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Complex Governance of Global Challenges


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




Global governance is no longer simply a matter of states and international diplomacy. Today, it encompasses a growing range of actors, including international organizations, regional governments, 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 varieties of governance—from the European Union and the G20 to the Paris Agreement and 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 kinds of governance. When and 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 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 arrangements can offer more accountable and effective ways of solving cross-border problems. At the same time, though, others have cast such arrangements in a more negative light, arguing that they undermine effective problem-solving and serve the interests of a powerful few.

Given its growing importance, it is essential for us to deepen our understanding of the issues surrounding these new approaches to cross-border problems. This course aims to do so 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 and use this to explore the rise of complex governance and patterns of participation by state and non-state actors. In the third part of the course we will examine several discrete issues that complex governance raises. These issues include: a) negotiating dynamics between actors within complex governance arrangements, b) negotiating dynamics between agents of complex governance, c) dynamics of conflict and change within regime complexes, d) problems of compliance and effectiveness, and f) problems of legitimacy and accountability. The final section of the course focuses on 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. The first part of each class will involve a one-hour lecture by the instructor and in-class activities devoted to the topic of the week. These lectures and activities will typically focus on a case study of a particular governance arrangement relevant to the readings and topic of the week. The second part of class each week will be structured according to a seminar format. Two students will be chosen each week (in advance) to conduct a short presentation. The purpose will be to summarize the readings for the group, to comment on what is interesting about them, 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: 10%

Regular attendance and full, active participation will be essential. This is both a lecture and seminar-based class and will only function well if all students attend every week and participate fully in class discussions.

  • Presentation: 20%

In addition to weekly reading responses, students will also be asked to provide a short presentation of their reading response to the group in one of the weeks. This will help to develop an ability to effectively communicate thoughts and lead discussions for a group.

  • Policy Paper: 30%

Students will prepare a 10-page independent policy paper. The policy paper offers an opportunity for us to apply our new knowledge of complex governance and new analytical skills to a topic of choice, whilst also gaining professional experience translating scholarly research into practical policy recommendations. The paper will involve a) identifying an issue area of interest where complex governance has played a role, b) explaining the range of institutions that have arisen to govern the issue, how they operate, and the major stakeholders involved, c) identifying the strengths and weaknesses of these arrangements, and d) providing concrete policy suggestions for the different stakeholders that you identify that aim to strengthen the capacity of these initiatives. Parts C and D should be explicitly grounded in the theory and empirical findings from the literature discussed in the course, and from relevant studies from your own research. Students will begin by developing a brief memo (worth 15% of the assignment mark) that outlines your plan for the paper, including the thematic area, the major arguments that you wish to make and the sources of evidence that you expect to rely on. After receiving comments from the instructor, this document will serve as the framework for your study.

  • Final Examination: 40%

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 understanding of the major arguments of the readings, knowledge of important terms and concepts, and ability to both recognize and construct theories relevant to complex governance. The exam asks students to define and explain the importance of several key concepts and provide short answer and small essay-length accounts of the logic behind important arguments or debates.