Overview of Governance Theories That Are Relevant for the SDGs

  • Joachim Monkelbaan
Part of the Sustainable Development Goals Series book series (SDGS)


The purpose of this chapter is to offer an overview of some key theories on governing change that can be relevant for the SDGs. This outline can serve as a basis for the exploration of the case studies in Chap.  4. Extant theories and their cross-cutting issues (called ‘theoretical pillars’ in this book) are meant to serve as the basis for the novel concept of ‘integrative sustainability governance’ and can directly feed into the Integrative Sustainability Governance (ISG) framework which is presented in Chap.  7. As such, this chapter functions as the theoretical ‘scaffolding’ from which to work on the construction of the ISG framework. However, providing an exhaustive presentation of all theories related to governance for the SDGs is beyond the scope of this book. (A good overview of transition studies can be found in Grin et al. 2010. Hale and Held (Handbook of transnational governance: institutions and innovations. Polity Press, Cambridge, 2011) give a comprehensive account of transnational and networked governance. Metagovernance is outlined in Meuleman (Public management and the metagovernance of hierarchies, networks and markets: the feasibility of designing and managing governance style combinations. Springer, New York, 2008), and the website of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis ( provides numerous materials on polycentricity. Sabel and Zeitlin (The Oxford handbook of governance. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 169–185, 2012) describe experimental governance.) This chapter starts by suggesting some reasons why a multiplicity of theories will continue to be needed for governing complex sustainability issues. Next, it explores five promising theories that are relevant for governance for the SDGs:
  • Transition theory;

  • Metagovernance;

  • Polycentricity;

  • Network governance; and

  • Experimentalist governance.

Finally, the summary draws linkages between the different theories and seeks to show synergies and lacunae across the theories.


Transitions Metagovernance Polycentricity Network governance Experimentalist governance 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joachim Monkelbaan
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland

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