ABSTRACT. Literature on environmental governance has shown renewed interest in polycentricity and polycentric governance. This paper is to provide greater clarity to the recent discussions of polycentricity by introducing the polycentricity approach based on the different roles that the concepts of polycentricity and polycentric governance and associated theoretical claims adopt. After revisiting the early writings on polycentricity, I distinguish between its use as “ontological,” “operationalizing” and “sensitizing” concept, as normative and positive theory, and as analytical framework. I use these perspectives to review the literature on environmental governance that relates to polycentric governance. Thirty six papers had been identified for this review covering the period since the beginning of the nineties. The distinction of uses of polycentricity proves helpful to organize the literature and uncover research gaps. Emerging gaps are: the role of constitutional rules and social problem characteristics for polycentric governance; ways to distinguish the domain of overarching rules and the domain of polycentric governance, specifically in relation to issues of distribution; the way polycentric governance shapes public agents’ behavior in acts of public service provision, and the relation between constitutional rules, polycentric governance structures and innovative criteria to evaluate social-ecological system performance such as robustness, resilience, etc.
JEL codes: G34; O16

Keywords: governance; polycentricity; institutional analysis; constitutional rules; collective action

How to cite: Thiel, Andreas (2017), “The Scope of Polycentric Governance Analysis and Resulting Challenges,” Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics 5(3): 52–82.

Received 1 September 2016 • Received in revised form 7 March 2017
Accepted 7 March 2017 • Available online 25 March 2017


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Department of International Agricultural Policy
and Environmental Governance,
Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences,
University of Kassel

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