Adaptive and multi-level governance is often called for in order to improve the management of complex issues such as the provision of natural resources and ecosystem services. This case study analyses the contemporary multi-level governance system that manages water resources and their ecosystem services in a freshwater lake in Sweden.

The authors assess the relative importance and barriers of three commonly highlighted components of adaptive governance: feeding ecological knowledge into the governance system; use of ecological knowledge to continuously adapt the governance system; and self-organization by flexible institutions acting across multiple levels. The findings reveal that the trickiest aspect of adaptive governance capacity to institutionalize is the iterative nature of feedbacks and learning over time, and that the barriers to the spread of knowledge on social-ecological complexity through the governance systems are partly political, partly complexity itself, and partly a more easily resolved lack of coordination.

The authors call for caution in trusting crisis management to build more long-lasting adaptive capacity, and conclude that a process of institutionalizing adaptive capacity is inherently contingent on political processes putting issues on the agenda.

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