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Critical Reflections on Interactive Governance

Critical Reflections on Interactive Governance

Self-organization and Participation in Public Governance

Edited by Jurian Edelenbos and Ingmar van Meerkerk

In many countries, government and society have undergone a major shift in recent years, now tending toward ‘smaller government’ and ‘bigger society’. This development has lent increased meaning to the notion of interactive governance, a concept that this book takes not as a normative ideal but as an empirical phenomenon that needs constant critical scrutiny, reflection and embedding in modern societies.

Chapter 10: Governance in flux: a study of irrigator compliance in South Australia

Jonathan Sobels

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


The focus of Sobels in Chapter 10 is on empirical evidence of ‘governance in flux’ as budget cuts, evolving water policy, its associated legislation for regional Water Allocation Plans in South Australia, and economic imperatives change the relationship of government, commerce and community. According to him, the previous relationship in this context was very much an autocratic, ‘top-down’ style of government administration, with government policing compliance of water licence holders who extract water from farm bores licensed for irrigation. Sobels argues that this instrumental approach of interactive governance was strongly dominating, at the expense of a more democratic and cultural approach. More recent negotiations by local industry associations on behalf of irrigators moved through a period of up to ten years of ‘community engagement’, representing a new phase of democratic interactive governance. However, the process has continued to evolve, such that the new rules of how to share the groundwater are indicative of a power shift to irrigators, who are in the process of establishing the new rules as expected norms of behaviour, and values inherent in practices. Sobels concludes that there is an increasing cultural form of interactive governance emerging. He closes his contribution by suggesting a hierarchical and evolutionary order in the different forms of interactive governance.

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