University of Vermont

A Call for Adaptive, Regional, and Democratic Governance Practices

Asim Zia and Stuart Kauffman posit that decentralized governance practices emphasizing adaptability can help the fight against global food insecurity, global biodiversity loss and global climate change

Asim Zia
Asim Zia has published widely on Complexity in Governance. His most recent piece appears on

CDAE/MPA Assistant Professor Asim Zia has a knack for writing about governance.  Last year, he and Associate Professor/MPA Director Chris Koliba published a book along with Jack Meek of the University of La Verne in Louisiana  called Governance Networks: Public Administration and Policy in the Midst of Complexity.  Now, a short time later his collaborative nature shines through again on the national stage.  Zia and experimental and theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman of the University of Vermont’s Complex Systems Center positioned themselves on National Public Radio’s “13.7 Cosmos and Culture” blog in support of adaptive, decentralized, democratically-anchored governments worldwide.

They argue that a one-size-fits-all approach to global governance would hurt—and could even be dangerous to—business, culture, and society as they evolve.  A one-world-government “can’t adequately cope with many issues, including global climate change, food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, and other similar global policy problems,” they write.

The article calls for adaptive governance; governance that does not control what happens, since “not only do we not know what will happen, [but also] we do not know what can happen.” Rather, an approach that evolves through adaptive complex-systems approaches to global governance may best suit international organizations’ capacities.

Through adaptive governance, Zia and Kauffman argue, we can avoid the current emphasis on economic efficiency, which comes at a cost to many pervasive and unintended environmental and social effects like climate change, and loss of biodiversity and food security.  They do warn, however, that if certain nation-states take strong policy action regarding climate change, industrial production would be taken up by those nation-states that take no, or very little action to regulate emissions, thus maximizing these nation-states’ economic efficiency.

 "The hope is that this line of inquiry will help with replacing the current 'control centered' global governance approach with more ‘adaptive, decentralized and democratically-anchored’ governance system,” Zia says. “We have identified three crises at the global scale—global food insecurity, global biodiversity loss and global climate change—the resolutions for which require immediate shift in policy making from a General-Motors-style ‘controlling’ mode to a complex systems based ‘enabling’ mode that takes into account local values and adapts to emergent surprises."