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Institutional stability and change in the Baltic Sea: 30 years of issues, crises and solutions
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science. Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Baltic Nest Institute.
2013 (English)In: Marine Policy, ISSN 0308-597X, Vol. 38, 54-64 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The shift from a classic sector-by-sector management system to an operational ecosystem approach is perceived as the way forward towards sustainable use of marine systems. The nine states bordering the Baltic Sea as well as the European Community signed the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) in 2007, intended to provide practical means for implementing the ecosystem approach in the region. However, whether this shift towards a new governance approach also constitutes a case of institutional change remains unclear. This study evaluates institutional change over 30 years in order to understand the process of emergence of the ecosystem approach for this international institution. This study adds to the otherwise largely theoretical debate on institutional change by testing two models of institutional change – gradualist versus punctuated equilibrium – against data from the Helsinki Commission. Relying on a novel methodology involving quantitative text analyses of 574 documents this study suggests that the signing of the BSAP did not cause change in the institution, nor was it the cause of an abrupt institutional change. Overall, findings support a gradualist model of institutional change where the BSAP is layered upon preexisting institutional structures. Results also indicate that institutional change has occurred in some parts of the institution, whereas other parts remain remarkably stable. It proves that in order to intentionally change an institution it is vital that the change processes cohere at all levels of the institution. The study also underlines the mismatch between ecosystems and institutions. Given the relatively slow dynamics identified here, it is unclear whether institutions are able to adapt to rapid and unpredictable ecosystem shifts.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 38, 54-64 p.
Keyword [en]
Institutional change, Helsinki Commission, Baltic Sea, Ecosystem approach
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-81168DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.05.019ISI: 000313769600007OAI: diva2:560068
Available from: 2012-10-12 Created: 2012-10-11 Last updated: 2014-10-30Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Three faces of HELCOM - institution, organization, policy producer
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Three faces of HELCOM - institution, organization, policy producer
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Despite early initiatives during the 1960s and 1970s, and continuing efforts ever since, the Baltic Sea remains in poor condition. The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) is the governing body tasked with protecting the marine environment from further deterioration through intergovernmental collaboration between the Baltic Sea states and the EU. In 2007, HELCOM launched a new tool – the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), of which the so-called ecosystem approach is a cornerstone. However, how and why the BSAP reform was launched, and also what consequences such management reforms can have for transboundary resource management, is unknown.

By using institutional theory, organizational theory and the advocacy coalition framework, in combination with content analysis of official documents derived from HELCOM, this thesis argues that the BSAP is the end result of a gradual process of change within institutional structures and actor beliefs. This thesis also shows that HELCOM's capacity to detect, process, and react in response to changes in its regulatory objective has not changed as a consequence of the BSAP. In contrast to earlier research, it seems HELCOM responds better to slow and opaque changes than to quick and visible ones. Finally, by comparing HELCOM with two other similar cases, the thesis shows that HELCOM's adaptive capacity could be improved in line with the recommendations of the ecosystem approach.

This thesis illustrates the importance of studying the emergence of new tools for governing transboundary resources from several theoretical perspectives. The thesis uses an innovative quantitative content analysis and concludes that new methods might be required to enable such studies. The different perspectives used here give various explanations concerning the causes and consequences of the BSAP. In a future Baltic Sea, where environmental changes are likely to be abrupt, a multitude of understandings regarding the governance of the Baltic Sea will be crucial.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, 2014
Stockholm studies in politics, ISSN 0346-6620 ; 159
Helsinki Commission, institutional change, policy change, organizational response, ecosystem approach, Baltic Sea, BSAP, content analysis
National Category
Public Administration Studies
Research subject
Political Science
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-108455 (URN)978-91-7649-033-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-12-05, hörsal 5, hus B, Universitetsvägen 10 B, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Submitted. Paper 3: Submitted. Paper 4: In press.

Available from: 2014-11-13 Created: 2014-10-27 Last updated: 2014-11-21Bibliographically approved

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Valman, Matilda
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