Global governance is increasingly polycentric: multiple heterogeneous institutions now address most major global problems. This phenomenon is common at the international level, as the regime complex literature makes clear (Raustiala & Victor 2004; Alter & Meunier 2009; Keohane & Victor 2011; Oberthür & Stokke 2011). But for this workshop we are concerned with two other forms of complexity: the emergence of governance that is (1) multi-scalar, with institutions operating at the international, regional, national, subnational and local levels, and (2) private as well as public. Our focus is how international institutions do, can and should interact with small-scale and private governance.
Elinor Ostrom and scholars in her tradition seek to explain the success (or failure) of collective action at small scales, such as rural communities, even without hierarchical governance (Ostrom 2010 a, b; Poteete et al. 2010). These scholars emphasize factors including small numbers of actors, face-to-face contacts and social capital, and identify a range of design principles common to cases of successful collective action. Yet specific local context also appears critical. Normatively, these scholars argue that “global” problems such as climate change must be addressed at multiple scales (Cole 2011). The local and transnational climate change activities of states and cities are well known (Betsill & Bulkeley 2006), but additional small-scale actions remain necessary.
The emergence of private governance has made the international system even more polycentric and heterogeneous. Numerous rule-making and operational schemes have been formed by civil society organizations, business, and multi-stakeholder groupings, as well as public-private collaborations (Abbott & Snidal 2009 a, b). In many issue areas these schemes are important participants in global regimes (Green 2011; Abbott, forthcoming). Even transnational schemes, moreover, often operate at relatively small scales; that is even more true of domestic private schemes, of which far less is known.
These trends raise many important questions, both for social science and for policy; for example:
Given the difficulties of international collective action, both sets of questions are important for many global problems, including sustainability, climate change (especially adaptation) and global health.