Summary of Argument

In chapter 1, I presented the two questions motivating this book. First, when states fail to address a global problem, either through multilateral agreements or national laws, why and how do you nonetheless get things done on the ground? Second, how do ideas regarding the best way to tackle global problems evolve? I argue these two questions are linked because global governance of local-cumulative problems occurs through a cyclical process comprised of three phases: (1) the diffusion of policies and best practices from the global to the local level via transnational governance networks; (2) local adaptation of these global ideas and experimentation with unique institutional applications; and (3) the evolution of global ideas resulting from the reverberation of local experiments. Consequently, the process of getting things done locally partially drives the evolution of global ideas. This is why I call the process grassroots global governance.

The cyclical nature of grassroots global governance means that the answer to both questions lies in the ability of governance networks to ensure the process endures. Things get done on the ground when transnational governance networks successfully diffuse global ideas to particular localities and provide the necessary resources, pressure, and persuasion to ensure that experimentation with institutionalizing these ideas endures. Similarly, local experiments contribute to the evolution of global ideas when transnational governance networks diffuse lessons learned and new policies and practices to the international level.

Success in both instances depends on the ability of governance networks to expand by activating networks of actors who are influential in the arenas where contestation occurs at each phase of the process. Thus, the difference between success and failure depends on the network activation strategies employed by network members. Governance networks are more successful to the extent they: (1) provide information and employ frame-displacement strategies to motivate influential actors to join the network; and (2) engage in high-level network-capacity-building activities, particularly training knowledge communities and creating new linking and governing institutions. These latter strategies enhance a network’s governance capacity by connecting various stakeholders, concentrating the distinct resources available to each, and providing a focal point for converting these into action. When networks do not employ these strategies, or employ some but not others, the grassroots global governance process breaks down at different points, as discussed earlier.

Network activation is crucial because of the need to shift arenas throughout the grassroots global governance process. Since each arena has a unique set of rules and resources, different arenas privilege different organizations. For this reason, power shifts within governance networks as the process advances. As power shifts to domestic brokers, they use this power to adapt global ideas to fit domestic realities. This is why global ideas evolve as the process advances. Because local actors have the greatest power to control events during phase 2, and this is the phase where global ideas are put into practice, they are influential global governors.

The remainder of the book shows how this works by comparing successful and failed attempts by multiple transnational governance networks to implement local integrated watershed management programs in Ecuador. After setting the stage in chapter 3, the subsequent chapters analyze the three phases of grassroots global governance in sequence, showing how the network activation strategies employed explain variation in outcomes at each phase.

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