Abrupt changes require new government thinking

Resilience researchers explore ways to handle processes of complex, global change

- Surprising events such as the 2004 tsunami not only affects local livelihoods and ecosystems, but can also undermine trust for central state bodies, a new Resilience centre article says. Photo: F. Thomalla

Unexpected epidemics, abrupt catastrophic shifts in natural systems and economic crises that cascade across national borders are increasingly challenging how societies are governed at all political levels.

In their article Governance and Complexity - Emerging Issues for Governance Theory, Stockholm Resilience Centre researchers Andreas Duit and Victor Galaz, present hypotheses about how different governance types can be expected to handle abrupt processes of change.

They argue that many contemporary governance models fail to detect and overcome sudden changes and disasters such as ecological surprises.

- Contrary to what is often assumed by governance scholars and policymakers, large parts of the world are not characterized by linear and predictable social, economical, or ecological systems. Instead, shocks and disturbances are integrated and more common features than previously acknowledged, co-author Victor Galaz says.

Better understanding of complex adaptive systems in politics needed
In their article, which was published in the July 2008 edition of Governance, Duit and Galaz argue that there is enough evidence to justify the need to consider the political and organizational implications of complex adaptive systems.

These systems contain what has been denoted  "tipping points" as well as “cascading dynamics" where small events might trigger changes that are difficult or even impossible to reverse and where the transition is sharp and dramatic. Such changes can spark off political crises of a national or even international scale.

But can complex societies govern complex change?

As global environmental change accelerates, Duit and Galaz raises the fact that a parallel fundamental shift has unfolded: the way we govern ourselves. Traditional hierarchical and formal modes of public steering are slowly making way to different schemes of self-government, public-private partnerships, collaborative efforts, policy entrepreneurs and participatory initiatives. But the steering challenges that come with these changes are difficult to foresee.

- How to get a better understanding of the limits and possibilities of governance in a world where change can be abrupt, surprising and embedded in an array of natural systems, organizations, legislation and societal actors remains a matter of great concern for the future of politics and political science, Duit and Galaz conclude.

Source: Duit, A. and Galaz, V. 2008, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 21, No. 3, July 2008 (pp. 311—335).



Duit, A. and Galaz, V. 2008, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 21, No. 3, July 2008 (pp. 311—335).


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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