transdisciplinary arena is required where the concepts of scale and governance are framed such that a broad variety of stakeholders can join the debate and/or the decision making process.

Key words

governance; scale; social-ecological system

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