CORDIS - EU research results

New Modes of Governance for Sustainable Forestry in Europe

Final Report Summary - GOFOR (New Modes of Governance for Sustainable Forestry in Europe)

The main objective of the GOFOR project was to evaluate the evolving practices of new modes of governance as a basis for policy relevant conclusions and recommendations in order to safeguard sustainable forest management in Europe. To achieve this overall objective, the project addressed the following five sub-objectives:
1. development of a sound conceptual framework and methodologies for the evaluation of the evolving practices of new modes of governance in forest policy;
2. elaboration of an enlarged set of criteria that operationalise the concept of 'new modes of governance' and its constituting elements in European forest policy and adjacent fields;
3. exploration of the main policy actors' assumptions, preferences, and policy positions with regard to new modes of governance and of the contextual factors (socio-economic, political, ecological) that mediate the practices of new modes of governance and their effectiveness;
4. overview of the existing practices of new governance, identification of the successful models, and critical evaluation of the transferability of such models to other political contexts;
5. deduction of policy-relevant conclusions with regard to procedural and institutional approaches for the implementation of new modes of governance to promote sustainable forest management in Europe.

As the term 'governance' was regarded as excessively vague in order to productively guide the empirical analysis, it was operationalised by procedural elements. The analyses in GOFOR were focused on the following five elements:
(i) participation
(ii) inter-sectoral coordination
(iii) multi-level coordination
(iv) adaptive and iterative planning
(v) use of democratic and accountable expertise.

For clarifying the necessary work-steps, the overall conceptual framework of the GOFOR project was broken down into five research steps:
1. clarification and operationalisation of new modes of governance;
2. exploration of the broader political context;
3. assessment of the scope and effectiveness of new modes of governance;
4. cross-national and cross-sectoral comparisons;
5. overall synthesis.
These steps were not regarded as neatly separated entities that needed to be taken in a chronological sequence, but rather were seen as underlying guidelines.

Research work in the GOFOR project was carried out in three distinct phases:
(i) a pre-assessment phase where the research team developed a set of criteria that operationalised the concept of governance and translated these criteria into a common research protocol that then was empirically tested with an enlarged set of 'pilot case studies';
(ii) an empirical main assessment phase where a reduced set of governance case studies was analysed, in turn drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data; and
(iii) a synthesis phase with cross-case comparisons that were intended to identify successful (and less successful) implementation practices.

The GOFOR project demonstrated that governance theory offers a great potential in opening up alternative ways and perspectives for interpreting political institutions, political decision-making processes, as well as policy contents and instruments.

Concerning the structural and institutional dimension of new modes of governance, two different issues were the most relevant. The first of these two was a shift of competences, and a shift of negotiation and decision-making arenas towards higher political-administrative levels through the processes of internationalisation and Europeanisation. The second important institutional factor was decentralisation.

With regard to the politics dimension, the main causes for change are:
(i) the loss of legitimacy of the traditional, opaque way of political decision-making based on negotiations in closed circles between politicians, administrative officials, and representatives of organised interest groups; and (ii) co-ordination deficits due to a compartmentalised way of policy-making by sectors and areas without interacting with other sectors or the wider society.

The limits of the traditional approach of command-and-control regulation resulted in a search for more flexible and less intrusive policy instruments. The governance literature thus persistently argues that 'new' or what are sometimes labelled 'softer' instruments, have become much more widespread. The deployment of new policy instruments was another important element to explain the emergence of new modes of governance.

Participation is generally acknowledged as one of the central elements of the new modes of governance, both in the political arena and in the scientific realm.

The different forms of public participation can be categorised according to their potential degree of power sharing between decision-makers and participants, ranging from restricted two-way communication (e.g. surveys, public excursions), to consultation (hearings, advisory boards) and co-operation (e.g. task forces) to partnership and citizen control (e.g. self-governing land owner groups, non-governmental organisation (NGO) initiatives).

Multi-level coordination was ranked as a rather important element in three quarters of the governance processes analysed in GOFOR. Only in four cases was multi-level coordination judged as rather unimportant for characterising the governance process. A slightly different picture emerged when it came to the importance of multi-level coordination for explaining the overall success and failure of the governance process. In this dimension, multi-level coordination was viewed as rather important or important in only eight cases. This suggested, at a very general level, that a basic relation: the more important multi-level coordination was judged for characterising the processes that were studied, the more important it was for explaining the overall processes' success or failure in terms of policy outputs and impacts, and vice versa.

The need of Inter-sectoral coordination (ISC) has increasingly gained attention in recent decades, both in practice as well as in studies on environmental and natural resource policy. This was particularly the case in the context of policy processes that lean on the rhetoric and the conceptions of 'new modes of governance' and aim at integrative policy making. Accordingly, GOFOR considered ISC as one of the constituting elements of the umbrella concept 'governance'.

As policy issues become increasingly complex, political decisions strongly depend on insights derived from science and other sources of expertise. On the one hand, there are growing expectations of how science and politics can be linked in the most effective way possible. The interaction between the two social systems does not come without tensions, however. The science-policy literature pointed to a number of social dynamics and challenges, namely the scientification of politics and the concurrent politicisation of science, an ensuing legitimacy crisis of science, and a call for more 'accountable' and 'democratic' forms of expertise.

The case studies in the GOFOR project covered different time spans and also represented different development stages of processes. This variety of cases provided a wide range of examples on how process design, complexity, and uncertainty are linked to each other. The preliminary assumption that iterativity is a prerequisite for adaptation proved to be an incomplete statement. Case examples supported that a basically linear process can adapt to new situations as well. There were also more examples representing the successful delivery of predefined tasks in a linearly organised process, in which monitoring and evaluation played a significant role and, therefore, linearity as a process design could be judged in itself.

The empirical research in GOFOR also provided a comprehensive overview of the effects to be found in governance processes. For the evaluation of the effects, GOFOR fell back on a typology from the policy literature that distinguishes between 'outputs', 'impacts', and 'outcomes'. From the analysis of 19 governance processes, it was evident that in most case studies, the effects were identifiable more in the form of direct outputs and in the form of impacts (i.e. changes in the policy actors' behaviour) but to a lesser degree in terms of biophysical changes (i.e. outcomes).

New policy documents, strategies, plans, or other programmatic texts were found to be the most frequent outputs. In a number of cases, new laws, reforms of existing laws, administrative acts, or policy recommendations could be found. In some instances, there were also changes in the distribution of competences and the institutionalisation of new actor forums.

As regards impacts, the vast majority of case studies demonstrated changes of the behaviour of actors or actor coalitions: processes empowered the actors' participatory abilities and helped setting decision-making in a more transparent and open framework.

In most of the examined governance processes, goal attainment in terms of outcomes in a narrow sense, i.e. in terms of bio-physical changes, were indiscernible at this stage. Firstly, in fact, in a number of cases it was impossible to verify any effects as there were no clearly identifiable chains of cause and effect. This did not only restrict ex-post evaluation but also the potential for a prognosis as regards future achievements. Secondly, governance processes were a rather recent approach in public policy making.

Referring to the cases that were studied, it was concluded that the overall policy-making culture was likely to become more participatory, and would provide more opportunities and access to a broader range of stakeholders who could gain increased and legitimate influence on decision-making within the given policy fields. Even though the actual redistribution of power that was observed in most cases was quite limited, the participatory processes still stimulated the emergence of enlarged and new actor networks.

Based on the findings, it was apparent that the introduction of the governance rhetoric and practices at the national, regional, and local levels was often rather due to international and / or European discourses, agreements, and policies.

New modes of governance, as defined in agreements, programmes, and policy papers at the international, European, national, and regional levels set the principles and procedures for meaningful public participation and for horizontal as well as vertical policy coordination and integration. Research demonstrated that effective application of these principles and procedures was highly dependent on a broad variety of context factors, in particular on the commitment of influential state and non-state actors.

Even though scientists and policy makers have been dealing with governance questions for years now, in-depth, cross-national empirical research in the field of natural resource governance is still scarce. The GOFOR project provided the opportunity to contribute to the fill this gap and to significantly enrich the body of knowledge on the actual manifestations of the new modes of governance in natural resource policy making.