event 31 Aug 2018 time 09:00

Session at RGS 2018 // The Role of Quantifying Material Flows in the Governance of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

In recent years we have witnessed a growing interest in the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus in both academia and policy highlighting the need to address the institutional, political and cultural dimensions of nexus policy-making (Cairns & Krzywoszynska, 2016; Stirling, 2015). The concept directs attention to three aspects: (1) the interrelated pressures created by agricultural production, water use, and energy production and consumption practices, (2) the epistemic challenges of understanding these complex and non-linear interactions and (3) to the policy problem of governing a transition to more sustainable modes of production and consumption.

category Sessions, Panels and Side Events tag Governance tag Governance of the Nexus
Logo royal geographical society rgs ibg

This presentation aims at contributing to an understanding of the institutional, political and cultural aspects of nexus governance. It will be based on material from the Horizon 2020 project ’Moving towards adaptive governance in complexity’, which aims at exploring the quantitative assumptions within policy narratives on the nexus, using an approach called Quantitative Story Telling (QST). QST is a cyclical participatory modelling approach, starting with problem definition, establishing and quantifying the narrative using a social metabolism approach called MuSIASEM (Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism), then discussing the model results in terms of feasibility, viability and (crucially) desirability. Scoping interviews and thematic analysis of policy documents suggest there are different narratives around what is measured and how these metrics can be used to generate niches for nexus thinking within the European Commission policy units. In particular, we are interested in seeing whether alternative metrics and discussions catalysed by these results, can help make space for alternative modes of governance (Asdal, 2008; Hajer, 2006; Porter, 1995).

As such, this talk will contribute to the overall aim of the session to provide a critical analysis of the role of metrics in environmental governance by directing attention to their discursive, institutional, political and material aspects.


  • Kerry Waylen (James Hutton Institute, UK)
  • Thomas Voelker (Joint Research Centre)
  • Zora Kovacic (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
  • Roger Strand (University of Bergen, Norway)
  • Jan Sindt (Climate Analytics)
  • Kirsty Blackstock (James Hutton Institute, UK)

Chair: Kirsty Blackstock, James Hutton Institute, UK

About this Session

The concept of the food-energy-water-environment nexus has been in vogue since being identified as part of the ‘perfect storm’ of drivers on society by the UN in 2011. It has become a narrative to try to capture and explain the systemic nature of global wicked problems; and also to provide innovative solution to these wicked problems. For some, it is an invitation to grapple with the persistence of complex socio-ecological challenges and offer a site for transformation in our relationship to the material landscapes. For others, it remains a technical challenge to be resolved through optimisation of resource use in any given landscape. As social scientists, we are interested in how institutions, governance and management lie at the heart of either approach to the nexus in specific places and spaces.

The session "Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (1): Speed Talks" at the Annual Conference 2018 of the Royal Geographical Society involves contributions from those involved in Water-Energy-Food nexus research or those trying to manage or govern the nexus in practice, asking them to reflect on the following questions:

  • To what extent can the nexus be managed or governed?
  • To what extent does adopting a nexus perspective improve the governance of social-ecological systems?
  • Has the narrative of the nexus simulated innovative approaches or do the same fundamental governance and management challenges apply?
  • Are there new actors or sites for action emerging from taking a nexus lens?
  • Are new methodologies emerging from taking a nexus lens?
  • What can we learn from other governance and management domains; and what can nexus scholarship offer to others?

This session will consist of grouped speed talks followed by small group discussions with the presenters. The sister session Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (2) will involve a workshop based around a rapid synthesis of the main points.

Where and when

Part of Session "Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (1): Speed Talks"

31 Aug 2018

Glamorgan Building
Seminar Room -1.80

More information


Tina Schmiers


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