Multi-level Governance and Natural Resource Management: The Challenges of Complexity, Diversity, and Uncertainty

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Most human-environment interactions with regard to any natural resource occur on multiple scales. Furthermore, the “human” aspect of humanenvironment interactions always involves multiple communities of interest and identity, and the “environment” aspect always involves multiple dimensions, uses, and values of any natural resource. These facts pose a significant challenge in the design of institutions to aid in the sustainable management of those humanenvironment interactions. Literature addressing that challenge spreads across several disciplines, including resource economics, ecology, law, and political science. Any quest for the “right” scale of resource management institutions may end up being unsuccessful, but this does not mean there is no difference among institutional alternatives. Some arrangements offer more favorable conditions than others for information collection, deliberation, learning, and adaptation. This chapter provides arguments in support of the conclusion that polycentric arrangements operating (albeit imperfectly) in a number of settings improve human beings’ prospects for handling the challenges of complexity, diversity, and uncertainty and, therefore, enhance the possibilities for human societies to organize and maintain more nearly sustainable management of natural resources.