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Are impact assessment procedures actually promoting sustainable development? Institutional perspectives on barriers and opportunities found in the Swedish committee system
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology. (Stockholm Environment Institute)
(Stockholm Environment Institute)
2009 (English)In: Environmental impact assessment review, ISSN 0195-9255, E-ISSN 1873-6432, Vol. 29, no 1, 15-24 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Impact assessment frameworks are gaining increasing attention as a procedure to integrate sustainability concerns in European and national policy-making. The gap between political visions on sustainable development and the reality of policy-making is, however, still pronounced, and a very limited range and scope of available assessment methods are used in practice. This study examines why this pattern prevails, in this case within the Swedish Committees of Inquiry, with a focus on institutional factors determining the function of Impact Assessments. The findings suggest that assessment procedures have little value when not accompanied by clear specific instructions on priorities. A range of institutional constraints emerge in the interface between policy makers and knowledge providers in committees. Dominant professional, organisational, and disciplinary cultures constrain the assessment, and socio-economic priorities are by tradition most important. Based on our analysis, we conclude that to enhance the potential for integrating sustainability concerns, it seems less fruitful to develop more advanced and complex assessment frameworks and models than strengthening institutional arenas for social learning. Such arenas should be; defined by a broad mandate and instructions, characterised by key personal skills and resources, and build institutional capacity for a range of stakeholders to engage with them.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 29, no 1, 15-24 p.
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17571DOI: 10.1016/j.eiar.2008.04.002ISI: 000261985700003OAI: diva2:184092
Available from: 2009-01-16 Created: 2009-01-16 Last updated: 2012-05-03Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Social learning in the Anthropocene: Governance of natural resources in human dominated systems
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Social learning in the Anthropocene: Governance of natural resources in human dominated systems
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

We live in the Anthropocene – an age where humans dominate natural systems – and there is ample evidence that our current practices degrade the capacity of natural systems to provide us with natural resources. How we, as humans, organize and learn, in communities and among state and other societal actors, constitute a decisive factor for both local management of natural resources and the functioning of the planet Earth. In other words, the outcome of learning has become a matter of governance across multiple levels. This thesis studies the role of social learning in governance of natural resources, asking the following three overarching questions: i) What are the institutional barriers limiting better environmental governance at different scales? ii) Is there a causal connection between social learning and better environmental governance? iii) What are the normative challenges with better environmental governance or social-ecological resilience being linked to the adaptive capacity of actors to learn socially? The primary method is semi-structured in-depth interviews. Papers provide results on institutional barriers such as competency traps and show how customs and current practices and collaborations limit better environmental governance. It is found that social learning might, and might not, lead to better environmental governance, and the causal connection between social learning and better environmental governance is found to be rather weak, with both variables depending on other factors. Enabling policy, a mandate to make broad assessments, or an engaged leader facilitating social learning, are examples of factors that explain the existence of both social learning and outcomes in terms of better environmental governance. It is concluded that since conditions for, and facilitation of, social learning are so important, research should focus more on what initiates social learning and how social learning can be mainstreamed across multiple levels of governance

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 2012. 48 p.
social learning, multi-level governance, resilience, adaptability, natural resource management, institutions, policy making, impact assessments
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Research subject
Natural Resources Management
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-74836 (URN)978-91-7447-484-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-06-08, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Submitted: Paper 4: Submitted; Paper 5: Submitted.Available from: 2012-05-10 Created: 2012-03-27 Last updated: 2012-05-03Bibliographically approved

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Nykvist, BjörnNilsson, Måns
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