Institutional Analysis in the Great Barrier Reef – Part I

Recently I have had the good fortune of working with some amazing colleagues and marine ecosystem experts – Natalie Ban, Louisa Evans, and Mateja Nenadovic – on the Great Barrier Reef and the GBR Marine Park.  As an institutions scholar, two particularly interesting aspects emerged in studying the marine park – one regarding the nature of property rights and another on the benefits of polycentricity.  Here I focus on the polycentric elements – hopefully to be in print early next year.  I’ll write more on the second interesting finding, on property rights, in a subsequent post.

Polycentricity is a governance system in which there are multiple interacting governing bodies with autonomy to make and enforce rules within a specific policy arena and geography. These multiple governance groups interact horizontally with other groups at the same level as well as across scale as a part of nested systems of governance.  Often polycentricity has been seen as enhancing the resilience of a governance system because, among other things, it 

  • creates a foundation for learning and experimentation,
  • provides a source of policy/institutional diversity,
  • enables broader levels of participation, and
  • improves connectivity between groups while building in modularity and redundancy. 

Polycentricity, in effect, provides a means to solve problems at the scale of the problem – not too big to be removed from it and not too small to be overwhelmed.

And then we started looking at the GBR Marine Park.  In this case, we have an enormous system (133,360 sq miles or 345,400 km²) governed by a single governing body and act of legislation.  And it is generally seen as being quite successful.  So what gives?  Are the concepts of polycentricity misguided?  Is the case an anomaly?  

Stay tuned for the paper…but I’ll leave you with part of the answer – zoning.Image

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