- Academics and practitioners agree that in water governance, the quality of a decision making process should influence the quality of the outcome and the degree to which it is accepted by interested parties. However, finding a feasible way to evaluate and then improve the quality of a decision making process has proven elusive. Systematically collecting evidence of a link between process and outcome is also challenging. In my dissertation, I developed a synthesis framework for evaluating and improving water governance decision making to address these two challenges. The synthesis framework, which I call the Water Governance Process Assessment (Water GPA), draws upon 22 existing frameworks rooted in resilience, adaptive governance, and good governance. From these frameworks, I identified and provided a way to evaluate four characteristics critical to good water governance decision making processes: 1) accountability, 2) inclusivity, and 3) information, and 4) context.
I applied the Water GPA framework to the recent reviews of the Columbia River Treaty by the United States and Canada. I collected data for the case studies through semi-structured interviews and surveys of process participants from the federal agencies, Tribal and First Nations, state/provincial governments, local governments, stakeholder interests, and citizens. I coded and analyzed the interviews using the qualitative analysis software QSR NVivo and the characteristics identified in the Water GPA framework.
I used the two case study applications to demonstrate how to use the framework. I identified what aspects of the four process categories served as barriers and building blocks for good water governance in each water governance process. I also gleaned lessons learned and recommendations including some for determining process leadership, ensuring meaningful engagement and inclusivity, addressing sovereignty issues, setting decision criteria, sharing decision authority, allocating resources in future processes in the US and BC portions of the Columbia River Basin and similar basins.
In my case studies, I also investigated which characteristics of the water governance decision making process influenced the direct outcomes of those processes (the decisions) as well as other non-target outcomes (such as trust, co-produced science, new coalitions, etc.). All four characteristics outlined in the Water Governance Process Assessment (Water GPA), played some role in the development of the content and/or support of the two case study decision documents (US Regional Recommendation and BC Provincial Decision). Generally, when the characteristic of the process was done well, it improved the legitimacy and acceptance of the decision. At the same time performing poorly in one area did not necessarily torpedo the process or decision. In both case studies, it appears that the interplay between the process characteristics (that is where two or more characteristics converge) had a greater influence over the decision. Further work is needed to clearly identify what characteristics of a process are most influential in different situations. The Water GPA is one useful tool for this effort.