Expanding narratives of governance constraints to improve coral reef conservation

Rachel A. Turner, Johanna Forster, Clare Fitzsimmons, Robin Mahon

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To understand and address the failures of reef governance, it is critical to understand the perceptions of diverse policy makers and practitioners about the challenges they face in achieving their goals. Examining the discourse of policy makers and practitioners can reveal the extent to which these perceptions capture the full spectrum of potential governance challenges, including those related to management, institutional structures and processes, the values and principles underpinning governance, and the social and environmental context. We conducted semistructured interviews with 110 policy makers and practitioners across multiple sectors, scales, and contexts in Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, Belize, and Honduras. We used thematic qualitative analysis informed by theories of interactive governance and governability to examine the challenges perceived by governance actors. Perceived governance challenges were broadly consistent across countries, but differed by sector (V = 0.819, F 6,60 = 1.502, p = 0.01) and by level (community compared with national) (V = 0.194, F 1,10 = 2.178, = 0.026). Management inputs and outputs, challenges relating to the socioeconomic context, issues of leadership and power, and stakeholder engagement were commonly cited challenges (>75%). Few respondents discussed challenges relating to the ecological context, governance processes, or the values and principles underpinning governance. We argue that examining perceptions can inform efforts to improve governance and assess the appropriateness of particular management tools under context-specific governance constraints. Furthermore, expanding the narratives of governance challenges to encompass the subtle values and images underpinning governance, and the scale of the challenges faced, can help identify a wider set of opportunities for change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13933
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date16 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Caribbean
  • Caribe
  • environmental governance
  • gobernabilidad
  • gobernanza ambiental
  • gobernanza interactiva
  • governability
  • interactive governance
  • percepciones
  • perceptions

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