Governance of the Commons


Governance of the Commons


Common resources include land, water, energy, food and the host of ecosystem services that nature makes available to humankind every day, which are ultimately the precondition for development.

Can we imagine new and better ways to manage these resources sustainably and achieve more efficient and equitable results?

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on the governance of the commons. Trained as a political scientist, she believed that privatization and commodification, on the one hand, or top-down regulation, on the other hand, were not the only ways in which human beings could govern their common resources.

She demonstrated that bottom-up systems of collective action, in which citizens build shared institutions and collective cooperative mechanisms, can also achieve governance results that are resilient, balanced and long-lasting.

In order to sustainably govern common resources, we, therefore, need innovative governance arrangements with new constellations of actors.

These arrangements may include small-scale farmers and local resource users but also other civil society actors, the private sector, as well as the government.

Only by incorporating networks of different actors and areas of society which span multiple levels of governance as well as administrative jurisdictions, will governance arrangements be created that are capable of coping with complex natural resource systems.

This research area includes our work in land and water governance, agriculture, food security and food sovereignty, as well as our research about environmental governance and more equitable investment models.

Current running projects: 

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Security Governance


Traditional thinking in international relations and policy analysis has focused on national security as the prime (and, at times, sole) objective of foreign policy.

At the dawn of contemporary international relations’ theory, Hans Morgenthau already defined national security as the supreme goal of international politics, regardless of other principles or moral objectives.

In the past decades, such a focus on national security led to a generalized emphasis on conventional threats to national security such as military invasion (particularly during the Cold War) and, more recently, on terrorism, nuclear disarmament and the general risks associated with the availability of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, these are all factors able to threaten the integrity of states, hence, their national security.

At least since the turn of the millennium (and especially after the military missions in Kosovo and Iraq), new voices have emerged arguing that not only is national security inappropriate to lead the behaviour of states in a globalized world, but also that foreign policies inspired by national security can easily exacerbate violations of human rights, individuals’ safety and personal well-being. Against this backdrop, the concept of human security has been proposed as a more compelling guiding principle for international relations.

Within this framework, issues such as poverty, famine, environmental degradation, migration, small weapons and human rights violations are some examples of what can undermine human security, even when they do not challenge national security. By giving centre stage to the safety of individuals, human security requires a conceptual shift from the notion of ‘threat’ to that of ‘vulnerability’. This area includes our work on new security approaches, multidimensional challenges (e.g. wildlife crime, human trafficking, etc.) and environmental threats to human development.

Current running projects: 

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Transboundary Governance

Transboundary Governance

Supranational regionalism has been one of the most crucial governance innovations of recent times. As more challenges transcend borders, we need new and better systems to deal with them via regional cooperation.

Energy, common resources, environmental degradation, diseases and migration are just some examples of critical phenomena that do not respect national borders: a state-centred governance model is therefore ill suited to respond to these dynamics effectively. At the same time, regionalism itself is developing into a complex reality, with different models and levels of application.

It has been traditionally analyzed through a top-down lens, generally emphasizing the role of governmental elites, political parties and – to a lesser extent – business associations and epistemic communities. By contrast, civil society has received limited attention by scholars of regionalism in spite of the critical role it can play in strengthening the legitimacy of regional governance.

In the past few years, NGOs, social movements, advocacy groups, trade unions and civic associations have been able to exert a growing influence on decision-making at the regional level.

This role has been amplified not only by the introduction of specific policy channels and tools (e.g. the non-state actors programme at the EU level, the African Peer Review Mechanism at the AU level, etc.) but also by the desire of citizens to make their voices heard in an arena traditionally dominated by technocrats and lobbyists.

This research area includes our work in the field of regional governance, comparative regionalism, human migration, trade, EU-Africa relations, South-South cooperation and North-South relations.

Current running projects:

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New Economic Governance


The convergence of crises, from climate change to the Great Recession and rampant social and economic inequality, fundamentally questions our main economic paradigm based on growth in the gross domestic product (GDP).

In order to tackle the current systemic crisis, we may indeed need to think creatively about the type of development we want to achieve in the 21st century.

GDP is arguably the most well-known statistic in the contemporary world, and certainly amongst the most powerful.

It drives government policy and sets priorities in a variety of vital social fields – from schooling to healthcare.

Yet for perhaps the first time since it was invented in the 1930s, this popular icon of economic growth has come to be regarded by many as a ‘problem’.

After all, does our quality of life really improve when our economy grows 2 or 3{bd2963b2c680ed8e9e94cc84d503442bf9bc59ccc6a1c4848a11c7bd683cc743}? Can we continue to sacrifice the environment to safeguard a vision of the world based on the illusion of infinite economic growth?

This research area includes our work in the field of ‘Beyond GDP’ governance as well as a series of pioneering projects in the field of wellbeing, community development, new business models and alternative currency systems.


Currently running projects:

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What is Governance Innovation?