Research of the Public Administration and Policy Group

The globe is facing multiple interconnected sustainability challenges, ranging from sea level rise, water shortages, excessive pollution, and the declining resilience of food production systems. Impacts affect different parts of the world, and different segments of societies, in divergent ways, resulting in normative questions about fairness and justice.

These challenges can be understood as wicked problems, as they involve complex social-ecological systems that behave unpredictably and in uncertain ways, while also being clouded by disagreement over the relevant norms and values that could be invoked to describe and address them. Moreover, whereas addressing these sustainability challenges requires transformative change across multiples jurisdictions at an unprecedented pace, powerful societal actors and vested interests constrain opportunities for systemic governance changes. 

Governance crises

Our work is premised on the understanding that the role of public governance in sustainability transformations is of key importance. In fact, many sustainability crises can be described as governance crises – suggesting that the current depth, scope and pace of attempts to address them are falling short. Sustainability transformations which are occurring in society are not sufficiently supported, instruments and tools to trigger or invoke such transformations not used, and obstacles within government itself are not removed.

To better understand and address this situation, we developed our research programme “Changing Governance and Governing Change”. We study whether, when and how innovative governance strategies and arrangements offer the potential of governing the necessary sustainability transformations. By leveraging our disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise, we aim to make inspiring and innovative contributions to both science and practice in the fields of water, climate, food and agricultural governance. 

Our research lines

The research programme consists of three interconnected lines of research. Each of these elaborates on a particular dimension of the governance of sustainability transformations.