Adaptive governance for freshwater socio-ecological system resilience: Theory, practice and comparison between the US and Northern Europe

Award Year: 
Principal Investigator: 
J.B. Ruhl, Vanderbilt University
Barbara A. Cosens, University of Idaho
Niko Soininen, University of Eastern Finland
Associated Program: 


Legal systems governing water quality and water allocation have a long tradition of regulating the human–environment interface with rules based on the premise that the ecological freshwater systems – and the social systems dependent on them – are relatively linear and stable. Our present scientific understanding does not support this premise. On the contrary, there are considerable uncertainties in predicting how these socio-ecological systems will function. This setting is challenging for traditional understandings of law and governance.

The Adaptive Water Governance (AWG) Project, a former SESYNC pursuit led by Lance Gunderson and Barbara Cosens, used ecological resilience theory, including panarchy, to bridge design of new governance to the behavior of complex socio-ecological systems. The AWG Project identified three major challenges to the emergence of new or adaptive environmental governance that law and government may play a role in facilitating: (1) by engaging in the preparation to take advantage of windows of opportunity and developing the tools to institutionalize the results of innovative solutions; (2) by assuring that the structure and process of government provides stability while creating room for flexibility and innovation, and that it does so without harm to legitimacy, accountability, equity and justice; and (3) by engaging in an intentional effort to empower government to build the adaptive and participatory capacity of local actors to engage in adaptive governance.

This workshop will build on the AWG pursuit, by taking a comparative look across the U.S. and Northern Europe at the role of law and government in circumstances that illustrate the three major challenges identified above. In addition, the workshop will seek to build a common dialogue at the theoretical and conceptual level among the participants.


Jukka Similä, University of Lapland
Anna-Stiina Heiskanen, Director of Freshwater Centre
Antti Belinskij, University of Eastern Finland
Thorsten Blenckner, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Alejandro Camacho, University of California Irvine
Brian Chaffin, University of Montana
Robin K. Craig, University of Utah
Holly Doremus, University of California Berkeley
Robert Glicksman, George Washington University
Lance H. Gunderson, Emory University
Rhett Bradley Larson, Arizona State University
Brad Karkkainen, University of Minnesota
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