Creating a Regenerative Governance Society

The EcoCommercist
7 min readFeb 26, 2023

It is not possible to have a regenerative society and economy without regenerative governance. Governance drives the bus.

What is odd, is that even though I have been writing and applying governance strategies since 2010 and involved in sustainability efforts, I had not thought of the term, “regenerative governance” until yesterday. So today I asked ChatGPT what it thought “regenerative governance” was. It turns out we are in agreement:

Regenerative governance is an approach to governance that seeks to create thriving and resilient social, economic, and environmental systems. It is based on the principles of regenerative design, which views the world as an interconnected system and seeks to restore and regenerate the natural world.

Regenerative governance involves a shift away from the traditional, hierarchical model of governance towards a more collaborative, decentralized approach. It emphasizes the need for cooperation and collaboration across different sectors and stakeholders, including government, business, civil society, and local communities.

This approach also emphasizes the importance of feedback loops, transparency, and adaptability in governance systems. It encourages ongoing learning and experimentation to identify what works and what doesn’t, and to continuously improve governance practices.

Regenerative governance is seen as a necessary response to the interconnected challenges of our time, including climate change, social inequality, and environmental degradation. By creating governance systems that are regenerative, we can work towards creating a more sustainable and equitable future for all.”

So I went back to my earlier governance assessment and modeling work and will now present it as “regenerative governance”. Not just to capitalize on the regenerative buzzword, but because my Collaborative Governance design is regenerative.

Governance Compass

Regenerative Governance (RegenGov) begins with a compass to identify which governing direction you would like to go. The four points of the compass are Policy-Maker, Practitioner, Private, and Public. The four quadrants this matrix represents the direction your project, policy, organization, etc. will go.

Governance Styles

The next step is choosing the governance style(s) you want to apply. Choosing is somewhat, but not always, a misnomer, because governance styles are often adopted without thought. Governance styles are so innate to the particular quadrant in the Governance Compass, that the choice occurs in the organization’s subconscious.

Organizational Governance Footprint

People and organizations seldom know what governance style(s) they prefer. They often don’t know what type of governance actor they are either. They just kind of slide into the one that the organization always had due to historic cultural aspects of the organization.

One the most revealing and important components of creating a RegenGov society is understanding where an organization and its individuals are starting from.

The graphic below shows three organizations (businesses, NGOs, community groups, churches, collaborations, etc.) with each having four individuals. The individuals first identify themselves as a type of governance actor and then take a governance style preference assessment. Think of the assessment as a governance style “personality assessment”. This assessment contains questions related to organization structure, function and processes with each question having three multiple choice answers that align with hierarchy, market, and network (H/M/N) governance styles.

The pie graph in the middle shows the ratio of actor types and the bar graph on the right shows the ratio of H/M/N governance styles. For example, the top organization shows a tendency toward a Hierarchy Style, and the middle organization shows a tendency toward a Market Style.

This information describes the governance footprint; the mix of actor types and governance styles that makes up an organization’s governance.

Collaborative Governance Footprint

The usefulness of an organization governance footprint resides with the individual, intra-organizational, and inter-organizational perspectives.

For an individual is provides context to the impetus of an organization’s decision-making process. From an intra-organizational perspective, it will reveal its governance structure and process in a way it has not understood before and that organizations often make unconscious choices about governance. It will also reveal potential conflicts relative to governance decision-making norms.

From an inter-organizational perspective, the governance footprint is probably the most important as decision-making processes are not readily known or agree to.

To apply the governance footprint from a collaborative perspective, the governance footprints can be plotted on a triad graph with each point of the graph represented by one of the H/M/N styles.

The Collaborative Governance Footprint graphic reveals where organizations reside in the governance space. The proximity of the dots represent potential conflicts or compatibilities relative to the governance footprint of an organization.

If an organization enters a collaboration with a strong hierarchy style, there will certainly be governance conflicts even if the goals or the organizations are aligned.

Collaborative Organization Design

When a collaborative can understand their governance footprint and that of their collaborators, then a network governance framework can be more effectively designed.

Three governance sub-styles exist for network governance. These sub-styles have evolved from the H/M/N styles as society has become more integrated and connected and so, it allows for the H/M/N styles to be applied, but in a more collaborative manner.

Network-Lead has characteristic of H. Network-Administrative has characteristics of M. Network-Participant

Collaborative Network Governance Framework

The decision-making framework or makeup of the collaborative can be compiled using information on primary and secondary actors, and the governance styles they bring to the collaborative.

This information informs the entire collaborative on the mix of actors and styles and how those attributes drive decision-making of the collaborate. It allows the collaborative to “know itself” and enables other organizations to understand who and what the collaboration is.

Collaboratives are Regenerative Entities

This knowledge is important for a variety of obvious and less obvious reasons. First of all, the issue of sustainability is an issue of governance and so governance literacy is becoming upmost importance in navigating solutions.

Collaboratives are complex and dynamic organizations (isms). Their governance will shift as the ratio of actors change or as organizations adopt more appropriate styles. Collaboratives act more like an asymmetrical amoeba than a symmetrical human, as decision-making is made in a dynamic manner depending on the external forces and resources it is trying to address.

The graphic below identifies 11 landscape sustainability projects initiated by government, corporate, and NGO entities. While I will spare the details, what I learned was how governance footprints would be created and then shift over time and internal and external forces evolved. Knowing how those shifts occurred and/or how to influence those shifts is the work of a meta-governor; one who can see the governance players within the collaborative arena.

A final thought I have to mention because it may be the most important reason on why governance literacy matters. Society no longer has the luxury of the majority of its issues being so-called tame issues. Tame issues are not always easy to resolve but their solution is aligned with traditional problem-solving techniques for technical, scientific, and political issues.

Wicked Issues and Regenerative Governance

In 1973, Rittel and Weber introduced the term wicked problems that are the socio-economic embedded issues where there is disagreement on the knowledge and values of an issue.

And because of that, the traditional governance styles of H/M/N cannot be applied to wicked problems with any success. To resolve wicked problems, one must understand organizational governance and consciously and strategic apply the right mix to governance styles and actors to the issue — — and then be prepared to inform the collaborative and make adjustments to the solution strategy.

As mentioned, it is more akin to understanding how a headless amoeba with no permanent appendages guides its collective self to achieve its objectives of surviving and thriving. We are now in the same point in our social evolution to figure out how to survive and thrive into the future.

Regenerative Governance is, as ChatGPT stated, “It is based on the principles of regenerative design, which views the world as an interconnected system and seeks to restore and regenerate the natural world.”

A diagram of Regenerative Governance to achieve SDG, ESG, and natural capital objectives looks like this:

If you are interested in engaging in a organizational or collaborative governance assessment, please note in the comments or IM. The professional value of entering a collaborative with a dozen or more entities while wearing these “Google Governance Glasses” puts you at an huge advantage to all those that are essentially governance illiterate. And it puts your collaborative on a known governance trajectory.

Tim Gieseke has conducted extensive research and application of collaborative governance mechanisms for the commons and private sector. He also manages natural capital and developed ecosystem service markets and is the author of three books that outline the environmental, socioeconomics, and governance of instituting a natural capital accounting system and employing EcoCommerce.

Collaborative Environmental Governance Frameworks: A Practical Guide (2019)

Shared Governance for Sustainable Working Landscapes (2016)

EcoCommerce 101: Adding an ecological dimension to the economy (2011)



The EcoCommercist

Tim Gieseke is the original EcoCommercist; a term to describe an ecological economist at the practitioner and market level.