Research strategy


The Centre for Blue Governance recognises the context and importance of its work in connection to the growing global attention on the oceans and the associated opportunities, challenges, and pressures that this represents. The conservation and sustainable use of global oceans, seas, and marine resources are at core of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target the governance of society’s relationship with the sea as a way to meet these aims. In further support of the SDG’s call to action, the UN has designated 2021-2030 the ‘Decade of Ocean Science’, with the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) leading the campaign. The research of the Centre for Blue Governance contributes directly to these agendas through the provision of scientific knowledge of the human aspect of governance critical to the global aspirations articulated by its aims.


The interconnected, diffuse, and overlapping ways in which natural and human processes and activities take place in marine and coastal environments pose specific and unique challenges for governance. However, many governance arrangements are transposed directly from terrestrial contexts without proper consideration for these specific and complex differences. To address the multiplicity of challenges and the limitations of existing arrangements, our research is organised in three interconnected research themes: “Institutional dynamics in blue governance”, “Coastal communities in blue governance”, and “Democratic participation in blue governance”. Each research theme addresses legitimacy, democracy, and sustainability distinctly.

Institutional dynamics in blue governance

This research theme analyses the evolution of governance arrangements, ocean and coastal law, policymaking, and management from an institutional perspective. Such analysis involves considering transformations, traditions, and emerging policies and tools for spatial and resource-based conflicts. Key topic areas under this research theme include:

  • The development of theoretical and applied analytical frameworks on the institutionalization of blue governance and the implementation of treaty norms (e.g. UNCLOS). This includes the study of geopolitics, statehood, risk, power, contestation, and regionalization.
  • The evaluation of governance arrangements, policies, and theories to address transboundary or national conflicting temporal and spatial claims (e.g. Marine Spatial Planning and Ecosystem-Based Management).
  • The critical interpretation of the legitimacy and efficiency of existing and emerging blue governance arrangements and institutions. This will include analysis of the distributional consequences and challenges of existing and developing governance mechanisms (e.g. Individual Transferable Quotas) and of the existing modes of conflict resolution.

Coastal communities in blue governance

This research theme studies the experiences of living, working, visiting, and enjoying coastal and marine environments and landscapes. It aims to research coastal and maritime communities and their members’ continuing, changing, and emerging relationships to the sea. This research theme will evaluate questions of access and allocation of marine resources and spaces, but also examine the growing emphasis on tourism, the service economy, and cultural heritage as a development strategy for coastal communities. Key topic areas under this research theme include:

  • The contestation of transition and peripherality in the use of natural resources and of access to space and resources by coastal communities.
  • The analysis of community inclusion and resilience in the context of ecological, economic, demographic, and cultural change.
  • The critique of the impact of macroeconomic agendas on the vitality of coastal communities (e.g. Blue Growth).

Democratic participation in blue governance

This research theme examines the direct and indirect involvement of public and private actors in decision-making associated to blue governance. It explores the modes of, opportunities for, and barriers to participation and the types and flows governing the distribution of the many benefits arising from marine and coastal environments. Key topic areas under this research theme include:

  • The critique, design, and evaluation of participatory methodologies.
  • The research and development of tools and strategies to support the inclusion of stakeholders in policymaking and decision-making processes, from knowledge building to implementation (e.g. benefit sharing arrangements; Social License to Operate).
  • The analysis of interactive knowledge production in democratically participated processes, such as social/environmental/regulatory impact assessments.


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