Resource governance in highly regulated policy arenas: Analysis of the role of the government in managing the Waddenzee area through the scope of the SES framework
Gaast, K.H. van der
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This study contributes to the debate of the role of the government in the governance of social-ecological systems. According to Elinor Ostrom, adaptive governance is necessary to cope with the complexity of human-nature interaction. This governance mode can be guided by eight design principles that she abstracted from several case studies. However, her theory does not provide a clear action perspective for governments. Especially for countries with a government that operates in a highly regulated policy arena, it is unclear how governments should act. Therefore, it is interesting to assess the performance of one of these countries with respect to the design principles. The Waddenzee area in the Netherlands is especially suited for such an analysis, since it is a clear example of both a social-ecological system and a highly regulated policy arena. This area entails a vast territory where several actors with different interests pursue multiple activities and is governed by multiple laws, regulations and governing actors. By using the SES-framework as a descriptive tool, the most salient elements of this social-ecological system are depicted and transformed into relevant variables. These variables structure the semi-structured interviews that are conducted with relevant stakeholders. This research data is analyzed with the design principles as assessment criteria. By means of this qualitative exploratory research design, an in depth account is provided of the exact workings of resource governance in this social-ecological system. It is shown that the Dutch government has an important role to play in stating the goals and the legal framework of specific locations in the Waddenzee area. Also, the governance of some of the resources that lead to political controversy, like gas extraction and clam fishing, benefit from heavy regulation. Moreover, in some instances heavy regulation even provides opportunities for innovative practices. However, the Dutch government should leave the maintenance activities, and direct contact with the resource users themselves, to the organisations that are most close to those particular users. The Dutch government can serve as the consolidator of covenants that are negotiated by user actors and NGO's. In sum, this study has provided clear action perspectives for the Dutch government in this particular case, and contributed to the SES literature with a case-study of a highly regulated policy arena.