Scaling Forest Conservation: Strategic Agency and Systems Change in the Great Bear Rainforest and Canadian Boreal Forest Agreements

by Darcy Riddell

Institution: University of Waterloo
Year: 2015
Keywords: forest conservation; Great Bear Rainforest Agreement; Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement; ENGO market campaigns; sustainability transitions; systems change; agency; multi-level change theory; social innovation; resilience; institutional innovation; cross-scale change; proxy agency
Record ID: 2057862
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10012/9369


Transitioning resource industries towards sustainability poses system-wide innovation challenges. This manuscript-style dissertation analyzes two cases of Canadian forest sector innovation, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement (GBRA) and the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), using a sequential multi-paradigm theory-building approach (Lewis and Grimes, 1999). The research contributes new knowledge about the deliberate agency and cross-scale processes involved in advancing systemic social change, in particular the strategic action of civil society groups. Chapter 4 applies theoretical lenses from resilience (Gunderson and Holling, 2002) and social innovation (Westley and Antadze, 2010) to analyze the individual and collective agency (Bandura, 2006) in the Great Bear Rainforest. Six patterns of agency are found which demonstrate links between the micro-level processes of personal transformation, generative meso-level group interactions, and macro-level systemic transformation. Chapter 5 applies the multilevel perspective (MLP) from sociotechnical transitions (Geels, 2005; Geels and Schot, 2007) to analyze how global campaigns harnessed collective and proxy agency (Bandura, 2006) to generate mutually reinforcing dynamics (Grin, 2010) and advance sustainability transitions in the forest regimes studied. Chapter 6 presents a framework for evaluating systemic impacts, drawing from institutional innovation (Hargrave and Van de Ven, 2006; Zeitsma and Lawrence, 2010) and social innovation (Westley and Antadze, 2010). The outcomes of the GBRA and CBFA are compared, and the GBRA is found to have significantly greater systemic impacts than the CBFA. The conclusion presents an integrative model of the multi-level agency involved in systemic social change over time, with four patterns: 1) disruptive agency; 2) visionary-architectural system redesign; 3) relational and psycho-cultural change, and 4) mutually reinforcing distributed agency. The final pattern, mutually reinforcing agency, involves the ability to connect and orchestrate individual, collective and proxy agency across scales and over time as systemic changes are implemented. Together they suggest a more comprehensive theory for social change agency where the agency involved in transforming locked-in systems goes beyond system disruption and redesign, to include harnessing increasingly distributed forms proxy agency embedded in the global economy, supporting psycho-cultural transformations, and in cultivating mutually reinforcing agency across scales and over time.