Institutional navigation for polycentric sustainability governance

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Apr 22, 2021
Mark Lubell & Tiffany H. Morrison



Sustainability in the Anthropocene requires social cooperation and learning against a backdrop of increasingly complex, polycentric governance. Here, we introduce an institutional navigation framework emphasizing how individuals pursue their policy goals within polycentric sustainability governance. We illustrate the utility of the framework by exploring how actors navigate institutional complexity to increase collective welfare and adaptive capacity in California’s San Francisco Bay, in contrast with protecting self-interest and constraining adaptive capacity on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Our analysis provides: (1) a normative perspective on how institutional navigation may or may not support sustainability; (2) initial theoretical hypotheses about understudied strategies used by policy actors to advance or constrain sustainability; and (3) some practical ideas for policy actors seeking to strategically achieve complex sustainability goals in polycentric systems.

Article published in Nature Sustainability.

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