Mutual interests and benefits are no guarantee for increased collaboration
Awareness of interdependencies may not promote, but instead even inhibit, exchange and dialogue between different policy actors
• Researchers studied water governance in the Norrström basin in Sweden to explore how interdependencies influence collaboration between experts.
• The study found that policy actors ignore or even avoid policy issue interdependencies.
• More research is needed to leverage the potential of interdependency for streamlining policy action.
SCEPTICAL: Policy issue interdependencies can reinforce (“win-win”) or counteract (“trade-off”) one another. Within environmental governance several interdependent issues benefit from coordinated action to save time and resources.
Yet a study published by centre researchers in Sustainability Science has found that policymakers and other similar actors are reluctant to actively collaborate, even with knowledge of the interdependencies at play.
The paper was written by centre researchers Johanna Hedlund, Michele-Lee Moore and Örjan Bodin together with Daniel Nohrstedt from Uppsala University in Sweden and Tiffany Morrison from James Cook University in Australia.
They argue that stakeholders respond to interdependent policy issues in different and sometimes surprising ways. In the case of the Norrström basin, a drainage basin located in south-central Sweden, policy actors in fact avoid collaboration with others working directly on issues that can support their own, because they are not convinced working together will actually pay off.
The paper thus throws into question the assumption that, if actors are aware of interdependencies and believe they can act upon them, they will seek to collaborate with others working on similar or related issues.
In short, until there is evidence that tapping into mutually interdependent policy issues can facilitate their work, experts are unlikely to collaborate with others working on similar issues.
If interdependent issues are managed in isolation instead of being coordinated, the most effective and well-balanced solution to the problem might never be realised.
Johanna Hedlund, lead author
May inhibit dialogue
Meanwhile, actors tend to ignore counteracting policy issues because they assume that any conflict will be resolved through formal legal procedures, without any need for collaboration.
Against the backdrop of increasingly urgent complex global challenges, studies imply that interdependency should be met or be resolved by collaboration.
Yet, Hedlund and her colleagues suggest that awareness of interdependencies may even inhibit exchange and dialogue between different policy actors.
The authors carried out a mixed-methods study of water governance in the Norrström drainage basin in Sweden. Through participant observation, text analysis and a first round of exploratory interviews, they generated a list of policy issues at play in the basin. Interdependencies were then identified by mapping causal pathways between these issues using the Miradi Open Standards tool.
A second round of interviews served to gather qualitative data on actors’ perception of these interdependencies, and to test propositions about awareness and perceived feasibility of acting upon them. Through a survey of collaborative ties within the largest water council in the basin, the authors then connected interdependencies to actors’ perception of and engagement with collaboration. The data generated served as input for creating a multilevel network featuring both actor ties and policy issue ties.
Finally, they carried out six follow-up interviews to elaborate on and validate the results obtained from the data analysis.
Hedlund, J., Nohrstedt, D., Morrison, T., Moore, M.-L., and Bodin, Ö., 2022. Challenges for environmental governance: policy issue interdependencies might not lead to collaboration. Sustainability Science. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-022-01145-8
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