Principle 7 – Promote polycentric governance systems

Michael Schoon, Martin D. Robards, Chanda L. Meek, Victor Galaz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

23 Scopus citations


Polycentricity is a governance system in which there are multiple interacting governing bodies with autonomy to make and enforce rules within a specific policy arena and geography. These governance authorities interact with others at similar scales horizontally and within nested scales vertically. Multiple governance units have been suggested to provide many institutional sources for enhancing resilience and create a mechanism enabling other resilience-enhancing factors. In theory, and in empirical cases, they have been found to create a foundation for learning and experimentation, to be a source of policy/institutional diversity, to enable broader levels of participation and to improve connectivity between groups while building in modularity and redundancy. Recent work has started to explore variance in polycentricity - notably, levels of structural inclusiveness (narrowly to more broadly representative) and degree of collaboration (type of collaborative activity). We see a need to learn more about how inclusiveness and degree interact and how they lead to divergent outcomes in different situations, and also when polycentricity succeeds and fails, and to what extent. Studies to date in complex systems have been largely diagnostic and lacked predictive power and precision. In short, there is a lack of understanding of how to operationalize the idea of polycentricity in governance of social-ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPrinciples for Building Resilience
Subtitle of host publicationSustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781316014240
ISBN (Print)9781107082656
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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