The Paradox of Scale is an interesting exercise in theory building. It uses three case studies of environmental NGOs in the Asia-Pacific region to develop an explanation of why global-level NGOs often have trouble operating successful and legitimate programs at the local level and why successful and legitimate local NGOs often have so much difficulty scaling up.

Balboa’s three cases are all recent, somewhat unsuccessful, habitat and marine species conservation efforts. The first involves Conservation International’s (CI) local-level work in the least-populated province of Papua New Guinea. The second considers the attempt to expand an innovative local Philippine project initiated by an American ornamental fish hobbyist. The project initially encouraged sustainable and humane fishing practices at a number of sites in the one country, and successfully expanded to other countries in the region and even beyond, but collapsed when USAID funding, upon which it had become dependent, was severely delayed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The third looks at an attempt to extend internationally a project assisting fishing communities in developing their own conservation systems; the project began in a tiny, outlying community in the microstate of Palau (which is between the Papua New Guinea and the Philippines); leaders were able to balance global and local demands for many years but never fully developed the needed global administrative capacity.

In each of the case studies, Balboa demonstrates that the political, administrative, and technical capacities needed for the organizations to thrive at the local level differed from those needed to manage an international or transnational organization. The local level required flexible organizations steeped in local knowledge. At the international level, the capacity to deal with global donors and follow complex reporting conventions was essential. Relatedly, the accountability mechanisms differed at the two levels: it is one thing to be successful in the eyes of local clients focused on sustaining traditional livelihoods; it is something quite different to navigate successfully among the often-conflicting requirements of national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and big foundations. The paradox of scale is that what contributes to authority (i.e., power and legitimacy) at one level not only fails to do so at the other level; it can even get in the way.

Balboa argues that the dilemmas that this paradox creates need to be overcome, and they can be. Local-level organizations face an imperative to grow in order to solve what are international, if not global, problems. At the same time, global organizations need to work at the local levels at which the human actions that threaten habitats take place. In each of these cases, there were people and institutions that served as bridges between the two levels. What is needed is to assure that those bridges are strong enough for both levels to operate effectively.

The Paradox of Scale develops a theory that is convincing enough to be tested further, especially alongside other hypotheses that may account for some of the things Balboa observes.

In their internationalized versions, each of her cases can be considered instances of hybrid forms of global governance in which local NGOs act as executing agencies for global-level funders, whether national (e.g., USAID), intergovernmental (e.g., UNDP), or nongovernmental (e.g., CI). Recent studies of both peacebuilding and development have noted an increasing denigration of country-level experience and local knowledge among most global funders over the last twenty-five years, with a negative impact on their effectiveness. The problem may be not the paradox of scale but the perversity of funders.

In addition, there are long-standing movements that have, from the beginning, successfully worked simultaneously at the local, national, and international levels. They have created similar organizations and used similar methods of legitimation at every level. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the industrial standardization movement that operates through a nested set of organizations under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Standard-setting bodies at all levels work though the consensus of experts representing key stakeholders—the producers of a good or service in question, their immediate consumers, and the “general” or public interest. The resulting standards tend to be both influential and highly legitimate (again, at all levels). This is true even in the environmental field, where these organizations have become increasingly active. This legitimacy sometimes surprises both the big environmental NGOs and environmental social entrepreneurs based in the Global North, although perhaps it should not, since the ISO-style process has involved at least some participants from the Global South for decades. The stakeholder standard setters would probably argue that different methods of legitimation are not needed at different levels; what are needed are just methods that equally engage everyone that matters at every level.

Finally, it may be important to foreground the fact that the problems Balboa investigated, like many global environmental problems, do have this North–South dimension. The number of powerful organizations that are equally legitimate in the Global North and the Global South is probably quite small, but the cause of that phenomenon may not be apparent if we look only at the organizational level of analysis. Nonetheless, The Paradox of Scale makes it abundantly clear that studies at the organizational level can provide practical critical insight into some of the most vexing problems of global environmental governance. The book’s clear, straightforward, and sensible analysis makes it a good model to recommend to advanced undergraduate and graduate research students.