Multi-level governance may facilitate learning and adaptation in complex social-ecological circumstances. Such arrangements should connect community-based management with regional/national government-level management, link scientific management and traditional management systems, encourage the sharing of knowledge and information, and promote collaboration and dialogue around goals and outcomes. Governance innovations of this type can thus build capacity to adapt to change and manage for resilience. However, critical reflection on the emergence of adaptive, multi-level governance for the commons is warranted. Drawing on examples from the North and South, the purpose of this review is to connect three complementary bodies of scholarship with insights for commons governance in a multi-level world: common property theory, resilience thinking and political ecology. From the commons and resilience literature, normative principles of adaptive, multi-level governance are synthesized (e.g., participation, accountability, leadership, knowledge pluralism, learning and trust). Political ecological interpretations, however, help to reveal the challenge of actualizing these principles and the contextual forces that make entrenched, top-down management systems resilient to change. These forces include the role of power, scale and levels of organization, knowledge valuation, the positioning of social actors and social constructions of nature. Also addressed are the policy narratives that shape governance, and the dialectic relationship among ecological systems and social change.
Adaptive co-management; common property; complex systems; political ecology; resilience; social-ecological systems; social learning; sustainability