Environmental Management

, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 200–214 | Cite as

How Does Socio-institutional Diversity Affect Collaborative Governance of Social–Ecological Systems in Practice?

  • Julia BairdEmail author
  • Ryan Plummer
  • Lisen Schultz
  • Derek Armitage
  • Örjan Bodin


Social and institutional diversity (“diversity” hereafter) are important dimensions in collaborative environmental governance, but lack empirical assessment. In this paper, we examine three aspects of diversity hypothesized in the literature as being important in collaborative forms of environmental governance—the presence of diverse actors, diverse perspectives, and diverse institutions. The presence of these aspects and formative conjectures were empirically considered using a mixed methods approach in four biosphere reserves in Sweden and Canada. We found that the diversity of actors involved and domains of authority varied among cases, that stakeholder perspectives were highly diverse in all cases, and that institutional variety (in terms of strategies, norms, and rules) was evident in all cases, but differed among them. Empirical support from the cases further affirms that diversity contributes to the ability to engage with a broader set of issues and challenges; diversity contributes to novel approaches to solving problems within the governance group; and diversity contributes to the flexibility of the group involved in governance in terms of addressing challenges. One conjecture, that diversity decreases the efficiency of governance in decision-making and responding to issues, was not supported by the data. However, our analysis indicates that there might be a trade-off between diversity and efficiency. The findings highlight differences in the ways in which diversity is conceptualized in the literature and on the ground, emphasizing the pragmatic advantages of actively seeking diversity in terms of competencies and capacities.


Biosphere reserves Bridging organizations Diversity Resilience Collaborative environmental governance 



This research was funded by Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Research Council, grant 2012-5498. We also acknowledge funding by MISTRA through a core grant to Stockholm Resilience Centre. Participation by the managers and others from the Frontenac Arch, Georgian Bay, Kristianstads Vattenrike, and Östra Vätterbranterna Biosphere Reserves is gratefully acknowledged. Our thanks are also extended to our colleague, Beatrice Crona, for her insights in conceptualizing the project. Finally, we wish to acknowledge Flor de Luna Estrada, Malena Heinrup, Katrina Krievins, and Kerrie Pickering for their research assistance.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Baird
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ryan Plummer
    • 2
  • Lisen Schultz
    • 3
  • Derek Armitage
    • 4
  • Örjan Bodin
    • 3
  1. 1.Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre and the Department of Geography and Tourism StudiesBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada
  2. 2.Professor and Director, Environmental Sustainability Research CentreBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada
  3. 3.Researcher, Stockholm Resilience CentreStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  4. 4.Environmental Change and Governance Group, School of Environment, Resources and SustainabilityUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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