• SENSE Research Cluster X: Governance for Sustainable Development

    It is widely asserted that the nature of global sustainability governance is undergoing fundamental changes. There is a growing awareness that government regulation alone cannot bring about sustainable development. Instead, deep systemic changes in society demand new institutions that enable novel types of interaction between societal actors (e.g. companies, citizens, governments). Building on the concept of governance, participants in this cluster explore the risks and opportunities of new societal arrangements.

    This research field is fully embedded in societal developments. With a focus that combines actor behavior, interactions between actors and opportunities for intervention, governance research combines a high scientific complexity with a high societal relevance. Participants in this SENSE Research Cluster strive for scientific excellence, combined with clear societal communication.

    Research themes that are currently being developed and applied in this SENSE Research Cluster include, for example:

    • the role of companies, civil society and governments in the search for sustainable development
    • governance of sustainable development at local, national and international levels
    • the role of international relations and multilevel agreements in sustainable development
    • opportunities and limitations of transnational governance for sustainability management

    We welcome experts in governance for sustainable development to participate in this research cluster to exchange knowledge and stimulate new innovative developments (if you are not a member of the SENSE Research School but involved with this subject, then you are still welcome to enroll and participate in this research cluster).

    To read more about the SENSE research clusters in general, click HERE.

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    Coordinators and experts


    SENSE key experts:

    Prof. Frank Biermann (UU-Copernicus)
    Prof. Joyeeta Gupta (UNESCO-IHE)
    Prof.dr Gert Spaargaren (WU-ENP)
    Prof. Peter (P.P.J.) Driessen (UU-ESP)
    Prof. P.Y. (Yola) Georgiadou (UT-ITC)
    Prof. J.A. (Jaap) Zevenbergen (UT-ITC)

    Contact information:

    For more information about this research cluster, please contact Dr. Monique Gulickx (

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      To illustrate the urgency and relevance of new developments in this field, below we present some of the emerging research questions that are currently challenging both science and society in the research domain of SENSE Research Cluster X:

      1. Which set of institutional arrangements (from public regulations to private organizations) would be effective and efficient to steer markets and societies towards sustainability?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Effective institutions are essential for environmental governance and management. Institutions that do not harness markets trends, social interests, and public choices will not be effective in promoting sustainable development. For example, it is urgent to find a new balance between government regulation and social/business self-regulation. Furthermore, there is concern about a profusion of sustainability organizations that may hamper effective and legitimate policies. Finally, cooperation between several policy levels (local, national, international) is a permanent discussion topic.
      2. How can we analyse and implement intergenerational equity? What institutional mechanisms (ombudsman, dedicated councils, constitutional rights and others) can assist a democratic society in including future interests?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Environmental decision making has the aim to take the welfare of current and unborn generations into account. This is of course one of the fundamentals of sustainability, but oddly we have not come up with a proper explanation what that actually means. Should we discount future benefits received from ecosystem services?  Is such an approach consistent with intergenerational fairness? As long as no consensus is reached on this topic, it will be extremely difficult to solve urgent problems that operate on long time spans, like nuclear waste, climate change or biodiversity loss. Scientific research dealing with these issues will always be questioned for that reason, or worse, will be fundamentally flawed. We should make a serious effort to understand intergenerational equity.
      3. How do producers, civil society and governments enhance sustainability in the global trade of products? Which factors determine the performance of emerging systems of sustainable governance of global product chains?
        Scientific and societal relevance: In contrast to the pollution haven-theory (transnational corporations moving to poor countries to profit from lack of regulation), companies have started programs for improving their own as well as their suppliers’ environmental and social performance in developing countries. Such changes have recently originated both from a wide array of NGOs (fair trade initiatives, FSC, MSC), businesses (business-to-business supply chain cooperation, cross-sector approaches) and government development programs (clean technology transfer and development related trade projects). These initiatives partly compete and partly complement each other, achieving different levels of success. Here we witness a remarkable double shift in governance: from state towards the market and from national towards supra-national private (multi-stakeholder) arrangements. Relevant questions relate to their performance (effectiveness, efficiency and adequacy) and democratic legitimacy (participation, transparency and accountability).
      4. Which public-private governance arrangements are most suitable for transitions towards sustainability, while displaying social legitimacy and accountability?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Following the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, there is growing interest in public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a tool to promote sustainable development However, the range of PPPs is broad and experience with them is limited so far. A major question is whether public-private arrangements can achieve far-reaching changes in business performance. Next to questions related to their performance (effectiveness and efficiency), social and democratic legitimacy (participation, transparency and accountability) are important to address as well.
      5. In the current information age, what role do information technology and media systems play in environmental governance?
        Scientific and societal relevance: It is increasingly asserted that our current Information Age will have fundamental implications for a sustainability transition. Yet the implications of the ICT-revolution for environmental and sustainability governance remain poorly understood. What options does the information age offer? Will it be possible to develop more inclusive policies? What are the new bottlenecks caused by an abundance of (not always reliable) information?  The promise and peril of relying on information disclosure in pursuing sustainability are urgent to consider.
      6. What is the role of governments, companies and local governments in implementing an environmental innovation agenda? What new institutions can fulfill an intermediate role in this development and how can improvements be measured?
        Scientific and societal relevance: There is a consensus that innovation must play a major role in achieving sustainability targets. But it is far from clear how we can develop an effective agenda for environmental innovation. What are the changes and limitations of a dedicated environmental innovation agenda? What is the best role for the national government, in relation to businesses, NGOs and local governments? Do we need new institutions for successful implementation, or can we adapt existing institutions? What technical monitoring and measurement systems need to be devised and who will be involved in these processes?
      7. What kind of governance instruments will be effective and efficient to solve sustainability problems in developing countries?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Taking the level of economic development and the political system into consideration, there are many differences between developed and developing countries in the emergence and design of governance instruments and institutions to solve environmental problems. As a result, the experience of developed countries seems to be less useful for the latter. We urgently need to explore what effective and equitable institutions exist in developing countries. Secondly, we must investigate whether the concept of 'good governance' is useful and sufficient to bring about sustainable solutions.
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        Here you will be able to find interesting articles, links to books that are worth reading, presentations that caught your attention, etc. To suggest items that should be placed here, please follow the instructions mentioned below
        or send an email to the (technical) coordinators.

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          Add a document to the Library

          Do you have any interesting articles, reports or other documents that you want to share within this research cluster? You can add the by clicking on Upload Documents below. Please note that your document will not be visible in the library immediately, because it first has to be approved by the coordinator. You can also contact him if you would like your suggested document to be brought under our attention in a different way or if you would like the document to appear differently in the library (there are some options available for that).

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            Discussion forum

            In this forum topics related to cluster I can be discussed, varying from scientific issues to organizational matters. The forum is very easy to use.

            To enter the forum, click on Forum RC X below. You will go to the overview page of the forum, where you can see all existing discussions. If you click on a discussion title, you will enter the discussion. You can read all posts and you can also respond to them, by clicking Reply.

            To add a new discussion topic, you can click on Add a new discussion topic on top of the overview page. Please make sure that your new discussion is really new and does not overlap with existing discussions, otherwise the forum will get messy.

            The forum is maintained by the technical coordinator of the research cluster, who will remove any inappropriate contributions to the discussions.

            Please note the following!

            Everyone who enrolls in this course, is automatically subscribed to this forum and will receive e-mail notifications of every post on the forum. If you do not wish to be subscribed to the forum, you can click Unsubscribe from this forum in the top right corner of the forum overview page.

            If you do not want to receive too many notifications, you can adapt the forum settings for your account. To do so, follow these steps:
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            b. Click Edit profile.
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            f. Scroll down and choose Update profile to activate your new settings.

            If you want to give feedback on the functioning of the forum or group page in general, then you are most welcome to leave a post in the discussion Technical feedback. The SENSE team will keep an eye on this discussion and will try to process your feedback as good as possible.