Regional Councils are primarily responsible for environmental management, as specified in the Resource Management Act (RMA), 1991. The Local Government Act 2002 has an integrative component, requiring consideration of social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities. These two Acts are interesting, as their combination is shaping new governance structures within New Zealand. Different types of policy instruments are available to Regional Councils while carrying out their functions: regulatory, economic and voluntary. The 1990s are characterized by ‘first generation Plans’ of the RMA, which were highly rule focused. In the 2000s a marked shift occurred, mainstreaming ‘community’ and participative approaches to policy. This increased levels of trust between communities and the Regional Councils, and can be seen as building blocks in the formation of social capital. Where rules were not achieving particular policy objectives, interesting new hybrid forms of governance emerged. This paper looks at these newly-formed partnership approaches in New Zealand. The paper traces the emergence of partnerships as a collective form of action, and analyses them from an economic governance perspective. In so doing, the fundamental role of social capital is explained, as a rational economic concept. Regional Councils are centrally placed to anchor partnerships and strengthen their formation, hence strengthening social networks within the regions. The issue of riparian management is explored as a case study to inform how this could occur.