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Call for Papers: Special Issue on Adaptive Governance of Coupled Social-Ecological Systems

Journal: Complexity, Governance & Networks
Guest Editor: Asim Zia (University of Vermont)
Deadline for Paper Submissions: May 1st, 2018

You are invited to submit papers on the theoretical and empirical questions pertaining to adaptive governance of social-ecological systems for a special issue of the journal Complexity, Governance & NetworksComplexity, Governance & Networks is an open-access peer-reviewed journal that is published by the University of Bamberg Press (UBP, Germany). The journal is open access and authors are not charged for publishing papers in the journal.

Please email any questions and paper proposals to the special issue editor Asim Zia at

Papers on the following topics and approaches are particularly welcome for this special issue, but papers on other related topics will also be considered.

  • Theoretical perspectives on adaptive governance, including but not limited to complexity sciences, complex adaptive systems, governance networks, network governance, collaborative governance, and/or multi-level collaborative governance.
  • Methodological applications to understand and model adaptive governance of social ecological systems, such as governance of food, energy & water systems, governance of natural resources, governance of socio-technical ecological systems (e.g. smart sustainable cities)
  • Social and/or policy learning derived from different governance design experiments
  • Longitudinal and/or panel studies across different geographical and administrative regions


Information about the Special Issue Topic: Adaptive Governance of Social- Ecological Systems

Stockholm Resilience Alliance (SRA) defines adaptive governance as an evolving research framework for analyzing the social, institutional, economical, and ecological foundations of multilevel governance modes that are successful in building resilience for the vast challenges posed by multiscale drivers of change, such as global climate change, rapid technological change, terrorism, socio-economic disruptions, and political coups. The social-ecological systems framework is an advanced version of Elinor Ostrom’s (1990, 2005) institutional analysis and development framework.  Folk and his colleagues (2005) laid out the theoretical foundations for a deeper study of adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. They argue that adaptive governance systems often self-organize as social networks with teams and actor groups that draw on various knowledge systems and experiences for the development of a common understanding and policies, in particular during periods of abrupt change (crisis) in social-ecological systems. Folk and his colleagues conclude that “the emergence of bridging organizations seem to lower the costs of collaboration and conflict resolution, and enabling legislation and governmental policies can support self-organization while framing creativity for adaptive co-management efforts” (p.  41). In this context, the SRA group laid out two grand challenges for the study of adaptive governance:

  • What are the important multiscale processes in social-ecological systems governance that lead to more or less resilient outcomes on the ground?
  • What are the tradeoffs between management priorities and social-ecological systems for long-term sustainable futures and how do these play out over different scales?


Some national and international agencies, such as the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), and a group of scholars are increasingly interested in finding answers to these questions and ask for more applied research on adaptive governance. UNU-IAS considers Gunderson and Holling (2002); Dietz et al. (2003); Folk et al. (2005) and Olsson et al. (2006) as key theoretical contributions to establishing adaptive governance as a research field. Drawing on five case studies from the American West, Brunner and Lynch (2006), , explored how to expedite a transition toward adaptive governance and break the deadlock in natural resource policymaking. Brunner and Lynch argue that adaptive governance integrates various types of knowledge and organizations and it relies on open decision-making processes recognizing multiple interests, community-based initiatives, and an integrative science, in addition to traditional science. Scholz and Stiftel (2005) apply the adaptive governance framework to study water governance issues across multiple spatial and temporal scales.

As theoretical and empirical contributions to understanding adaptive governance are growing in volume under multiple research initiatives, this special issue of Complexity, Governance & Networks will focus on the study of adaptive governance through the parallel theoretical frameworks that have emerged in the fields of public policy, public management and public administration to study collaborative and network governance approaches in the face of complex public policy problems. The broader shift from government to governance and the hollowing out of the government in this age of contracting out public services to third party vendors further necessitates the need to study the evolving and dynamic nature of governance networks from a complex systems perspective (Koliba et al. 2010; Zia et al. 2014).

Read the full announcement here.

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