Whether pursuing the breadth of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals or delivering joined-up approaches within a single environmental domain, policy objectives, policy design and policy implementation should cohere vertically and horizontally. However, policy coherence remains a challenge to implement. The limited empirical scholarship on policy coherence tends to focus on policy documentation and/or the outcomes, with little attention to individual agency or social processes involved. Furthermore, there is little discussion of the normative dimensions of policy coherence and the political aspects of individual agency, indicating the need for political ecology. We conducted an empirical study within four UK catchment (watershed) partnerships, using critical interpretive policy analysis to enrich the interface between political ecology and environmental policy. We explored who practices policy coherence and how; what motivates those investing their energy into these practices; their constraints and the contradictions arising. We found that the appetite and ability to support policy coherence depends on individual agency as much as partnership structures, which are themselves situated in technocratic regimes of policy implementation. Within these regimes, agents presented as apolitical and enabling, making it challenging to research the political and social processes of policy coherence. A political ecology lens highlights how power is involved in these voluntary initiatives, potentially shoring up existing privilege inscribed into riparian habitats and their resources. Our contribution therefore responds to and amplifies the critique of traditional presentations of integrated water resource management devoid of politics.
Keywords: policy coherence, environment, integrated water resource management, power, partnerships, EU Water Framework Directive
How to Cite:
Blackstock, K. & Waylen, K. & Bourke, A. J. & Marshall, K., (2023) “Agency and constraint in environmental policy coherence”, Journal of Political Ecology 30(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.3055
- Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Strategic Research Program