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multilevel governance, sustainability, environmental protection, United States, China


Scholars embrace multilevel governance as an analytical framework for complex problems, such as climate change or water pollution. However, the elements needed to comprehensively operationalize multilevel governance remain undefined in the literature. This paper describes the five necessary ingredients to a multilevel framework: sanctioning and coordinating authority, provision of capacity, knowledge co-production, framing of co-benefits, and inclusion of civil society. The framework’s analytical utility is illustrated through two contrasting case examples – watershed management in the U.S. and air quality management in China. The framework balances local and central actors, which can promote a more effective governance regime.

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This is a post-peer review, pre-publisher version of an article published in the International Journal of Public Administration, which has been published in final form at



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