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Expectations and Impacts of Collaborative Environmental Governance in the Swedish Mountain Region

Research project Various collaborative arrangements have been initiated in the Swedish mountain region, but how common are they, why and when does the need for increased local collaboration arise, how do such arrangements interact with formal management structures, and what are their potential impacts on sustainable practices?

There are high environmental values in the Swedish mountain region, but also frequent conflicts related to the use and preservation of its natural resources. The National Environmental Quality Objective of A magnificent mountain environment is currently far from reached. Evaluations show that considerable added efforts from a variety of social, political and economic actors are needed. Increasingly, international environmental agreements and Swedish national authorities lean on various forms of collaborative governance and the use of deliberative management practices at local level to deal with such policy failure. As a result, various collaborative arrangements have been initiated in the Swedish mountain region to bridge conflicts and mobilise local communities. Some ‘hot spots’ have received considerable attention, such as Fulufjället National Park or Tåssåsen’s hunting administration. But how common are they, why and when does the need for increased local collaboration arise, how do such arrangements interact with formal management structures, and what are their potential impacts on sustainable practices? The knowledge is limited, with no systematic studies even if there appears to be great faith in collaborative solutions. The project will map the occurrence of collaborative arrangements throughout the mountain region and create a data base. Surveys will be made with CAB officers and key informants of participatory processes and projects in environment and natural management, and this information added to the data base. This enables us to analyze through quantitative and qualitative methods how both context and organization matters for their performance based on theoretical frameworks by Emerson et al. (2011) and Sabatier et al. (2005). Particular focus will be on the role of the county administrative boards (CAB) and European Union in spurring collaboration. A reference group with stakeholders will ensure relevance and appropriate use of the research results.

Head of project

Katarina Eckerberg
Professor emerita

Project overview

Project period:

2014-08-22 2015-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area

Political science

Project description

1. Aim and issues

In the Swedish mountain region, frequent conflicts are manifested related to the use and preservation of its natural resources. Resistance against protected area proposals, protests concerning the management of large carnivores, felling of old-growth forests and over who should be allowed to hunt or fish are commonplace. The realization of the Swedish National Environmental Quality Objectives (NEQO) of ‘A magnificent mountain environment’, but also of ‘Flourishing lakes and streams’, ‘Sustainable forests’ and ‘A rich diversity of plant and animal life’ are at stake, acknowledging that their prospects depend on considerable added efforts from a variety of social, political and economic actors. Internationally, there is currently a strong trend towards leaning on various forms of collaborative governance to deal with such policy failure, including the pooling of resources among multiple stakeholders and the use of deliberative management practices. This is spurred by the emphasis on participation in a range of relevant international environmental agreements, first and foremost in the Aarhus Convention and subsequently in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the EU Biodiversity Strategy, the European Forest Action Plan and the Water Framework Directive, to name a few. At national level, the Swedish Government’s Nature Protection Policy from 2001 reiterates the need to widen the scope and engage a broader range of actors, including local communities to achieve the policy goals, and similar policies are adopted in the forest and rural development sectors including that of hunting and fishing.
As a result, various forms of collaborative arrangements have been initiated in response in the Swedish mountain region. Some have received considerable attention and are generally perceived of as ‘hot spots’, such as Fulufjället National Park or Tåssåsen’s hunting administration. But are they just hot spots or do they occur widely all over the region? The knowledge of how common they are, why and when the need for increased local collaboration arises, and how these arrangements interact with formal management structures is very limited, as well as what are their impacts on the development of more sustainable practices. The overall purpose of this project is to increase the understanding of whether and how collaborative arrangements in natural resource management can contribute to sustainable management of the Swedish mountain environment. The project will inform the ongoing development of participatory planning and management strategies in the region by mapping the occurrence of collaborative arrangements throughout the mountain region and analyzing how both context and organization matter for their performance. A particular focus will be on the role of the county administrative boards (CABs) and how they relate to these arrangements, as well as whether the European Union (EU) constitutes a driving force toward collaboration. Three overall research questions will guide the project:
1. Where, when and why do collaborative arrangements around natural resource management evolve in the mountain region?
2. To what extent are these arrangements induced from below and what is the role of the county administrative boards?
3. Does the creation or involvement of collaborative arrangements in natural resource management improve policy output, and if so, how?
The project will be conducted by a group of political scientists due to its focus on mobilization and organization. To ensure relevance and appropriate use of the research results, a reference group with stakeholders will be actively involved; helping to identify collaborative arrangements; to discuss and validate the results and eventually to assist in bringing those into policy practice.

2. Current knowledge

There is considerable faith among a variety of stakeholders that collaborative arrangements are a ‘good thing’. Data from the Mountain Mistra survey in 2004 showed that 65% of the Swedish population support local or co-management of protected areas (Zachrisson 2008) and between 50 and 85% thought that stakeholders such as municipalities, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, hunters and Sami reindeer herders should have a say in large carnivore management (Ericsson and Sandström 2005). According to these reports, the support is even higher in the mountain region, which can be interpreted as constituting a favorable context for collaboration. A considerable amount of research has consequently looked into the evolvement of collaborative arrangements in natural resource management in the mountain region, but so far only within specific management areas such as protected areas (Zachrisson 2008, 2009a, b, Hovik et al 2010), large carnivores (Persson et al 2004, Sandström and Lindvall 2006), reindeer herding (Sandström and Widmark 2007, Sandström et al 2006), hunting/fishing (Zachrisson 2004b, Ericsson et al 2005, Eriksson et al 2006, Sandström 2009), snowmobiling (Zachrisson 2010) and water management (Eckerberg et al. 2012). The comparative case study of Zachrisson (2009a) stressed that the rigidity of the existing institutional framework for nature conservation had a negative impact on the establishment of robust collaboration. The above-mentioned studies have identified and analyzed a number of ‘hot spot’ cases, focusing on case-specific drivers and procedural aspects, in combination with survey analyses of attitudes. Some research has also contributed to the development of participatory methods (Sverdrup et al 2010). What is lacking, however, is research on a wider scale; to identify whether these are isolated examples or prevalent all over the mountain region and to investigate contextual factors through more quantitative methods to allow for drawing more general conclusions from comparative findings.
As mentioned, the collaborative arrangements being initiated in the Swedish mountain region follows from international trends, both in policy and in a growing body of research. Collaborative governance is an increasingly used term in the public administration literature (Emerson et al 2011) and refers to different settings where a range of different terms is employed; public-private partnerships, network government, hybrid sectoral arrangements, co-management regimes, participatory governance etc. It draws on a wide range of fields such as public administration, conflict resolution and environmental management. These ‘new modes of governance’ promise to bring about both more legitimate and effective policy outcomes (Bäckstrand et al. 2010), though the output is seldom researched. A large bulk of this literature consists of single-case case studies to the detriment of generalization ambitions (Ansell and Gash 2008). This research, also the one from the mountain region, has focused on procedural aspects, that is, on what makes a process participatory and deliberative. Zachrisson (2009a) has synthesized the natural resource literature and influences from deliberative democracy, decentralization and resilience traditions into five principles for collaborative governance. The first aspect is representation, that a wide variety of stakeholders take part (Edwards and Steins 1999, Zachrisson 2009b). The second is reasonableness, that a participant must state the reasons for their opinions (Bohman 1996, Cohen 1997, Young 2000, Zachrisson 2010). The third principle is about power(s), that all actors should have equal access to decision arenas and substantial influence on management issues (Agrawal and Ribot 1999, Berkes 1997, Zachrisson 2009b). The fourth principle is accountability, which is a result from transparency and public actors answering downward to their constituencies (Agrawal and Ribot 1999, Zachrisson 2009b). These principles are similar to the criteria usually set up for deliberative democracy, and stakeholder deliberation is seen within natural resource management literature as a way to adjust individual preferences toward a sense of communal responsibility and the formulation of common aims (Berkes et al. 1991, Jentoft 1998, Pinkerton 1989).
In Sweden, many natural resource management issues fall under the competencies of the CABs. Their role has been studied over the years, often with a focus on the agencies’ work with operative supervision (Lindberg 2004). Also the work of Jöborn et al (2006) on sustainable water management gives some valuable insights even if it does not explicitly look at the role of CABs. The study of Westberg et al. (2010) is, however, of direct relevance to our project. These officers usually have natural science education and have seldom had any systematic communication training, and have thus focused on their role as experts working with traditional structures where decisions rest on biological data (Westberg et al. 2010). Now the officers are increasingly expected to initiate and lead deliberative processes, something that they feel insecure about as they lack appropriate competence and experience (Beland Lindahl 2008, Westberg et al. 2010). Westberg et al. also show that collaboration is interpreted differently at different CABs, and even within some of them. Some officers thus consider nature conservation goals as conclusive and not negotiable, and therefore leaving no space for citizen involvement. Others perceive the role of citizens as merely consultative, while a few think that there is space for involving the public (Westberg et al. 2010). Differences between the CABs’ practices in fishing/hunting (Zachrisson 2004b) and how they collaborate on large carnivore management (Sandström and Lindvall 2006), have also led to accusations that the CABs conduct arbitrary management practices (Cinque 2008). Studies on the ‘thought styles’ or paradigms of Nordic conservation professionals have further shown that the ideal about original, pristine nature still has strong currency (Emmelin 2009). The situation for county administrative board officers is apparently complex where they have a double mission; to ensure nature conservation on one hand and to initiate and support collaboration on the other. These missions are directed by quite different legal/democratic principles (Westberg et al. 2010; see also Bäckstrand et al. 2010).
According to Ansell and Gash (2008), public agencies have a distinct leadership role in collaborative governance. In the initiation phase (Gray and Wood 1991), public officials have to decide who is to be included (Vangen and Huxham 2003) and to analyze the situation with regard to the level of associated risk and the level of trust already existing among the stakeholders (Vangen and Huxham 2003) to decide the proper institutional design of the process (Baker and Eckerberg 2007). Then they have to facilitate and take part in the collaborative process itself, which should ideally be based on the principles outlined above. Even though the role of public officers is stressed in some of the collaborative governance literature, it can however be argued that their role is under-studied in environmental/natural resource management research (Sevä and Jagers 2011). Important insights can be drawn from the comprehensive literature on ‘street-level bureaucrats’ (Lipsky 1989), since the environmental mission increasingly involves face-to-face relations between officers and ‘clients’ although it used to be a desk mission of regulation (Sevä and Jagers 2011). Public officers typically have a wide range of educational backgrounds, are found in various policy sectors and they can be described as experts or civil servants with generic knowledge (Lundquist 1998).
Some of the case studies from the Swedish mountain region mentioned above have in some process phases had financial support from the EU structural funds, for instance the Mountain Agenda (building on the legacy of Local Agenda 21) that led to the establishment of a local snowmobile regulation area (Alexandersson 2000, Zachrisson 2010). The EU impacts the local level directly through the implementation of numerous EU directives (as filtered through national legislation), but also more indirectly through numerous policy instruments such as the Structural Funds, the European Rural Development Programme including Leader, and LIFE/LIFE+, In Sweden, most of these EU economic policy instruments are implemented through the CABs (or increasingly when established through ‘regions’). The impact of these programmes has been studied, but programme-wise. A report on the Swedish experiences of Leader (Larsson 2000) pinpoints that ‘networking’ is a key concept in that programme and Swedish local action groups have made networking their primary criteria for making decisions on single development projects. An account of the implementation of Natura 2000 in Finland (Björkell 2008) on the other hand outlines that programme as traditional top-down steering. There is general agreement that collaboration (over borders, between regions, among different disciplines, stakeholders, organizations etc.) is more or less a prerequisite to be able to receive grants and funding from the EU (even if the exact criteria differ between the programmes), as it is thought to increase efficiency. The relationship has been rather much studied in relation to the EU’s research programmes (see for instance Defazio et al. 2009), and with concern to how EU member states’ Sustainable Development Strategies support regional policy practice drawing from the EU-funded research project REGIONET (Berger and Steurer 2008) as well as more generally how EU policy affects the pursuit of governance of sustainable development at sub-national level, in particular contributing to local capacity building in member states with weak performance (Baker and Eckerberg 2008). However, we have found no research with a specific focus on EU policies and funding programmes as a driver to collaboration in the management of natural resources.

3. Theory and methods

3.1 Theoretical framework
This project will primarily build on two connected theoretical frameworks; the integrative framework for collaborative governance (Emerson et al 2011) and the dynamic framework for watershed management (Sabatier et al 2005). Both frameworks seek to explain outcomes (policy outputs as well as perceived and real changes to ecological and socioeconomic conditions) and include contextual variables (such as socioeconomic, ecological and civic community conditions as well as institutional ones related to power relations and political dynamics) and process variables (the characteristics of the evolving institutional arrangements such as representativeness, deliberation and leadership). Although the latter has been developed for watershed management, it can be applied also to the study of management of other kinds of natural resources. The analytical framework will have three main components:
The first component regards drivers to collaboration in relation to the questions of where, when and why collaborative arrangements evolve. Despite the growing use of and research on collaborative governance it is not yet clear “which relationships matter in what contexts… where, when and why which components are necessary, and to what degree, for collaborative success’ (Emerson et al 2011:22). Some proposed drivers for collaboration are incentives, interdependence, and leadership (ibid). In this component, the focus is on the incentives; (a) the perceptions of eventual policy failure and (b) the opportunities that the EU funds have brought. Policy failure (Hall 1993) has been discussed as an important driver in the case of the Laponia World Heritage (Zachrisson 2009a), and the importance of EU funding has been evident in both the Mountain Agenda (Zachrisson 2010) and in the process to establish Fulufjället National Park (Zachrisson 2009b). The following hypotheses will thus be addressed:
a) A higher degree of perceived policy failure increases the degree of collaboration in a certain county and/or natural resource management issue
b) A higher degree of received EU funds increases the degree of natural resource collaboration in the mountain counties
The second component specifically investigates to what extent initiatives of collaboration are induced from below and what the role of the CABs is in natural resource collaboration. Public agencies are often expected to employ collaborative strategies in their management practices, and they can exercise the needed leadership driver through initiating, designing, funding and heading such processes. Here we will study what attitudes mountain CAB officers hold toward collaboration and what formal and informal strategies they employ to work with stakeholders. Existing research has not yet established which forms of collaboration suit different situations. Focht and Trachtenberg (2005), however, suggest that the levels of trust among stakeholders themselves and among stakeholders and public officials should decide the collaboration strategy; confirmation, consultation, facilitation or negotiation. If stakeholders’ trust of public officials is low, then policy output success will likely depend on intensive stakeholder participation (and require a negotiation strategy). These hypotheses will be addressed:
c) Where a majority of CAB officers sees collaboration as a part of nature conservation/environmental management, the degree of collaborative arrangements is higher
d) When CAB officers design collaboration, it is more successful if they let levels of pre-collaboration trust decide the chosen strategy
The third component goes outside the two frameworks to consider the effects of collaboration, both the eventual production of policy relevant outputs such as improved management practices or other actions and the institutional implications. Trust has been shown to contribute to collaboration success, in terms of policy outputs and perceived/real improved ecological/socioeconomic conditions, but this kind of studies is rare (Lubell et al 2005). To some degree this could be due to the complexity involved, most studies ignore that there are multiple institutions in a policy arena that together shape the policy outcome. The standard hypothesis is that a collaborative institution contributes to create even wider collaboration, but this has seldom been addressed empirically. A rival hypothesis suggests that collaborative institutions may reduce the capacity of other existing institutions. For instance, transaction costs may be increased (rather than decreased as commonly hypothesized) when new collaborative institutions are added onto the existing institutions, due to budget constraints (Lubell et al 2010). This is an oft-heard complaint from practitioners (see Eckerberg et al 2012). New collaborative institutions also open opportunities for strategic venue shopping where actors may select to participate in some but not in others (Lubell et al 2010). Collaborative institutions can thus sometimes function as “symbolic policy’ to produce policy agreements that do not address the underlying problems. The following hypotheses will be addressed:
e) More collaboration trust is related with improved policy outputs and eventually changed conditions (increased sustainability)

f) When intensive collaboration is widely spread and used where actors have trust, the overall institutional capacity is reduced

3.2. Methodological approach
The empirical work will consist of mapping collaborative arrangements in the mountain region complemented with telephone surveys to chairs and responsible officers. It will primarily be of a quantitative character, although qualitative data will be collected as well.
The mapping exercise will attempt to be as comprehensive as possible – our ambition is to detect all collaborative arrangements involved in natural resource management issues in the Swedish mountain region. The so-called “snowball technique’ will be applied, which is a method of non-randomized selection (see Esaiasson et al. 2004). Our reference group will be consulted to help us identify some key informants that will be contacted to put forward the names of other people and collaborations, which in turn will put forward the names of other people and collaborations and so on. Together with extracts from official and eventually associational (such as from ‘Hela Sverige ska leva’) registers/records and archives this will help us to identify sampling frames for telephone surveys. We choose the telephone format to be able to reach many persons and ensure a high response rate, but also to achieve high conceptual validity as questions and answers can be probed and explained (Dahmström 1996: 61).
Two survey questionnaires will be developed (with departure in the study presented in Thomson et al. 2007) and thoroughly tested. The first will be directed towards the chairs of identified collaborative arrangements, and will contain questions on the context (which kind of natural resource(s), what county, measures of trust etc.), the initiation (whose initiative, perceptions of policy failure, available funding sources, institutional design etc.), the process dynamics (the use of consensus, the level of exchange and deliberation etc.), and the outputs (received funding, employment of staff, new management practices including eventual monitoring and enforcement, changed ecological and social conditions). The second survey will include concerned CAB officers in units implicated in natural resource collaboration (such as nature conservation, regional development and agriculture). This questionnaire will to some extent duplicate questions from the first survey but these will be complemented with questions on their competencies, what is guiding their work and what strategies they pursue etc.
The collected survey data will allow comparisons about different contextual variables, as well as organizational ones, to find out about how drivers, process characteristics and results are related to one another. The analysis will employ statistical methods such as regression analysis (Studenmund 2011) and structural equation modeling (Long 1983, Kline 2011).
If the number of cases turns out to be too low for meaningful quantitative analysis, the mapping will be used to identify suitable cases for an extensive comparative case study and to discuss the generalizability of its results. The case study data will then be qualitative and collected through multiple methods; including process tracing (analyses of official documentation, records of meetings, individual as well as focus groups interviews with involved stakeholders), and, to the extent possible, direct observation. The interviews will be made to reflect both top-down and bottom-up approaches to participation, i.e. include representatives of the county administrative boards as well as representatives of local collaborative arrangements. All interviews will be recorded and transcribed (following Kvale, 1996). At least one case study per county will be conducted. These will be selected on different grounds; to represent different natural resource management issues as well as different collaboration strategies and structures, and they will have accomplished practical measures to different degrees. These local collaborations will thus be examined in depth including their relation to relevant external institutions such as municipalities and county administrative boards. The sought variation in “practical success’ will (to some extent at least) be based on how well the cases have succeeded to get external EU-funding.

4. Practical relevance

Swedish environmental authorities are currently struggling with high expectations on reaching the NEQOs coupled with scarce resources for implementation. They rely on close collaboration with a range of sectoral actors at regional and local levels to make ends meet, and to hopefully improve efficiency. At the same time, the instigation of collaborative processes is a time- and resource consuming activity. This research project will add knowledge to how the county administrative boards relate to collaboration, to the development of more efficient methods for participation, and to improved understanding of how different stakeholders are motivated to joint action.
Furthermore, this research will contribute to the national environmental quality objective (NEQO) “A magnificent mountain environment’ as well as to several other NEQOs, since those are closely interconnected in policy practice. In particular, we will address the implementation deficit as it relates to the mobilization of actors and resources in pursuit of more sustainable management practices in the mountain region, thereby helping towards solving some of the pertinent issues on regional and local work brought forward in the concurrent in-depth NEQO evaluations in 2008 and upcoming in 2012.

5.Management and organization

Professor Katarina Eckerberg, with much experience of leading scientific projects, will lead and coordinate the work using 20% of her research time. She will also direct the final analysis. Drs Anna Zachrisson and Therese Bjärstig will conduct most of the empirical work, using 50% of their research time respectively. Zachrisson wrote her thesis as part of the Mountain Mistra program; a comparative case study of protected area designations. She is currently a postdoc in RESTORE, where she has contributed to a mapping of state financed ecological restoration projects and to analyses of collaboration within ecological restoration. Zachrisson will take the lead in the work of designing survey questionnaires and the conducting of the phone surveys. Bjärstig has specialized on forestry policy and management, analyzing how forestry actors cooperate in formulating the Swedish forestry policy towards the EU. Her thesis was an explorative study of EU policy in forest and forest related questions, by applying integration theory. She is currently a postdoc in Future Forests, where she takes an overarching perspective on the governance system that impact forestry in general and the stakeholders’ collaboration in transnational associations in particular. She will be main responsible for the mapping of collaborative arrangements.
The research team will collaborate closely with a reference group with stakeholders from different sectors and levels. Their role will initially be to validate the research focus and the hypotheses, and then to help identify collaborative arrangements to kick-start the mapping exercise. In a later stage, they will be invited to discuss and validate the results. The names listed below are people who have already been asked to participate, but others might be invited as appropriate. They are selected to represent profound professional experience, a variety of sectoral interests and regional locations, in order to ensure practical relevance of the research for the entire Swedish mountain region.
Reference group: Hans Halvarsson (Länsstyrelsen Jämtland), Camilla Thellbro (Vilhelmina Model Forest), Lars Wikman (North Sweden/Luleå). Länsstyrelsen Västerbotten and Särna-Idre Sockenförening have also been invited, but their participation is not yet confirmed.

6. External networks

Professor Katarina Eckerberg and Anna Zachrisson currently (until the project ends 2013) form the political science group together with Professor Susan Baker, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University in the Formas strong research programme RESTORE, studying ecological restoration in policy and practice in forests and water environments. The programme’s two ecology groups are led by Professors Christer Nilsson, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, UmU (RESTORE Project Leader) and Joakim Hjältén, Wildlife Fish and Environmental Studies, SLU. The political science research group also includes Associate Professor Camilla Sandström who leads a Formas funded group (three PhD Students and two postdocs) that investigates partnerships on sustainable rural natural resource management. Therese Bjärstig is currently a postdoc in the Future Forests Component Project Forest governance among public and market actors with Professor Carina Keskitalo and her group at the Department of Geography and Economic History, UmU and SLU. We have ongoing collaboration with Professor Eva Falleth, Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, who with her Norwegian colleagues also studies environmental management and collaboration, creating opportunities for comparisons across Norway and Sweden. In addition, our close collaboration with the Sustainable Places Institute at Cardiff University should be mentioned, as their research agenda ties in to the aims of this project. Eckerberg has a long-standing research network with European colleagues through her many comparative projects and international assignments that can be drawn upon when appropriate for our research. Bjärstig’s affiliation to the Swedish Network for European Studies in Political Science (SNES) is also important in this respect.

7. Communication plan

The results will be communicated both to science and practice. Scientific publications will include 4-7 articles in international peer-reviewed journals (such as Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Geoforum, Environmental Politics, Ecology & Society, Local Environment and Mountain Research), and may also be produced as interim research reports. Attendance at national and international scientific conferences will form an integral part of the project, some of which is budgeted for. We will ensure that popular science publications will be produced in various fora, and oral presentations made to present our research to a wide audience as we have done enthusiastically and regularly in the past. Our reference group (as well as our other contacts with relevant authorities) will assist us in finding ways to link up with ongoing activities for practitioners as they arise. We will contribute to workshops and conferences with practitioners upon encouraged invitation through our networks. We foresee our research to be of wider interest to a range of national and regional authorities, such as the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture as well as SEPA, the Forestry Agency, and the County Administrations.
Latest update: 2018-06-20