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Institutional Change for Sustainable Development

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers

Institutional Change for Sustainable Development presents a flexible, accessible, yet robust conceptual framework for comprehending institutional dimensions of sustainability, emphasising the complexity of institutional systems, and highlighting the interdependence between policy learning and institutional change. This framework is applied and developed through the analysis of five significant arenas of institutional and policy change: environmental policy in the EU; New Zealand’s landmark Resource Management Act; strategic environmental assessment; emerging National Councils for Sustainable Development; and transformative property rights instruments. From these explorations, key principles for institutional change are identified, including the institutional accommodation of a sustainability discourse, the interdependence of normative and institutional change; reiteration and learning; integration in policy and practice; subsidiarity; and legal change.
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Chapter 1: Conceptions of Institutions and Policy Learning

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers


INTRODUCTION The broad questions prompting this study are about what and how we might learn from early experiences with institutional development in response to the sustainability imperative. The application of any lessons drawn from a case study approach was to be to inform further policy making and institutional reform in a modern democracy. In approaching the study it seemed prudent to reflect first on the nature of institutions in this context and second upon the notion of policy learning. Here we first explore the issue of defining the focus of our attention – institutions. It is important analytically that a shared and well-understood meaning for the term ‘institution’ and associated language is established at the outset, and that consistent usage is maintained as much as possible throughout the book. We argue that clear and consistent terminology will promote a deeper understanding of the dynamics of institutional systems and of the later analysis of case studies. This section looks at various meanings of the term ‘institution’, exploring linkages in the use of language and concepts. It adopts a specific approach to institutional language from the literature that we believe offers an analytical escape route from what can become something of an interdisciplinary quagmire of ambiguity. At the close of this preliminary discussion we set ourselves some rules for language in the rest of the study. Second, as this investigation is an exercise in policy and institutional learning, some exploration of what might comprise learning in this context is worthwhile. The second part...

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