Adaptive Governance in a Complex World

Image is a composite of: Dragon Fly by lisa runnels from Pixabay and  Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Project leader(s)

Overview

We live in a complex and interconnected world. We face increasing and multifaceted social, political, environmental and technological risks, including climate change, pandemics, rising inequality, new forms of insecurity and growing great power competition. Domains that previously operated relatively separately, such as economics, national security and the environment, are colliding in current policy-making. Established power structures are being contested and re-shaped. Problems in one country or community are spilling over into others through networks of connectivity, whether they be bank failures in the global financial crisis or health crises and supply chain failures during COVID-19.

We are interested in conceptualising adaptive governance as a response to the complex social, political, economic and ecological challenges in the 21st century. These governance challenges cannot be understood or managed from a single perspective or disciplinary approach, whilst their dynamic nature means that they require agile responses under conditions of uncertainty. Our work on adaptive governance covers many domains and scales, from community rule-making in Pacific Islands, to international negotiations on investment treaty reform at the United Nations. Across this diversity, our work looks for commonalities about adaptive governance processes in a complex world, examining questions such as:

  • Adaptive governance: What adaptive governance approaches will help actors better understand and respond to complex problems?
  • Change dynamics: How does incremental and transformative change happen in complex systems and what does that mean for institutional design and for actors seeking to catalyse change?
  • Risk frameworks: What frameworks and processes can we develop to manage opportunities and risks across diverse domains whilst managing uncertainty and value-conflicts?
  • Resilience design: How can our societies develop more robustness and resilience in the face of risks arising from cumulative and compounding shocks and stressors?

Complex Problems by Anthea Roberts and CartoGIS

ANU and Australian Collaborators:

Project Leads:

Team members:

International Collaborators:

Image Dragon fly & globe composite of: Dragon Fly by Lisa Runnels from Pixabay and Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image ‘Complex Problems’: Created by Professor Anthea Roberts and CartoGIS ANU

Projects

Overview

Our project is interdisciplinary and has the aim of broad applicability and utility across a broad swathe of challenges facing regulation and governance. The following projects form part of or cross-inform our Adaptive Governance in a Complex World project. Our current projects are speaking to the first two questions above (adaptive governance and change dynamics) and our future projects will speak to the second two (risk frameworks and resilient design).

(1) Adaptive Governance: From the Local to the Global

- Community rule-making in the Pacific Islands as regulatory innovation

This Discovery Project study investigates the widespread phenomenon of ‘community rule-making’ in Pacific Island countries, in which local communities engage in deliberative processes oriented towards development of new normative orders. Community rule-making is widespread across Pacific Island countries, in both rural and urban areas, and often occurs without state sanctioning. Its purpose usually involves addressing social problems or contestations in need of resolving in ways that permit for ongoing relational harmony, particularly where the state seems either unwilling or unable to produce effective management outcomes. Our project focuses on the community-driven processes that produce written rules rather than on the written rules themselves, in an aim to truly uncover and understand what is taking place and how, in particular, the process of community by-law creation might be better supported in aid of reducing gender-based violence, increase local resilience and reduce domination.

The key aims of this project are:

  • Developing the deliberative potential of community rule-making
  • Making a theoretical contribution to regulation and governance literature through building a new analytical framework
  • Policy outcomes informing reducing gender violence, observance of human rights and strengthening the rule of law
  • Building theory around adaptive governance within the context of complex circumstances, where contestation and change are prevalent.

- Complex design in global governance

Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John are working on a series of pieces concerned with how institutional design accounts for complexity. They are focusing on the concept of ‘complex designers’ and the important role they play within the context of UNCITRAL negotiations and global governance generally.

  • Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John, Complex Design, (forthcoming)

This forthcoming article discusses how to do institutional design within a complex system, looking into how complex designers make deliberate design interventions in awareness of such complexity, with an aim to develop a theory of complex design in the field of international relations and negotiations under UNCITRAL. The article explores various adaptive design principles applied to specific UNCITRAL working examples that can help guide complex designers to enable pivotal elements of deliberative management to be introduced into complex systems.

(2) Change Dynamics: Insiders and Outsiders

The role of insiders and outsiders in making change happen

Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John have written about the role played by actors who come from outside of a particular policy field (outsiders) in developing more radical, transformative proposals for reform within that field than those who are already working within the self-same field (insiders).

  • Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John, Outsiders In, Insiders Out, (forthcoming)

This paper focuses on the role that outsiders play in developing more radical reform proposals to spark innovation in the realm of global governance, particularly with respect to UNCITRAL arbiters and negotiators. It asks first where innovation is derived from and argues that the emergence of innovators from outside of a particular field in which insiders keep embedding the status quo allows for more radical, transformative reform possibilities. Using the investment treaty system as a case study, the authors explain and evidence the insider-outsider dynamics and show the potential for outsiders to be the catalyst for far-reaching, innovative reforms, not only within the investment treaty system but for global governance more broadly.

  • Miranda Forsyth, Inside-Out Networked Change (forthcoming)

This forthcoming work draws upon multi-year empirical research undertaken in Papua New Guinea, focused on addressing sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV). It proposes and discusses two hypotheses, the first being that a ‘networked response’ is critical to both prevent the spread of sorcery narratives and their accompanying violent behavioural scripts, and also to respond to the impacts of SARV on an individual, family and community level. The second hypothesis focuses on the importance of the ‘inside-out networked change’, in that leadership and advocacy must come from within the community, and can then be networked more broadly, for it to become truly effective. We term this approach ‘Inside-Out Networked Change’.

Related RegNet projects:

The importance of addressing complexity in the regulatory and governance sphere is of interest to other colleagues in RegNet as well. For example, we point to a related project by two colleagues, Sharon Friel and Melanie Pescud: Addressing complexity in prevention research using systems approaches: systems case studies.

Publications

The following publications reflect the wide disciplinary range in which we have discussed, researched and explored the implications arising out of complexity, catastrophe and change in our regulatory and governance work. Further, we look at the ways in which adaptive governance, regulatory innovation and complex design approaches should or already do have a place in meeting the inherent challenges. The works cited below range across local to national to global levels.

Hybridity

Miranda Forsyth has written and contributed to various works on the concept of hybridity as one way to make sense of interactions between diverse norms, institutions, actors and discourses.

This book explores the now popular notion of hybridity, seeking to uncover both its possibilities and its pitfalls. Hybridity as a concept is a response to the social and institutional complexities of peacebuilding and development practice. It can help make sense of diverse interactions but care must be taken to avoid overlooking critical questions concerning power, history and scale. Drawing on in depth knowledge of peacebuilding and development contexts in different parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa, the authors examine the messy and dynamic realities of hybridity ‘on the ground’.

  • Miranda Forsyth, Lia Kent, Sinclair Dinnen, Joanne Wallis & Srinjoy Bose, (2017), Hybridity in peacebuilding and development: a critical approach, Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 2:4, 407-421, DOI: 10.1080/23802014.2017.1448717

This article discusses the value of hybridity as a concept and whether its shortcomings can be mitigated or overcome. The article explores the benefits of the concept and also provides suggestions for how scholars and practitioners can navigate the problematic areas that the concept raises. The pathway developed by the authors is termed ‘critical hybridity’, identifying eight approaches likely to open up a more reflexive, nuanced and informed engagement with the concept.

Globalisation

One of Anthea Roberts’ key areas of interest is in the effects of geopolitical change on global governance. Recently, she has written two key pieces for Barron’s that address how economic globalisation has been impacted by the complex challenges facing it, especially in light of 2020’s pandemic.

Anthea and Nicolas put forth the case that it is time to develop mental models that will help us better understand the kaleidoscopic complexity of globalisation and to find ways to integrate the multiple storylines that people use to make sense of the world. Noting that ‘no perspective is neutral’, the authors argue that developing meta-narratives will be a more productive way for policymakers and the public to better integrate multiple perspectives about the myriad climate, finance, health and other complex challenges ahead of us.

This article discusses economic globalisation as a complex system made up of many interacting parts and how alongside its benefits, such as increased connectivity and interdependence, these advantages also give rise to systemic risks, such as shortfalls in supply chains during pandemics or rapid transmission of viral disease. By understanding economic globalization as a complex system that gives rise to systemic risks, the article explains that this allows us to think more systematically when searching for options to manage risk, particularly by increasing our resilience.

Insiders-Outsiders

Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John have written about the role played by actors who come from outside of a particular policy field (outsiders) in developing more radical, transformative proposals for reform within that field than those who are already working within the self-same field (insiders).

  • Anthea Roberts and Taylor St John, Outsiders In, Insiders Out, (forthcoming)

This paper focuses on the role that outsiders play in developing more radical reform proposals to spark innovation in the realm of global governance, particularly with respect to UNCITRAL arbiters and negotiators. It asks first where innovation is derived from and argues that the emergence of innovators from outside of a particular field in which insiders keep embedding the status quo allows for more radical, transformative reform possibilities. Using the investment treaty system as a case study, the authors explain and evidence the insider-outsider dynamics and show the potential for outsiders to be the catalyst for far-reaching, innovative reforms, not only within the investment treaty system but for global governance more broadly.

  • Miranda Forsyth, Inside-Out Networked Change (forthcoming)

This forthcoming work draws upon research undertaken by Miranda in Papua New Guinea, which is focused on addressing sorcery accusation-related violence. It discusses two hypotheses, the first being that a ‘networked response’ is crucial to violence prevention through its ability to demonstrate behavioural change, highlight that individual lives matter and use public performances to change the community’s mindset about what is an appropriate response to rumours of sorcery. The second hypothesis focuses on the importance of the ‘inside-out networked change’, in that leadership and advocacy must come first from within the community, after which this persuasive leadership role can be networked more broadly, for it to become truly effective.

  • Miranda Forsyth and Thomas Dick, Liquidity and Solidity in Regulation: The (Men’s) Business of Women’s Water Music? (forthcoming)

This forthcoming piece follows years of painstaking, dedicated research in which Miranda and Tom looked at how a form of Melanesian cultural property known as ‘water music’ reveals the possibilities of regulation through utilising notions of liquidity and solidity. The research reveals a trend towards using solid regulatory approaches when societies and communities are faced with uncertainty and contestation but equally shows that more liquid alternatives to regulation not only exist but are actively pursued both at the same time as solid approaches, or in place of. The authors identify various liquid regulatory strategies that can be seen within both state and customary normative orders to identify how combinations of both approaches within what is a complex adaptive system might be varied to achieve more desirable ‘structured looseness or ‘flexible tightness’.

Presentations

As a part of RegNet’s annual Conversations series, Anthea and Miranda, along with Gabriele and Virginia, presented ideas about how social scientists should approach analysing complex 21st century problems. The panel showcased the interconnectedness of 21st century problems, discussing how this interconnectedness brings both advantages and risks that affect the kinds of solutions taken. The panel addressed what sort of adaptive governance approaches might guide our attempts to intervene in different systems, including complex and chaotic systems. The panel also discussed what we might have to learn from other ways of thinking, like Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, in order to take a more holistic and relational approach to these issues.

Sinclair Dinnen

Dr Sinclair Dinnen is a co-author on the third Peacebuilding Compared volume: Pillars and shadows: statebuilding as peacebuilding in Solomon Islands (ANU E Press: 2010). He commenced work as a...

Image: Associate Professor Miranda Forsyth (RegNet)

Dr Miranda Forsyth

Miranda Forsyth is an Associate Professor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) in the College of Asia and Pacific at ANU. Prior to coming to...

Susan McLean

Susan McLean is a research assistant for Professor Anthea Roberts. Susan has been working at RegNet for several years and has extensive previous experience in the publishing industry, ranging...

Gordon Peake

Dr Gordon Peake is a Visitor at RegNet for 2020-2021.

For the last fifteen years, Gordon has been engaging with issues of governance and post-conflict settlement in the Asia-Pacific region...

Roberts_Anthea_2016

Professor Anthea Roberts

Anthea Roberts is a Professor at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) who specialises in public international law, international economic law, comparative international law, and...

Felicity Tepper

Research Officer

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet