Governance for sustainability: towards a ‘thick’ analysis of environmental decisionmaking

Environmental decisions made by individuals, civil society, and the state involve questions of economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness, equity, and political legitimacy. These four criteria are constitutive of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, which has become the dominant rhetorical device of environmental governance. We discuss the tendency for disciplinary research to focus on particular subsets of the four criteria, and argue that such a practice promotes solutions that do not acknowledge the dynamics of scale and the heterogeneity of institutional contexts. We advocate an interdisciplinary framework for the analysis of environmental decisionmaking that seeks to identify legitimate and context-sensitive institutional solutions producing equitable, efficient, and effective outcomes. We demonstrate the usefulness of our approach by using it to examine decisions concerning contested nature conservation and multiple-use commons in the management of Hickling Broad in Norfolk in the United Kingdom. We conclude that interdisciplinary approaches enable the generalisation and transfer of lessons in a way that respects the specifics and context of the issue at hand.

Adger WN; Brown K; Fairbrass J; Jordan A; Paavola J; Rosendo S; Seyfang G (2003) , Environment and Planning A, 35, pp.1095-1110.