Policy Sciences

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 463–489 | Cite as

Using insights from pragmatism to develop reforms that strengthen institutional competence for conserving biodiversity

  • Sarah ClementEmail author
  • Susan A. Moore
  • Michael Lockwood
  • Michael Mitchell
Research Article


The poor performance of biodiversity institutions has prompted calls for reform. Adaptive governance has been promoted as a means of supporting improved biodiversity outcomes. However, incorporating adaptive elements into biodiversity governance has been a challenge. In particular, efforts to make institutions more “adaptive” often fail to account for existing capacity and context-specific factors. Clear guidance on how to move from general, ambitious adaptive governance prescriptions to specific, context-dependent recommendations is needed. This paper demonstrates how insights from pragmatism can inform an approach for designing institutional reforms that address current shortcomings in adaptive governance approaches. This design scaffolds reform options on a platform of existing competency and institutional legacy. Informed by the results of a prior institutional diagnosis, reform development followed a three-stage process: defining plausible reform spaces; identifying reform possibilities within these spaces; and elaborating reform options. Two very different landscapes provided the case studies: (1) a highly modified agricultural landscape, where private landholders are responsible for managing biodiversity as a public good; (2) a group of national parks, where the state holds primary responsibility. The reforms in the agricultural landscape build on successful landholder and organizational efforts to self-organize and pursue innovative solutions, while those for the protected area enable greater managerial discretion and address the challenges of working across multiple government jurisdictions. This context-driven approach draws on insights from pragmatism to provide guidance on the design of institutional reforms that meet the demands of adaptive governance in a way that is both systematic and realistic.


Adaptive governance Biodiversity conservation Multifunctional landscapes Institutional reform Protected areas Private land conservation 



This research is an output from the Landscapes and Policy Research Hub. The hub is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program and involves researchers from the University of Tasmania (UTAS), The Australian National University (ANU), Murdoch University, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), Griffith University, and Charles Sturt University (CSU).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Clement
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan A. Moore
    • 1
  • Michael Lockwood
    • 2
  • Michael Mitchell
    • 2
  1. 1.Environment and Conservation SciencesMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and FoodUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia

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