Challenges and advances in cross-scale research of governance in mountain systems

Mountain systems often have governance arrangements that are as complex as their topography. Conflicting or poorly coordinated governance processes across scales can undermine possibilities for sustainable management and adaptation to change. It is increasingly clear that coordination in governance across scales offers benefits as well as challenges for sustainability and adaptation. Therefore our roundtable brought together a diverse set of researchers to discuss two main questions:

1) What’s the best example of effective cross-scale governance in mountain systems that you have come across, and why?

2) In your experience, what’s the greatest problem or obstacle for effective cross-scale governance?

Eight panelists, with considerable experience in cross-scale governance issues, participated and presented their thoughts: Matthew Klick (University of Denver, USA), Andreas Muhar (BOKU, Austria), Eric Lindquist (Boise State University, USA), Sandra Pinel (Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador & Antioch University, USA), Sher Jan Ahmadzai (University of Nebraska, USA), Jörg Balsiger (University of Geneva, Switzerland), Alexey Gunya (Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia) and Catherine Tucker (University of Florida, USA). Thereafter approximately 35 participants in the audience joined in a broad discussion that drew on the experiences of researchers and practitioners conducting work in mountain systems around the world, including the European Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rocky Mountains of the USA, among others.

We recognized that scales and levels of governance have a range of possible definitions, and we accepted multiple definitions to be as inclusive as possible. We recognized that the definition of “effective” cross-scale governance” would also vary, but acknowledged that in the context of the Perth conference, effectiveness of governance would move toward sustainability of mountain systems and well-being of mountain systems stakeholders (across the topographic variability in mountains). A general goal of transformational environmental governance The participants shared instances of how conflict among stakeholders, social inequities, problematic communications, and a range of institutional and structural problems could create obstacles to effective governance within and across scales.

In considering best examples of cross-scale governance, the discussion moved from specific examples to recognizing conditions and characteristics that appeared to foster effective cross-scale governance. These included: communication and negotiation, capacity building, multi-stakeholder approaches to include all groups insofar as possible, and building cooperation. Participants noted that none of things work as ideal solutions, they all face complications and resistance, but are present in cases where effective governance seems to be present. Bottom-up and community-based approaches seemed to be present in constructive governance approaches. In some situations, horizontal alliances and cooperative networks of actors were playing important roles to make gains for mountain groups and municipalities.   However, building cooperative and effective governance across upstream-downstream disjunctures appeared more difficult to overcome. Major differences in goals and power frequently interfered with efforts to build cross-scale governance to support mountain sustainability and well-being.

Transboundary resource management and governance represented an especially difficult challenge, especially in regions such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, where civil unrest and decades of conflict have undermined previously effective, indigenous systems for managing water distribution across borders.

The roundtable covered such a diverse range of issues and examples that it is difficult to summarize! We welcome comments and contributions from participants! If you are interested in sharing your experiences or resources relevant to this topic, we are trying to build shared resources accessible on the Mountain Sentinels website ( ). Feel free to contact me, Catherine Tucker to follow-up:


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