Relationships, communication, and power in Willamette Valley watershed councils : toward building resilient collaborative pathways Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/4t64gq40p

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  • The purpose of this research is to investigate how stakeholders involved in collaborative watershed groups in Oregon work with each other to form ideas and take action. Most collaboration efforts include encouraging a high level of trust with a great value placed on relationships and partners, being open and flexible, and involving multiple parties who share power, which is very different from traditional command-and- control approaches to environmental problems. Collaboration is currently a popular tool in environmental management but some criticize that it allows for more control over resources by interest groups or that these efforts are simply another layer of government bureaucracy. I studied the process of the collaborative approach in four watershed councils in the Willamette Basin, specifically focusing on collaboration concepts of relationship building, open communication, and shared power, as well as how they might be related to each other. I felt that watershed councils were probably not practicing collaboration due to variables such as stakeholders' value differences, political ecology dynamics in the watershed, or organizational issues which did not support collaboration components. The methodology I used to explore these questions primarily involved a systems approach and included cultural anthropology techniques in social network analysis, participant observation, and interviewing. However, because these concepts each involved a number of elements, I utilized a number of different quantitative analysis and mapping methods to help me see other possible trends that supported or redirected themes I drew from my data. To better understand power and centrality issues, I constructed sociograms based on communication patterns between collaborators as well as a power-index for each member of the project. I also researched background information related to the political ecology of each watershed to better understand outside influences that might be affecting the way collaboration concepts were being practiced by councils. Results suggested that collaboration is widely understood and appreciated by project and watershed council participants, who also trusted the councils to address their ideas and concerns. Collaboration does lead to relationship-building between participants across interest groups, especially between professionals and other citizen stakeholders. Previous relationships between landowners are important in helping to recruit participants and facilitate communication from council leadership to members. Project leaders tend to be government officials because of their position and knowledge. Also, relationships between stakeholders and agency employees are key to the initial development of projects, likely for the same reason. However, agency participants seem to play a position of acting as project facilitator instead of project director, helping to support collaboration concepts. In cases where collaboration concepts are not being practiced, other levels of influences such as social conditions or organizational problems are disrupting this balance. Comparing adaptive cycle and panarchy models - which center on system properties of capital, connectedness, and resilience - to collaboration concepts, which involve similar ideas, is helpful in assessing why collaboration is not working and how these situations can be remedied. Relationships between different levels of adaptive cycles affecting the watersheds can support or derail collaboration in councils. If the human community in the watershed is in turmoil, more energy in the form of strong councils may be needed to overcome this negative state. Watershed councils and their partners, such as OWEB, need to invest in effective organizational management strategies in order to maintain flexible connectedness, or a strong adaptive organizational structure in the councils. Agencies can also play a critical role by assigning and training staff to act as technical advisors and project facilitators, so that councils can focus on building the capacity of their organizations.
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