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Policy Intervention and Steering: The Local Governance Approach

Both the regional innovation systems’ approach and the sustainable communities perspective describe ‘bottom-up’ transitions (Hauber and Ruppert-Winkel 2012; Hekkert et al. 2011). As for the sustainable communities, for example, the major challenge is to identify networks, institutions, infrastructures, resources, and other relevant factors to support local action. In other words, what is of interest is a system “that seeks to unleash the ingenuity, and stimulate the creativity, of political entrepreneurs (...) that is structured so that actors within the system are given opportunities for institutional innovation and adaptation through experimentation and learning” (Andersson and Ostrom 2008, p. 77). However, whether innovation occurs and collective actions can be undertaken, not only depends on the legitimacy of objectives with community values or the availability and access towards organizational and infrastructural capacities, as the mentioned approaches would suggest. What enables innovation in the economic and social process of energy transition in the rural periphery is the institutional fit and the effectiveness in bringing together the public and private agents’ skills and knowledge (Cuthill and Fien 2005; Franklin et al. 2011; Sellers and Kwak 2011). Scholars aiming for an understanding of effective ways for capacity-building and collective learning on the community level not only ask what sets of local skills and knowledge are necessary but also how these emerge within existing institutional settings, community values structures, and power-relations (Cuthill and Fien 2005; Franklin et al. 2011). What adds to that is the perspective of steering local transition processes by multilevel entities such as markets, policies, and administrations (Geels 2011; Genus and Coles 2008; Smith et al. 2010). The role of higher political and administrative entities for the effective and efficient coordination of public goods, collective action, and innovativeness is described as the form or coordination by the local governance approach (Andersson and Ostrom 2008; Gibson et al. 2005; Michalena and Angeon 2009; Sellers and Kwak 2011).

This perspective focuses on new modes of local governance, i.e. on formal decisions and public actions. Apparent since the early 1980s, political science scholarship, as well as work in legal studies and public administration, have observed a change in policymaking, with a rise of new partnerships and collaborations between public authorities and private actors (Bevir et al. 2003; Dent et al. 2007; Gunningham 2009; Kjaer 2005; Kooiman 2003; Rhodes 1997). This shift in modes of governance is interpreted as a response to the idea that traditional forms of ‘ government’ (regulative, hierarchical, authoritative) may no longer be appropriate for delivering effective and efficient public services and markets (Kokx and van Kempen 2010). It refers to the number of relevant actors with equally distributed power in the system (mono- vs. polycentrism) (Gunningham 2009; Tollefson et al. 2012) and their actual relationship, mainly between public and private actors, with a range from high coercion for traditional regulative and authoritative steering to low coercion with equal partnership between private and public actors (Bressers and O’Toode 2005). These new modes of governance are identified as a trend in policymaking in modern states that differs from traditional hierarchical regulation of ‘government’ and aims toward new forms of decentralized and polycentric network ‘governance’ (Bode 2006; Caporaso and Wittenbrinck 2006; Tollefson et al. 2012). Examples of these network-based modes of coordination and organization are public-private partnerships or voluntary agreements (hierarchy-market) (Oikonomou et al. 2009; van der Heijden 2012), co-management such as social partnerships (state-association) (L. M. Hall and Kennedy 2008; Lemos and Agrawal 2006), and local citizenship (state-community) (Ostrom 1990, 2009).

This development towards increased participation of a variety of actors (polycentrism) and cooperation in equal partnerships between the private and the public sector (level of coercion) is most relevant for transition processes on the local level (Aranguren et al. 2010; Fidelis and Pires 2009; Sellers and Kwak 2011). Local citizens and political actors have deep knowledge of their close environment, and at the same time are directly confronted with the consequences of political decisions on higher levels (Brownill and Carpenter 2009). The basic question scholars ask is how to “develop new strategies of co-ordination, steering and networking” (Fidelis and Pires 2009, p. 497) and to accomplish more suitable and democratic solutions to community problems (Bache and Flinders 2004).

The local governance approach adds a new perspective to the regional innovation systems’ approach and the sustainable communities’ studies by focusing on social innovations as “new elements of an organizational structure; new interorganizational relationships; new processes; and new forms of relationships among people, society and the environment” (Edwards-Schachter et al. 2012, p. 675). Thus, it seeks to analyze and explain how traditional governance modes interact with newly emerging social innovations, incorporating new forms of social interaction and cooperation to develop community capacities for social change (Adams and Hess 2010; Edwards-Schachter et al. 2012).

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