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Vanderbilt Law Review

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adaptive governance, complex systems, law and government, socio-ecological systems


Environmental Law | Law


This Article contributes to the development of adaptive governance theory by articulating and situating the role of formal law and government as the facilitator, but not central controller, of adaptive governance. To advance the understanding of adaptive governance, we argue that it can be understood in the broader context of scholarship covering the observed emergence of new governance, the efforts to develop theoretical understandings through decentered theory, and the refinement of constitutional understanding through democratic experimentalism. Synthesis of these three themes in turn informs the role of law and government in working with emergent governance responses to complexity to manage change and wicked problems. This inter- and transdisciplinary exercise reveals that the role of law and government in adaptive governance is to leave space for local innovation and private governance. Law and government must provide the catalyzation, facilitation, steering, and oversight essential for public and private institutions to respond at the rate and complexity of change in large-scale social-ecological systems, and they must do so while advancing good governance.



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