Does polycentricity always emerge from the bottom up?
Can polycentric governance facilitate learning?
What happens to polycentric governance systems over time?
How can we evaluate the performance of polycentric governance systems?
Is polycentricity practiced in different ways across the Global North and the Global South?
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May 17-19, 2021





For IASC members only

March 19, 2021

April 9, 2021

May 5, 2021


Welcome to the

IASC 2021 Polycentricity Virtual Conference

Aim & Scope

We are pleased to announce our call for individual presentations, full webinar panel discussions, and special sessions on topics related to polycentricity. This virtual event on polycentricity aims to bring together scholars and practitioners from various sectors, disciplines, and epistemological traditions to help advance our understanding of how polycentric governance works in practice and how we can share knowledge as a diverse research community.

Our committee members share an interest in learning about whether and how polycentric governance structures and processes — that is, those that tend to exhibit overlapping authority that crosses jurisdictions, sectors, and governance levels — can help improve democratic decision-making and resolution of social problems. Besides, we are increasingly interested in exploring whether and why polycentric governance systems can help policy actors respond to social, political, and environmental change and understand how polycentric systems create (or fail to create) feedback that allows for effective and sustainable adaptation to changing conditions.

This conceptual focus could not be more timely: from climate change to the global pandemic to Brexit, hyper-connectivity through technology, and the rise of nationalist leaders, the world’s governance systems need to adapt to changing conditions. Theory development and rigorous, interdisciplinary empirical social science focused on polycentricity and related concepts can provide critical knowledge to help governance systems adapt to these changes.

As a web conference within the broader International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), we provide opportunities a) for scholars to share their research and practitioners to share their experiences; b) for members of the research community to engage in sharing and building theory and methods for studying polycentric governance, and c) for members of the community to engage in networking and develop collaborative relationships. In doing so, we recognize that polycentricity is a theme that cuts across many of the IASC’s focal areas and allows for reflections across these areas. This session is intended to complement these other research areas with a specific focus on complex governance structures and processes.

We invite proposals that fit one or more of the tracks listed below. We especially welcome submissions from countries in the Global South and under-represented sectors within the polycentricity scholarship. We are also especially interested in emerging ideas that can potentially be workshopped within a track or a session. For applicants submitting a full panel, diverse submissions (gender, ethnic composition, level of scholarly achievement and career stage, methodological approach, institutional setting, the inclusion of practitioners) are encouraged.



Polycentricity can be perceived as an emerging property of a governance system (bottom-up) or as a strategic tool to improve how resources are managed and governed (top-down). How scale becomes a factor in the emergence and consolidation of polycentric governance systems is an issue that remains unexplored in much detail. There is an inherent assumption that because polycentricity includes (but is not limited to) multilevel networked interactions in a system, governance scales can be simply assumed to exist within the network, but these linkages are rarely if ever made explicit and explored in terms of timing, sequencing and system impacts. Does polycentricity emerge from the bottom-up or is it used as a normative tool to implement networked, power-distributed strategies of governance? In this track, we welcome papers and presentations that explore the different levels and scales of analysis and modes of implementation of polycentricity in resource (or other sectors’) governance systems.

Polycentric governance has largely been researched against the background of a structuralist understanding. Predominant research questions often focused on whether a particular configuration of governance was polycentric, to what degree, and how this shaped performance at a single point in time. Few empirical studies to date have taken more dynamic perspectives – for example, those that consider adaptiveness and resilience of governance over time. Understanding the dynamic qualities of polycentric governance poses multiple challenges which we want to discuss in detail in this session. In this session we thus invite submissions that examine how structures underpinning (polycentric) governance and processes and dynamics of governance relate to each other, and how we can evaluate the performance of polycentric governance over extended periods of time. Submissions might address questions about how to identify particular moments in governance that provide clues about performance; whether and what conditions underpinning polycentric governance may lead to desirable or undesirable pathways from a societal perspective; and other studies that assess dynamic change over time in polycentric governance systems.

Polycentric governance is frequently touted in the literature as being more democratic, inclusive, and empowering. Because two of the most relevant properties of polycentricity (networked interactions and power sharing) are also often associated with democratic inclusion, citizen participation and collective action problem-solving (Ostrom 2008), there has been a tendency in the scholarly literature on polycentricity lately to promote it as a tool to improve governance. But is it? How can we best harness the inherent properties of polycentricity to make systems more robust, more democratic, more inclusive and better designed? In this session, we welcome submissions that address one or more of the following questions:

  • Does timing and sequencing affect the way in which a polycentric governance system emerges?
  • How can we best use polycentricity to improve governance systems?
  • Is the way in which polycentricity is understood in countries of the Global North useful for specific applications in the Global South and vice-versa?
  • What are the potential drawbacks of attempting implementation of a polycentric approach to governance?

Complexity defines modern life. Even people living lives of relative isolation are impacted by complex social, economic and ecological processes that govern their living environment. Many positive changes, such as global improvement in standard of living, thanks to ever-advancing technologies, have benefited from, and added to, the complexity of our daily lives. More negatively, this complexity can exclude and distance people from the processes that shape their lives.

Our capacity to learn about these complex processes has not developed in step with the systemic and substantive complexity of modern life. The resulting alienation and disengagement are obstacles to public participation, undermining democratic decision-making.

The capacity to learn is a pre-condition to successful polycentric governance (van Zeben, 2019) but the complexity of, especially but not only, large polycentric systems is making this increasingly difficult. How can we create governance systems that allow for meaningful learning, even under conditions of complexity? Is complexity undermining the effectiveness and/or feasibility of polycentricity? What about the complexity that polycentricity itself creates through its state of constant change? What happens when the learning in polycentric systems is a result of not just humans learning, but machines?

The recent momentum of polycentricity studies in the environmental field has come along with an interest in exploring and testing new approaches such as historical and cross-sectional analyses, as well as techniques such as network analysis, qualitative comparative analysis or simulations. These new methods now coexist with and potentially complement longer-standing approaches like qualitative case studies and allow to address new research questions. The expanded breath of methods has also come along with an emphasis on hypothesis testing and an effort to systematize the characterization of different polycentric systems.
This track welcomes contributions that reflect on the opportunities and challenges of expanding the portfolio of methods to study polycentricity, whether from a qualitative or quantitative perspective, or with descriptive or explanatory purposes.

This track is dedicated to cross-cutting themes in applying polycentricity in practice, or working within parts of polycentric systems, across different types of commons. We welcome submissions from practitioners as well as scholars across disciplines, who work closely with communities to realize polycentric governance and overcome potential barriers on the ground. Some example topics include but are not limited to mobilizing cross-level or landscape level collective action, collaboration across professional sectors, multi-stakeholder dialogues and conflict solving, inclusion and empowerment, inequality, the intersections of traditional and state authorities, intersection of formal and informal rules, and designing flexible legal frameworks to fit diverse historical contexts. 


Submission Process

To take full advantage of the virtual format, the committee invites submissions of a) research or case study presentations; b) roundtables; c) special sessions. When submitting your proposal, please indicate which track above you are submitting to.

Much of the virtual event will take place via webinars organized around four-five 10-minute pre-recorded presentations, with opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous engagement between audience and presenters. The committee invites a) individual submissions of 10-minute research talks or case studies; or b) fully-formed panels of four-five webinar presenters. To the degree possible, the committee will organize individual submissions into webinars that share common themes.

We invite the submission of proposals for roundtables – e.g., moderated discussions with a set of 4-5 speakers organized around a given topic. Roundtables will be held live with opportunities for the audience to ask questions and participate. Asynchronous participation will also be encouraged through the use of discussion forums, and the session will be recorded and posted for asynchronous participants.

Special sessions could include methods workshops; stakeholder workshops; networking events; early career sessions; etc. The committee invites proposals for special events that would work well in online formats (e.g., a combination of pre-recorded talks, interactions via Zoom, and asynchronous discussion boards). If you are interested in a special session, please specify how you aim to run the session.

Online Conference

No hassle, costs, or carbon emissions from traveling. Attend the entire conference safely from home.

Three Days

Three days packed with prerecorded sessions and live events.

Meetup and Network

Interact with your peers during networking events.


Important Dates

March 19, 2021

Deadline for abstract submission

March 19, 2021
April 9, 2021

Notification on acceptance/rejection

April 9, 2021
May 5, 2021

Deadline for pre-recorded video submission

May 5, 2021
May 17-19, 2021

Event dates

May 17-19, 2021



This virtual conference is accessible for small fees to cover the costs of the implementation of the meetings. All presenters will have to be or become IASC members. IASC members pay 10 dollars to attend the virtual conference live. All conference material will be available to IASC members after the conference. If you are not an IASC member, you can easily register here. Non-IASC members can attend the conference for a fee of 50 dollars. Dependent on sponsoring, waivers are available for early-career scholars and practitioners from the global south.

IASC Members
$ 10
$ 50

Meet The Team


Elizabeth Baldwin

Assistant Professor in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA

Steering Committee

Kimberlee Chang

Ph.D. Candidate in Public Policy and Methodology, University of Colorado Boulder, USA

Katherine Daniell

Associate Professor at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Elke Kellner

Postdoctoral researcher, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Switzerland.

Raul Pacheco-Vega

Associate Professor in the Methods Lab at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) Sede Mexico

Andreas Thiel

Professor for International Agricultural Policy and Environmental Governance at the Faculty of Organic Agricultural Science, University of Kassel, Germany

Josephine van Zeben

Professor and Chair, LAW Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas

Research fellow at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain


Event Sponsors

Live Events


The Polycentricity Conference and Water Commons Conference overlap on Wednesday, May 19, and conference participants of the Polycentricity Conference can attend a number of live events of the Water Commons Conference. Furthermore, we have a special networking event where participants of both conferences can mingle.

All times are in Arizona time (UTC -7). Last program update 5/13/2021.

23:00 11:00 pm (May 18) - 12:00 am
Keynote Conversation 1 – Water Governance in Europe

Speakers: Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Moderator: Laura Herzog

Join this keynote conversation from the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference

24:00 12:00 am - 2:00 am
1:00 1:00 am - 2:00 am
Opening Roundtable – Polycentric and multi-level responses to crises

Moderators: Katherine Daniell and Josephine van Zeben
Panelists: Karen Hussey, Bruce Huber, and Garang Dut

2:00 2:00 am - 4:00 am
2:00 am - 3:00 am
Panel Discussion – Rules, collaboration, and nested enterprises

Mderator: Wai-Fung (Danny) Lam
Panelists: Sadao Harada, Sharon Pollard, Jim Sinner, Sitti Rahma Ma'mun, and Everisto Mapedza

Join this live panel discussion from the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference

3:00 3:00 am - 4:00 am
4:00 4:00 am - 5:00 am
Panel 1 – Emergence and evolution of polycentric governance regimes

Mderator: Sergio Villamayor-Tomás
Panelists: Thomas Bolognesi, Rachanadevi Vaishnav, Oyebade Kunle Oyerinde, and Erwin Dekker

4:00 am - 5:00 am
Special Session – Exploring the Commons in Everyday Life – An Interactive Google Jamboard Session

Moderator: Dan Diojdescu

4:00 am - 5:00 am
Panel Discussion – Design principles and polycentricity

Mderator: Laura Herzog
Panelists: Nadine Jenny Shirin Schröder, Per Forsberg, Nora Schütze, Srinivasa Reddy Srigiri, and Ines Dombrowsky

Join this live panel discussion from the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference

5:00 5:00 am - 6:00 am
Panel 2 – Equity and Inclusion in Polycentric Governance Regimes

Mderator: Praneeta Mudaliar
Panelists: Okechukwu Enechi, Naira Dehmel, Kimberlee Chang, Godfreyb Soekajia, and Leslie Acton

5:00 am - 6:00 am
Panel 6 – From Covid to the Moon (and back): New frontiers in polycentric governance

Moderator: Scott Shackleford
Panelists: Pablo Paniagua, Dennis O'Brien, Jean-Frédéric Morin, Eytan Tepper, Ndirangu Ngunjiri, Katja Biedenkopf

5:00 am - 6:00 am
Keynote Conversation 2 – Water Governance in Kenya

Speaker: Albert O. Mumma
Moderator: Elizabeth Baldwin

Join this keynote conversation from the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference

6:00 6:00 am - 7:00 am
Panel 3 – Polycentricity in practice

Mderator: Elke Kellner
Panelists: Bryan Bruns, Fronika de Wit, Claire Dorville, Scott Hardy, Mangkholen Haokip, Tenzin Chorran, and Sayel Cortes

6:00 am - 7:00 am
Roundtable – What is the role of funders in polycentric governance systems?

Moderator: Ruth Meinzen-Dick
Panelists: Rebecca Gruby, Xavier Basurto, Daniel Miller, Dustin Garrick, and Jagdeesh Rao

6:00 am - 8:00 am
7:00 7:00 am - 8:00 am
Panel 4 – Polycentricity in urban & climate governance

Moderator: Elizabeth Baldwin
Panelists: Daniel Petrovics, Matteo Roggero, Benjamin Leffel, Anna Melnyk, Anthony Li, and Noemi Florea

7:00 am - 8:00 am
Panel 7 – Markets, states, and borders: cross-border and cross-jurisdictional polycentric governance

Moderator: Mark Stephan
Panelists: Enrico Partiti, Stephanie Bijlmakers, Adriana Molina Garzon, Faruk Ulgen, Martin Spacek, and Ida Djenontin

8:00 8:00 am - 9:00 am
Panel 5 – Science, Deliberation, and Politics in Policy Decision Making

Moderator: Andreas Thiel
Panelists: Tanya Heikkila, Maria Milagros Cadillo La Torre, Matthew Nowlin, Jobst Heitzig, and Erin Kitchell

8:00 am - 9:00 am
Panel 8 – From fragmentation to coordination: dynamic interactions across governance levels

Moderator: Raul Pacheco-Vega
Panelists: Nathan Goodman, Tomas Koonz, Praneeta Mudaliar, Todd Eisenstadt, and Anna Zachrisson

8:00 am - 9:00 am
Lightning Talks 2

Moderator: Kimberlee Chang
Speakers: Hita Unnikrishnan, Maria Gerullis, Tejendra Paratap Gautum, Naira Dehmel, and Taufik Haryanto

9:00 9:00 am - 10:00 am
Lightning Talks 1

Moderator: Kimberlee Chang
Speakers: Nelson Jatel, Dane Whittaker, Adriana Molina Garzon, and Harrison Fried

9:00 am - 10:00 am
Panel 9 – Methods for understanding complex governance

Mderator: Tanya Heikkila
Panelists: Nusrat Molla, Tatyana Ruseva, Thomas Bolognesi, Amineh Ghorbani, Dan Diojdescu, and Aaron Lien

9:00 am - 10:00 am
Panel 10 – Polycentric water governance

Mderator: Christian Schleyer
Panelists: Elke Herrfahrdt-Pähle, Nadine Jenny Shirin Schröder, Anita Milman, Srinivasa Reddy Srigiri, Nelson Jatel, Brockton Feltman, and Sybil Diver

10:00 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Networking Time

Meet with other participants on our space

10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Networking Time

Meet with other participants on our space. This event is combined with attendees of the IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference.

12:00 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Closing Roundtable

Moderator: Elizabeth Baldwin
Panelists: Bill Blomquist, Rebecca Gruby, & Mike McGinnis

Interact Via


When the conference content becomes available, we will provide a link to join the conference’s Slack workspace. Joining will allow you to communicate directly with other conference participants, coordinate meetups, share information, etc.

Interact with other participants in our

Meeting Room

During the conference, you will be able to mingle with other participants in our Wonder Room (from The video below gives a simple introduction on how to use the platform. Once you log into the conference website you’ll find information about the location of the Wonder Room.

Listen and COntribute to our

Spotify playlist

We are creating a conference theme-based Spotify playlist available to all participants. During the conference, you will be able to add songs to the list.

Our recommendations

Tips and Tricks for the conference

You can contact us at for the following issues

“I lost my conference key”
“I need a certificate of conference participation

How to get the most out of the IASC 2021 Polycentricity Virtual Conference

Welcome to IASC 2021 Polycentricity Virtual Conference! We are excited to have you on board! Whether this is your first time attending a virtual conference, or if this is one of many that you have experienced, we would like to give you some tips to increase your focus and make the most of your time during this event.

Block off your calendar

When we attend an in-person conference, part of what makes it special is being away from home, office, and our usual daily routine. We suggest that you do the same for this virtual conference. Let your employers, students, colleagues, and family know that you are immersing yourself in this 3-day conference. We are offering real-time panel discussions and networking events. Get the real-time events that you want to attend onto your calendar first. Then schedule time for yourself to enjoy the pre-recorded presentations.

Using Slack

During this conference, we will be communicating in real-time through a Slack workspace with a variety of Slack channels. If you are not familiar with Slack, check out this tutorial.

Interact with other participants

Encourage friends and colleagues to attend the conference with you. Utilize the comment sections on the pre-recorded presentations to ask questions and create dialogues about various points of view. Schedule 1-on-1 virtual meet-ups with people you meet during our various events. Throughout the conference, a virtual meeting place will be available for you to interact with other attendees at any time. We will be using the platform as discussed in “Meet Other Participants”.

Let this event have a lasting impact

After the conference, the presentations will still be available to you. Live events will be recorded and posted for you to watch again. Stay connected to the participants you met while networking. If you are not an IASC member, consider joining and participating in future events.

Create a gravatar for your comments

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4.  Click on the link in the confirmation email. Check your spam folder if you don’t see an email from

5.  Go back to Gravatar and login if necessary.

6.  Click the “Add a new image” button.

7.  Click the “Upload new” button.

8.  Click “Choose File” and pick a profile picture from your computer. Then click “Next”.

9.  Crop your image by moving the box that is overlaid on the image you choose. Then click on “Crop Image” below.

10.  Choose an image rating that reflects the content of your avatar. Then click the “Set Rating” button below.

Be aware that the use of an image that is X-rated will automatically prevent you from using it on a number of websites.

11.  Start using it. When you create accounts on other websites with the same email address and that site uses Gravatar, your profile image should automatically be set to your currently selected profile picture from your Gravatar account. If you change your Gravatar image for your email account in Gravatar, it should update your profile picture on other sites automatically.