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The institutional design, politics, and effects of a bioregional approach: observations and lessons from 11 case studies of river basin organizations

Sander Meijerink, Institute for Management Research, Radboud University
Dave Huitema, VU University Amsterdam; Open University of the Netherlands

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-09388-220241

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Abstract

One of the prescriptions for adaptive comanagement of social-ecological systems is to follow a bioregional approach. In water resources management, experience has been gained with a bioregional approach by the foundation of river basin organizations (RBOs). Here, we summarize the results of a research project involving 27 colleagues who have undertaken an analysis of the global discussion on RBOs and the foundation of RBOs in Canada, USA, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Thailand, and Australia. Drawing on Ostrom’s institutional analysis and development framework, we first present a fine-grained analysis of the institutional architecture of these RBOs, which enables us to distinguish between autonomous, coordinating, partnership, and agency type RBOs. Second, we unravel the main controversies over this architecture by focusing on the key actors involved in either promoting or hindering RBO formation, globally and at the national level. Third, we summarize how the performance of RBOs can be evaluated in terms of coordination, accountability, legitimacy, and environmental effectiveness. Finally, we discuss the relationship between institutional design and performance. The main findings are: (1) the foundation of RBOs is not a neutral process but rather a highly political one, (2) the foundation of RBOs creates complex accountability relationships, and (3) institutional interplay, the capacity to generate financial resources, and a minimum degree of institutional stability are crucial to the successes of RBOs in realizing coordination and environmental effectiveness.

Key words

accountability; bioregional approach; institutional analysis; institutional interplay; river basin organizations

Copyright © 2017 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087