Ecological Governance: Organizing Principles for an Emerging Era


Peter J. Robertson is an associate professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California. His research and teaching focus on improving the capacity of organizations to successfully accomplish their objectives while attending to the needs and interests of the individuals and communities with whom they interact. More generally, he is interested in institutional reforms that will support a societal transition to a path of sustainable development.

Taehyon Choi is a doctoral candidate in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California. His primary research interests are group learning and decision making and collaborative governance.


The significant reforms being implemented in governance systems around the world reflect a broader transition of society from the modern to a new emerging era. This transition is framed in terms of a shift from a mechanistic to an ecological worldview, stimulated by a number of developments during the twentieth century and the last decade. In contrast to the mechanistic orientation toward reductionism, prediction and control, and competition, an ecological worldview emphasizes the interconnectedness, self-organizing capacity, and coevolutionary dynamics of all natural systems. This emergent worldview yields useful insights regarding the purpose, design, process, and relationships characteristic of organizational systems that strive to play an effective role in the future governance of society. The discussion outlines specific organizing principles pertinent to these four areas, identifying some compatible practices that are already being adopted by public and private organizations. The authors address the possibility that the continued transition to ecological governance may not reflect just a long, slow process of incremental change, but also could entail a sudden, systemic reorientation that results in a faster transformation of the extant institutions of public administration.