Shaping or Making Policy in a Melting Arctic: Examining the Institutional Effectiveness of the Arctic Council

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Spence, Jennifer




The Arctic Council has achieved a position of prominence in the environmental management and sustainable development of the circumpolar region. And yet, as the Arctic continues to experience dramatic environmental changes, the number and diversity of opinions about the role the Council should play in the governance of the region have grown. However, how the Council works and what has made it effective in the past remains poorly understood. In this dissertation, I introduce a new analytical framework to support an in-depth and systematic analysis of the Arctic Council and its governance model. I use the concept of institutional effectiveness as a foundation and incorporate the concepts of network governance, boundary work and institutional logics. Through the application of these concepts, this dissertation conceives new lenses for examining and understanding the recent history of Arctic governance and the Arctic Council’s place within it: How does the Arctic Council work? And to what extent has it been effective? What factors explain the effectiveness of the Arctic Council? What criteria should be used to assess its effectiveness? To what extent can we attribute the effectiveness of the Council to its governance model? And could the governance model that contributed to the Council’s effectiveness also presage its failure? I demonstrate that the Arctic Council’s effectiveness as an international institution has been inconsistent, the product of a complex mix of endogenous and exogenous factors. This dissertation concludes that the governance model that originally contributed to the Arctic Council’s effectiveness, as an institution that generated knowledge and provided policy advice (i.e. policy shaping), has not evolved to support an effective policymaking role. This dissertation does not prescribe a particular path for the Council; however, I conclude that its future effectiveness depends on an alignment between the role it is assigned to play and its governance model. The analytical framework that I have developed to support an analysis of the Arctic Council yields new tools that I propose may be useful in studying the effectiveness of other institutions that are confronting an array of policy issues in different geographical settings.


International Law and Relations




Carleton University

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Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Public Policy

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Theses and Dissertations

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