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Four cultural narratives for managing social-ecological complexity in Public Natural Resource Management

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Adam Hejnowicz



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Public Natural Resource Management (NRM) agencies operate in complex social-ecological domains. Thesecomplexities proliferate unpredictably therefore investigating and supporting the ability of public agencies to respondeffectively is increasingly important. However, understanding how public NRM agencies innovate and restructure tonegotiate the range of particular complexities they face is an under researched field. One particular conceptualisation ofthe social-ecological complexities facing NRM agencies that is of growing influence is the Water–Energy–Food (WEF)nexus. Yet, as a tool to frame and understand those complexities it has limitations. Specifically, it overlooks how NRMsrespond institutionally to these social-ecological complexities in the context of economic and organisational challenges—thus creating a gap in the literature. Current debates in public administration can be brought to bear here. Using anorganisational cultures approach, this paper reports on a case study with a national NRM agency to investigate how theyare attempting to transform institutionally to respond to complexity in challenging times. The research involved 12 eliteinterviews with senior leaders from Natural Resources Wales, (NRW) and investigated how cultural narratives are beingexplicitly and implicitly constructed and mobilised to this end. The research identified four distinct and sequential culturalnarratives: collaboration, communication, trust, and empowerment where each narrative supported the delivery ofdifferent dimensions of NRW’s social-ecological complexity mandate. Counter to the current managerialist approaches inpublic administration, these results suggest that the empowerment of expert bureaucrats is important in respondingeffectively to complexity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kirsop-Taylor N, Hejnowicz AP, Scott K

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environmental Management

Year: 2020

Volume: 66

Issue: 3

Pages: 419-434

Print publication date: 01/09/2020

Online publication date: 07/07/2020

Acceptance date: 15/06/2020

Date deposited: 18/02/2021

ISSN (print): 0364-152X

ISSN (electronic): 1432-1009

Publisher: Springer New York LLC


DOI: 10.1007/s00267-020-01320-6


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Funder referenceFunder name
Research Fellowship from The Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus, a UK Economic and Social Research Council large centre [ES/N012550/1]