Interactive Governance

Conventionally, governance has been viewed as the task of governments. But governments are not the only actors capable of addressing societal problems and opportunities. People in a variety of roles and circumstances in every society are engaged in shaping societal futures, and it is the interactions between all the actors that determine outcomes. No single actor, public or private, has all the knowledge and information required to solve diverse, complex and dynamic problems. But together, actors may well have the resources and capability to fulfill governing tasks. Mutual interactive learning, whether unilateral and multilateral, will be an additional output. Inclusiveness lies at the heart of interactive governance; governance is only effective when all actors are equally represented and are meaningfully engaged in positive interactions. Open dialogue, negotiation, and transparency reduce conflict, strengthen collaboration and promote the sharing of responsibility and power.

Thus, interactive governance must allow for pooling of various competencies, and also for mutual interactive learning throughout the decision-making process. One way to initiate an understanding of learning opportunities prevailing within the fisheries can be seeing fisheries as a system of chains. It is within these chains that social interaction occurs and relationships of exchange exist, and are built to the benefit of all stakeholders.

Fish chain

Capture fisheries and aquaculture may be seen as parts of a chain. But, the ‘fish chain’ is more diverse, complex and dynamic than simple chain links, since every link and element of the fish chain is not only interconnected but differs in scale. It is also adaptive and typically reflects a large number of stakeholders. Too often in the past, the links in the fish chain have been viewed in isolation, and many stakeholders with varying levels of power and influence have not been involved in governance, though they have an influence on it. In addition, the resource itself is unpredictable. The challenge of interactive governance is therefore to recognize and accommodate these characteristics with a governance style that is interactive and holistic.

Hard choices

Fisheries governance is multidimensional and has to address concerns, principles and goals that are laudable but frequently in conflict. Resource conservation, securing jobs in the fishery, sustaining communities, feeding the poor and increasing export earnings are all worthy objectives but not easily reconciled. They confront decision makers with dilemmas and hard choices, which are always controversial and politically painful. Typical hard choices in fisheries are:

  • Small-scale vs large-scale fisheries?
  • Short-term vs long-term development?
  • Innovation vs precaution?
  • Domestic vs foreign markets?
  • Centralization vs decentralization?
  • Aquaculture development vs fisheries rehabilitation?

What makes these choices hard is that decisions benefit stakeholders preferentially. Thus, the governance of fisheries demands a principled debate on values. Too often the underlying values are assumed and therefore are not brought into the open to be debated rationally and democratically.

The way forward

Changing from the present systems to interactive governance systems will be a long-term effort with many challenges. Three of the many essential aspects of this emerging interactive governance approach are:

  • Principles and ethics to enable the addressing of hard choices to contribute rationality, performance, responsiveness and to assure quality.
  • Learning mechanisms that address the adaptive, or sometimes radical, nature of the challenge and provide continuous corrective quality assurance.
  • Need to be inclusive and responsive to all stakeholders.