Governing in the Anthropocene: are there cyber-systemic antidotes to the malaise of modern governance?

Ison, Ray; Alexandra, Jason and Wallis, Phil (2018). Governing in the Anthropocene: are there cyber-systemic antidotes to the malaise of modern governance? Sustainability Science, 13(5) pp. 1209–1223.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0570-5

Abstract

The Anthropocene imposes new challenges for governments, demanding capabilities for dealing with complexity and uncertainty. In this paper we examine how effective governing of social-biophysical dynamics is constrained by current processes and systems of government. Framing choices and structural determinants combine to create governance deficits in multiple domains, particularly in relation to the governing of complex larger-scale social – biophysical systems. Attempts to build capability for governing ‘wicked problems’ are relevant to sustainability science and Anthropocene governance, but these have mostly failed to become institutionalised. Two cases studies are reported to elucidate how the systemic dynamics of governing operate and fail in relation to espoused purpose. In the UK attempts to enact ‘joined-up’ government’ during the years of New Labour government reveal systemic flaws and consistent praxis failures. From Australia we report on water governance reforms with implications for a wide range of complex policy issues. We conclude that innovations are needed to build capacity for governing the unfolding surprises and inherent uncertainties of the Anthropocene. These include institutionalising, or structural incorporation, of cyber-systemic thinking/practices that can also enhance empowerment and creativity that underpins sustainability science.

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