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Complex Governance of Global Challenges


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




Global governance is no longer a matter of states, international diplomacy and formal international organizations. Today, it encompasses a growing range of actors, including supranational institutions, cities, multinational corporations and a vast array of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well. These actors are forging new kinds of relationships and, increasingly, joining together to form complex governance arrangements to address global challenges. These new varieties of governance—from the European Union and the G20 to ICANN and the UN Global Compact, among many others—have been of considerable interest to both scholars and policymakers. For scholars, the key questions concern how we can conceptualize and explain these new forms of governance. Why does complex governance arise? What shapes does it take? How do these new governance arrangements work and evolve over time? For policymakers, the key questions focus on their accountability, impacts and future prospects. Some believe complex governance holds much promise. By widening the circle of decision-makers and leveraging the unique resources and capabilities of different actors, complex governance offers a more accountable and effective way of solving cross-border problems. At the same time, others have cast complex governance in a more negative light, arguing that it undermines effective problem-solving and serves the interests of a powerful few.

Given its growing importance, it is essential for us to deepen our understanding of the issues surrounding new approaches to cross-border problems. This course aims to do this by first conceptualizing the phenomenon of complex governance, contrasting it with past practices of international cooperation. Second, the course will develop a basic theoretical toolkit that can be used to explore the rise of complex governance and patterns of participation by state and non-state actors. In the third part, we break complex governance down into its component parts, focusing on supranational institutions, transgovernmental networks, public-private partnerships, and private governance arrangements. In the fourth part of the course, we look at the how these different types of governance interact with one another, investigating processes of conflict, cooperation and change. Finally, we consider broader problems of a) compliance and effectiveness, and b) problems of legitimacy and accountability. This section of the course focuses on consolidating what we have learned and opens a discussion about the future governance of global challenges.


The course will be conducted through a combination of lectures, seminar discussions, and student presentations. In the first part of the semester, classes will usually involve a lecture by the instructor and in-class activities devoted to the topic of the week. These lectures and activities will typically focus on developing our understanding of core concepts and theories and applying them to specific cases. In the second part of the semester, classes will be more student-driven. In each week, students will conduct a short presentation. The purpose will be to summarize the readings for the group, to comment on what is interesting about them, to discuss a relevant case, and to pose several questions to the class. The group will then discuss the readings in view of these reflections.

Student Evaluation:

  • Class Attendance and Participation: 15%

Regular attendance and full, active participation will be essential. This class will only function well if all students attend every week and participate fully in class discussions. To evaluate your engagement with the material, you will occasionally be asked to write in-class reflections on the readings for that week. Your mark on these will constitute 1/2 of your overall participation mark.

  • Group Presentation: 25% (Dates determined in class)

Students will prepare a short (maximum 15-minute) group presentation that presents a case study of a particular governance initiative. Detailed instructions will be provided, explaining what will be expected. This will provide you with a first opportunity to deepen your understanding of a governance initiative that interests you and can serve as a starting point for the research that you will do in the subsequent research project.

  • Independent Research Paper: 30%

Students will prepare a 2.500-word independent research paper (the word count excludes bibliography and footnotes/endnotes). The research paper offers an opportunity for you to apply your new knowledge and analytical skills to a topic of your choice. The paper will focus on answering a questioning about a particular complex governance initiative, so you are encouraged to start thinking early on about specific cases that are of interest to you. This is expected to be an original piece of research in that you will draw not only from course readings but also from the wider variety of scholarship on the particular case that is available to you. The use of primary documentation, such as policy papers, high-quality journalism, and original data (both qualitative and quantitative) are encouraged. The key to the essay is your argument – its clarity, your use of evidence, your demonstrated knowledge of the literature.

Students will begin by developing a brief memo (maximum 3-pages). A printed copy is due in class on May 14th, and will be worth 1/3 of your research paper mark (10% of your overall class mark). The memo will outline a plan for the paper. It should discuss the case you are interested in, the question you want to focus on, the available literature, the major arguments you wish to make and the sources of evidence that you expect to rely on. You will be given written comments but will also be expected to discuss these in person (at a pre-arranged time) as well. After receiving comments, this document will serve as the framework for your study.

  • Final Take-Home Examination: 30%

An examination will be held at the end of the term. The exam will cover all the material covered in the class up until this point. It is designed to evaluate your understanding of the major arguments in the readings, your knowledge of important terms and concepts, and your ability to both recognize and construct theories relevant to complex governance.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)