Final Report: When Do Stakeholder Negotiations Work? A Multiple Lens Analysis of Watershed Restorations in California and Washington

EPA Grant Number: R827145
Title: When Do Stakeholder Negotiations Work? A Multiple Lens Analysis of Watershed Restorations in California and Washington
Investigators: Sabatier, Paul A. , Leach, William , Pelkey, Neil , Quinn, James
Institution: University of California - Davis
EPA Project Officer: Stelz, Bill
Project Period: January 1, 1999 through December 31, 2000
Project Amount: $149,935
RFA: Water and Watersheds (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Water and Watersheds


Given the limitations of command-and-control regulation by federal and state bureaucracies, stakeholder-based planning and management has become an increasingly popular strategy nationwide for resolving local environmental conflicts. The primary goal of this research project is to understand the factors affecting the ability of watershed partnerships to resolve resource management controversies and then to implement those decisions through restoration projects or other means. The research involved conducting detailed case studies of 50 watershed partnerships in California and Washington. Each partnership focused on the management or restoration of a stream, river, or watershed, and each involved at least one state or federal agency, a local agency, and two potentially opposing interests such as an environmentalist and a resource user. For each partnership, the investigators: (1) interviewed three to five key participants; (2) analyzed partnership documents such as meeting minutes and watershed management plans; and (3) mailed a questionnaire to each participant as well as several knowledgeable non-participant observers.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The findings are summarized below as they relate to the six original objectives of the grant proposal.

Objective 1: To improve our understanding of the factors affecting the ability of stakeholder negotiation processes to reach formal agreements and to implement those agreements.

Findings: Trust, funding, and time since inception are the most important predictors of success overall. Several other factors also are important—often in ways that contradict the conventional "lessons learned" from the literature on watershed partnerships.

Ideological conflict within a partnership is positively related to social capital building and may have a positive impact on agreements, restoration projects, and monitoring.

Local leadership is associated with fewer agreements, less monitoring, and stakeholders who perceive less progress on improving watershed conditions and human and social capital. In other words, relatively strong evidence was found for the importance of active participants from outside the watershed (who typically are state or federal officials).

As predicted by much of the literature, broad representation of interests in the local community is associated with partnerships that achieve higher levels of agreements within the partnership itself.

The influence of coordinators and facilitators is complex and deserves further study. Facilitation quality is associated with increased levels of human and social capital but decreased levels of agreement (consensus) among stakeholders.

Objective 2: To ascertain whether consensus-based negotiating processes have been more successful than other approaches in developing and implementing concrete projects.

Findings: Thus far, the investigators have documented what partnerships have achieved in California and Washington, and have documented how long it typically takes to reach each benchmark of success. Stakeholders can use these results to score the progress of an existing partnership, or to compare the probable rate of progress of a proposed partnership, relative to a non-partnership alternative.

It was originally planned to document the proportion of restoration projects in a watershed that was attributable to the work of the partnership as opposed to other initiatives. Reliably measuring this proportion proved to be much more difficult than was anticipated.

Future research might compare each of the 50 partnership-occupied watersheds to comparable non-partnership watersheds. Conceivably, a private foundation could investigate this question experimentally by initiating and funding partnerships in a large sample of randomly selected watersheds.

Objective 3: To compare the strengths and weaknesses of the three theoretical frameworks.

Findings: Systematic comparison of multiple theories-each with multiple hypotheses-will require more statistical degrees of freedom than are available in the current sample of 50 partnerships. Once 80 case studies are completed in the fall of 2002, this objective can be addressed more thoroughly.

In the meantime, several theory-related conclusions can be drawn from the results summarized under Objective 1. For example, very mixed support was found for the importance of variables emphasized by the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Framework. Broad representation is positively related to at least one measure of success, as predicted, but local leadership was unexpectedly associated with lower levels of success, and the quality of facilitation and coordination was associated positively with some success measures, and negatively with others.

The three most important predictors of success (trust, funding, and time) are emphasized by multiple theories.

Finally, a factor analysis presented in the full literature review (Leach and Pelkey, 2001), but not included in this report, found modest support for the importance of variables identified by the ADR Framework and the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework.

Objective 4: To provide concrete guidance to agency managers about how they might assist local partnerships.

Findings: The one result most directly relevant to state and federal agencies is the importance of non-local leadership. That is, success in terms of reaching agreements and implementing projects depends on active participation by state and federal agencies.

It seems plausible that agency participation is necessary in part because agencies can offer important resources such as scientific and technical information. However, the direct impact of technical information and expertise is ambiguous, at least over the observed range of variation.

The importance of adequate time means that agencies need to sustain their participation over many months.

Agencies also can play a major role in funding partnerships. When identifying potential funding recipients, agencies should look for ideologically diverse partnerships with high levels of trust and broad representation of local interests (or that are making serious attempts to achieve trust and broad representation).

Objective 5: To identify which watershed characteristics are most amenable to rehabilitation.

Findings: According to stakeholders' perceptions of success, partnerships have the most positive impact on the issues that stakeholders deem most serious: conflict among stakeholders, threatened species or habitat, and impaired water quality. This result suggests that partnerships devote more effort to serious problems, not less as had been suggested by some critics of consensus-based processes.

Stakeholders also perceive that their partnerships have been most effective at addressing problems that can be managed at a local or regional scale.

Conclusions: The University of California–Davis Watershed Partnerships Project (WPP) represents the most ambitious effort to date to compile detailed case studies of a relatively large number of partnerships using systematic methods of data collection and analysis. However, the WPP has two important limitations that could feasibly be addressed by future research.

First, because the research was conducted exclusively on the U.S. West Coast, it is unclear how well the findings would translate to regions of the country that differ in terms of traditions of civic engagement, trust in public officials, education, wealth, environmental ideology, or other factors that could influence success. The investigators would like to replicate the study in other states where the variation on some of these factors might well exceed the range observed in California and Washington.

Second, one of the most serious limitations of the existing body of research, including the WPP, is the lack of longitudinal data. Repeated-measures over time are necessary for directly assessing changes in a given partnership. Evaluating impacts on social and ecological conditions in the watershed requires, at minimum, knowledge of whether these conditions have improved or deteriorated since the partnership's inception. Although it is possible in a cross-sectional study to measure the stakeholders' perceptions and recollections about events in the watershed, a repeated-measures design permits much more accurate measurement of temporal trends. Furthermore, cross-sectional studies can provide only correlations among variables, whereas longitudinal studies can reveal precisely which variable causes which outcome.

The WPP could become a longitudinal study by revisiting each partnership at a 3- to 5-year interval. Repeating the interviews and surveys would provide a record of how: (1) the structure and function of each partnership changes with time, (2) how the attitudes and perception of each stakeholder evolve throughout the process, and (3) how each partnership progresses on each of the six evaluation criteria.

Journal Articles on this Report : 2 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 7 publications 2 publications in selected types All 2 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Leach WD, Pelkey NW, Sabatier P. Making watershed partnerships work: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 2001;127(6):378-385. R827145 (1999)
R827145 (Final)
not available
Journal Article Leach WD. Surveying diverse stakeholder groups. Society and Natural Resources 2002, Volume: 15, Number: 7 (AUG), Page: 641-649. R827145 (Final)
not available

Supplemental Keywords:

Region 10, social science, California, CA, Washington, WA., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Water & Watershed, Restoration, State, Ecology and Ecosystems, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, Social Science, EPA Region, Watersheds, stakeholder groups, community involvement, valuation of watersheds, decision making, collective action problems, community-based research, cost benefit, common property resources, consensus based negotiation process, restoration strategies, Washington (WA), citizen perceptions, ecological recovery, aquatic ecosystems, environmental rehabilitation, water quality, public policy, Region 10, California (CA), sociological, watershed restoration, aquatic habitat protection , community values, ecological research

Relevant Websites: Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
1999 Progress Report