Abstract and Keywords
This chapter develops a Pragmatist approach to “collaborative governance”—the development of collaborative relationships between public agencies and stakeholders. The chapter first argues that collaboration should be understood as an exercise in “fruitful conflict” rather than as an attempt to minimize conflict. Seen from this perspective, collaboration governance can be understood as a learning process that transforms stakeholder perspectives. The chapter calls attention to the way that even bitterly opposed stakeholders can learn to collaborate. Typically, this requires them to recognize and subsequently deepen their interdependence.
In the 1980s, the desert tortoise population in the Southwestern United States was declining at an alarming rate due to disease and loss of habitat (Beatley 1994). Environmental groups took the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to court to force them to list the desert tortoise as an endangered species. They won the case, and as a result, in 1989, the USFWS made an emergency listing of the desert tortoise on the endangered species list. While desert tortoise populations were declining, human populations were increasing. Located in the center of prime turtle habitat, Las Vegas had become one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. The listing of the desert tortoise and the growth pressures on Las Vegas were like two trains running headlong toward each other on the same track. Local governments and developers took the USFWS to court to stop the listing of the desert tortoise. But they lost their case and the listing of the desert tortoise stood.
For developers and local governments, the implications were staggering. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prevented the “taking” of any endangered species, which was interpreted broadly to mean that any alteration of desert tortoise habitat that could adversely affect the survival of the species was prohibited. The loss of the lawsuit and the magnitude of the opportunity costs to local governments and developers led them to search for alternatives. They found one in the process (section 10 under the ESA) that allows for “incidental take” (basically, exceptions to the strict prohibition against takings) if landowners develop “habitat conservation plans” to identify strategies to mitigate the impacts of takings. Clark County took the lead in sponsoring the development of the habitat conservation plan (HCP). They created a collaborative process to develop the plan that included all the affected stakeholders. The end result was an agreement among local governments, developers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders to protect the highest-quality desert tortoise habitat in the region, while allowing development to occur on less (p.167) prime habitat (Beatley 1994; Reilly 1998; Hoben 2000; Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000; Raymond 2006).
This chapter advances a Pragmatist approach to what has come to be called “collaborative governance,” a governance strategy that challenges both adversarial and managerial visions of how public policy and regulation should operate (Cohen and Rogers 1983; Freeman 1997; Ansell and Gash 2008).1 The Endangered Species Act’s habitat conservation planning process is not always an ideal example of collaborative governance (Thomas 2003b), but the Clark County HCP is a good case of the potential for collaborative governance. It shows that even under conditions of bitter social conflict, collaborative governance can lead stakeholders to identify mutual gains.
How would a Pragmatist approach the topic of collaborative governance? In Dewey’s most explicit book of political theory—The Public and Its Problems—he developed a model of the state and of the public that democratic theorists have come to extol as an inspiration for contemporary deliberative democracy. The book is notable for its development of a model of the state built around the notions of how publics manage their mutual interdependence. The book also cautions that modern technologies—both institutional and physical—had partially eclipsed the creation of a “public” that could develop a reasoned public response. A Pragmatist approach to governance might regard collaborative governance as a concrete strategy for fostering deliberation and learning about our mutual interdependence.
This chapter builds on the arguments of earlier chapters and on the spirit of Dewey’s analysis of publics to develop a specifically Pragmatist interpretation of collaborative governance. Collaborative governance, as developed here, is a mode of governance in which public agencies engage with various stakeholders to jointly deliberate about public problems. Often contrasted to adversarial (Kelman 1992; Andranovich 1995) or managerial forms of governance, collaborative governance is now being used in many fields, including regulatory negotiations, school management, and community policing, and has become a benchmark of good practice in local and regional resource management (Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000; Ansell and Gash 2008).
There is now a sprawling literature on collaborative governance (Ansell and Gash 2008). This chapter organizes this literature around a distinctly “Pragmatist” analysis of collaborative governance.2 Pragmatism would place particular attention on how collaborative governance binds stakeholders together into problem-solving “publics” that have the capacity for joint learning. Building on the model of Pragmatist learning set out in chapter 1 and elaborated in subsequent chapters, a Pragmatist might call out three interrelated dimensions of collaborative governance: (1) fruitful conflict through face-to-face communication; (2) creative and recursive problem-solving; and (3) the deepening (p.168) interdependence of stakeholders as both a prerequisite and a byproduct of collaboration.3 This chapter draws selectively on the collaborative governance literature to order to zero in on these three dimensions.
Collaboration as Fruitful Conflict through Communication
What is the aim of binding stakeholders together into problem-solving publics that can engage in joint learning? It is important to clarify at the outset that the goal is not to produce consensus in order to minimize or eliminate conflict. We should not lose sight of Iris Marion Young’s (2002) argument that pressures for consensus discourage the expression of difference. Attempts to minimize conflict are often disguised attempts to drive politics out of public life and are thus antithetical to Pragmatism’s desire to enhance public deliberation.4 Pragmatism neither ignores the centrality of conflict in social life nor places such a high value on social cooperation that it tries to paper over conflict. The goal of Pragmatism is not to minimize or eliminate conflict, but rather to encourage fruitful conflict. Fruitful conflict is conflict that in some manner enhances or advances knowledge, understanding, meaning, or capacity between different or opposing perspectives and interests.5
Nor would a Pragmatist interpretation of collaborative governance see it as merely a strategy for managing conflict. Many strategies of dispute resolution and mediation have the goal of minimizing conflict by focusing actors on what they share and bracketing areas of dispute. Such a strategy can be fruitful in the sense that it allows stakeholders to move beyond political stalemate or focus on possibilities for cooperation.6 However, fruitful conflict, as understood here, often requires stakeholders to expand (rather than narrow) the field of conflict, often critically scrutinizing stakeholders’ basic beliefs and values.
The concept of fruitful conflict can be closely linked to the Pragmatist emphasis on problem solving. Conflict is made more constructive by focusing it around concrete problem-solving rather than around the expression or defense of specific values or positions. When applied to mediation, this problem-solving perspective has been criticized by Bush and Folger (1994). They argue that a problem-solving approach ultimately leads to a “satisfaction” view of mediation, in which mediators seek to “satisfy” parties that their problem has been solved (1994, 56). A satisfaction approach leads mediators to selectively frame problems in narrow ways that permit short-term resolution but ultimately undermines the satisfaction of parties. They argue that mediation should not be thought of in problem-solving terms but rather in terms of “opportunities for moral growth and transformation” (1994, 81).7
(p.169) Bush and Folger’s argument is well taken, but it is somewhat misleading if we adopt a Pragmatist perspective on problem solving. For Bush, Baruch, and Folger, the limitation of a problem-solving approach is that it treats conflict as the problem. The Pragmatist stance, however, is that a focus on the “problem” redirects attention away from the symptoms of conflict per se (e.g., dislike or distrust of rival parties) toward its deeper causes. Moreover, Pragmatism understands problems as opportunities for growth. In this sense, Pragmatist problem-solving is consistent with their “transformational” approach to mediation.
Starting from these perspectives on fruitful conflict, the drawback of adversarial strategies of governance is not that they are conflictual per se but that the conflict yields so little in terms of knowledge, understanding, meaning, or capacity. In fact, a powerful implication of this Pragmatist interpretation is that increased conflict is often desirable to the extent that it can be structured in a productive fashion. By contrast, so-called adversarial models encourage unilateral strategies of decision making that allow stakeholders to pursue their goals without entering into direct conflict with opposing stakeholders. In this sense, adversarial models of governance avoid conflict. From a Pragmatist perspective, collaborative governance is not a technique for reducing or eliminating political conflict. It is a technique for structuring conflict in such a way that it is productive rather than merely antagonistic (McNary and Gitlow 2002, 582).8
The Clark County desert tortoise case leaves no doubt that collaborative governance cannot easily sweep political conflict under the proverbial rug. Early planning meetings were described as “violent” and a weapons check was necessary for the first two years (Hoben 2000, 4). It is clear that the stakeholders in this case had very different values and interests and these could never be papered over by appealing to some larger set of values or perspective. On the other hand, this case suggests that even venomous conflict can be channeled in a more fruitful direction. Pragmatist collaborative governance does expect people to cultivate an open attitude toward engagement with others, but it does not require them to renounce or compromise their own interests or beliefs (Shields 2003).
Pragmatist collaborative governance is therefore a deliberative approach and, at a minimum, requires an exchange of perspectives. As Oberg writes in a study of corporatist deliberation: “A precondition for deliberation is that the parties meet in some sort of arena in which they have to listen and respond to each other’s arguments” (2002, 469). Furthermore, deliberation depends on the ability of stakeholders to be able to authentically reflect upon the perspectives of opposing stakeholders. Thus, a Pragmatist model of collaborative governance will stress the importance of meaningful dialogue, which requires people to engage concretely in the details of their conflict rather than in stylized or sound-bite (p.170) conflict.9 This is a central point. Fruitful conflict is conflict that seeks to transcend the us-versus-them dynamics so familiar in our present democratic politics. Deliberation, therefore, typically works best in face-to-face settings, where people can break down us-versus-them stereotypes (Kelman 1992).10
From a Pragmatist perspective, fruitful conflict requires “face-to-face communication.”11 As Ansell and Gash write:
Effective communication requires some recognition of the perspective of your counterpart, or what Jane Addams called “sympathetic understanding” (Shields 2006). In the desert tortoise case, the early stages of the process were described as “like being at a high school dance, with all the beards and long hairs on one side and all the suits and boots on the other” (Hoben 2000, 4). But as a byproduct of long meetings and meals together, as well as taking several common field trips to investigate habitat conditions, these two social groups gradually were able to communicate in a fruitful way. As one stakeholder noted, once the participants had come to understand each other’s bottom line, “subsequent discussion … became less contentious and more productive” (Hoben 2000).
Face-to-face dialogue is more than merely the medium of negotiation. It is at the core of breaking down stereotypes and other barriers to communication that prevent exploration of mutual gains in the first place…. It is at the heart of a process of building trust, mutual respect, shared understanding, and commitment to the process. (2008, 558).12
Fruitful Conflict Can Transform Situations and Stakeholders
A Pragmatist perspective suggests that conflict may be made more fruitful by simultaneously focusing and widening the scope of conflict. A strategy of focusing conflict on specific issues can prevent conflict from getting bogged down in peripheral issues. Focusing the conflict allows the parties to concentrate and align their conversation on key disputes that are necessary to resolve before a deepening of discussion is possible. However, a Pragmatist perspective suggests that conflict may also be made more fruitful by widening the perspective on conflict to reveal the character of interdependence between parties or the dimensions upon which they agree. Putnam (2004) describes how bargaining “transformations” can occur by shifting the level of abstraction of disputes: from the specific to the general, from the concrete to the abstract, from part to whole, from individual to system level, and from literal to symbolic (or vice versa).13 For example, in a polarized conflict over the expansion of Schiphol (p.171) airport in the Netherlands, a richer set of alternatives was identified in order to make the conflict more tractable (Van Eeten 2001).
In Pragmatist terms, fruitful conflict can be transformative, transforming either the definition of the situation or the stakeholders themselves.14 Situations are transformed when a meaningful exchange of perspectives with other stakeholders leads them to reflect back on—and revise—their understanding of their own position or the position of their opponents. Putnam describes a transformation as follows:
Disputes may be intractable—that is, “resistant to resolution” (Campbell 2003, 363). In this case, reframing to reveal new or different dimensions of a situation is often a useful strategy (Schön and Rein 1995; Putnam, Burgess, and Royer 2003).15 Pragmatist collaboration does not assume that transformation will occur; rather, it seeks to foster the conditions under which transformation can occur.
Transformation refers to moments in the conflict process in which parties reach new understandings of their situation, ones that redefine the nature of the conflict, the relationship among the parties, or the problems they face. New understandings are marked by different meanings or interpretations of events. The parties involved have a fundamentally different view of what is happening than they did when they entered the negotiations. (2004, 276)
It is interesting that a scholar with strong Pragmatist instincts set out a similar understanding of collaboration in the 1920s. Mary Parker Follett argued for a model of organizational collaboration that distinguished coercion and compromise from what she termed “integration.” Integration was not merely an adjustment of one’s interests to the interests of others but a creative search for new positions that transcended (transformed) the different perspectives and interests of different parties. As Follett pointed out, integration is different from negotiation and compromise. Although integration comes close to what the bargaining literature calls a win-win perspective, there is an important difference. Her idea was that value is created when the meanings participants bring to the bargaining table are enriched, expanded, and deepened through the exchange of perspectives. The idea is nicely expressed by Robert Reich, who argues that public deliberation “allows people to discover latent public values that they have in common with others, and in the process to create new public values” (1985, 1636). Collaboration is successful, on this count, when participants’ own purposes have been deepened and enhanced through the recognition of the perspectives of others. Compromise without change in perspectives may lead to successful management of conflict, but not to “fruitful conflict.”
(p.172) Collaboration as Creative Problem-Solving and Recursive Learning
Pragmatism would envision collaborative governance as a strategy of problem solving, a position already well established in the literature (McCann 1983; Logsdon 1991; Hood, Logsdon, and Thompson 1993; Lasker and Weiss 2003; Bryan 2004). Bryan (2004) argues that collaborative governance does a good job of confronting public problems, because it creates “shared ownership” of those problems. Since stakeholders bring different perspectives and interests to the table, however, it is frequently the case that they do not share a common understanding of “what the problem is.” Therefore, the first task of collaborative governance is typically to engage stakeholders in a process of joint problem definition. Collaborative governance, as Kelman (1996) puts it, seeks to transform adversarial relationships into a “shared problem.”
The literature on collaborative governance strongly supports this perspective and finds that the problem-definition phase of collaboration is a critical step toward deeper collaboration. In a study of watershed planning, for instance, Bentrup (2001) found that problem definition was essential for fruitful conflict. The key transformative step was not in the mere acknowledgement of how other people understood the problem but rather in the joint redefinition of the problem itself. As Putnam writes: “They are not simply defining the problem in a way acceptable to both sides; they reconstitute the building blocks on which the problem resides” (2004, 290).16 Approaching conflict as an issue of “problem-solving,” according to Kelman, requires addressing “underlying causes of the conflict” (1996, 100).17
Thus, the problem-definition phase assumes joint inquiry into the character of problems followed by a joint reconstruction of each stakeholder’s conception of the problem.18 Reich provides a good description of the provisional and probative character of problem definition:
In Pragmatist terms, problem definition is reflexive. Stakeholders enter the process with their own goals and perspectives, but these may be malleable and open to reframing through deliberative interaction with others.20 In a collaborative process, joint deliberation about problem definition can lead stakeholders to scrutinize their own priorities and commitments from the perspective of opposing stakeholders. This is what Sabel and Zeitlin (2008) call “learning from difference.”
During the course of deliberation, people may discover new information and new perspectives about what is at stake in the decision before them. This may lead individuals not only to modify their choice of means for achieving their ends, but perhaps to reconsider those ends. (1985, 1635)19
(p.173) This joint action can be thought of as a creative process in the sense that it requires a process of discovery of positions that will allow stakeholders to define issues as “shared problems.”21 Follett saw this creative search for what she called “integration” as the heart of collaboration. In Creative Experience, she writes: “But the process is not that I integrate my desires, you yourself, and then we together unite the results; I often make my own integration through and by means of my integration with you” (1924, 177).
Problem definition and reconstruction is also recursive—that is, it arises through a circulation of perspectives. Putnam’s analysis of collaborative transformation is, in fact, implicitly described as a recursive process that moves between perspectives, starting with
In this example, transformation is produced through a process of shifting back and forth between attention to paradigmatic reframing and attention to concrete details.22 We see in this description both the cosmopolitan localism and the analytical holism characteristic of Pragmatist learning.
a jump in which one party lays out the parameters of an agreement followed by a detail phase in which specific issues are packaged and exact settlement is constructed…. The agreement is then crafted from a metalevel or framework that works from the whole down to the parts. The critical moment occurs when both parties develop this framework to shift the nature of the negotiation away from small-scale concessions and compromises. (2004, 281)
Having argued that a Pragmatist model of collaborative governance is a process of reflexive, creative, and recursive problem-definition, it is but a short step to describe collaboration as a social learning process. A learning perspective is well represented in the collaborative governance literature (Reich 1985; Sabel 1994; Saarikoski 2000; Daniels and Walker 2001; Margerum 2002; Bouwen and Taillieu 2004; Berk and Schneiberg 2005; Sabel and Zeitlin 2008); and a number of studies have found that enhanced stakeholder knowledge is an important byproduct of collaborative governance.23 A Pragmatist approach might go further and suggest that stakeholders can also learn more about their own perspective and the perspectives of other stakeholders through collaboration. This is the “social” aspect of social learning. In one of the few studies to quantify this aspect of social learning, Pahl-Wostl and Hare (2004) report that half of the actors involved in a Swiss experiment in collaboration reported that they had learnt more about their own perspectives and had improved their understanding of the role of the other actors.
A Pragmatist learning model suggests that the key intermediate step between problem definition and problem solving is collaborative structuring of further (p.174) inquiry and experimentation. Once stakeholders agree on a workable definition of the problem, they must then agree to set out the subsequent problem-solving strategies as opportunities for learning. As the literature on democratic experimentalism stresses, to do this, stakeholders must establish metrics or benchmarks that will allow them to collectively judge the success of problem-solving interventions (Dorf and Sabel 1998; Schneiberg 2005; Sabel and Zeitlin 2008). As in the problem-definition phase, this problem-solving phase requires joint definition of metrics and benchmarks for evaluating interventions.
The experimental stance is not simply a product of collaboration; nor is it simply justified because it is a “scientific” approach to problem solving. More importantly, an inquiring and experimental attitude helps to hold collaboration between different stakeholders together in the first place. When successful, it does this by reframing the basic relationship among stakeholders away from a contest of rival goals and preferences toward a position of shared uncertainty. Where stakeholders can find a ground of shared uncertainty, they will discover common ground for a provisional stance toward problem solving. Exploring this zone of uncertainty, problem solving begins as a probative search for strategies, metrics, and benchmarks that all stakeholders can agree will provide subsequent opportunities for learning.24
When stakeholders are fundamentally opposed to one another, this zone of shared uncertainty may be quite small or it may seem to lie at the margins of real reform. Pragmatism, however, emphasizes that learning is an iterative process. By building trust or shared knowledge, the results of a small experiment can provide support for more far-reaching inquiries and experiments in the future.
Learning to Collaborate
The idea that “small wins” can scaffold larger gains supports a strategy of building up the capacity to collaborate.25 Sullivan and Skelcher (2002) and Sullivan, Barnes, and Matka (2006) have identified a range of important collaborative capacities. In a study of local health partnerships in the United Kingdom, Sullivan, Barnes, and Matka found that one particular collaborative strategy “was a product of the levels of pre-existing capacity between stakeholders. The shape and foci of that strategy in turn influenced how and where collaborative capacity was targeted and further capacity generated” (2006, 307). Collaborative capacity may depend on the “empowerment” of some stakeholders, which is necessary when one stakeholder is markedly weaker than others (Handler 1996).
Some aspects of collaborative capacity are learned. Although Raymond (2006) argues that trust was not necessary for collective action in the desert tortoise case, most scholars of collaborative governance regard trust as a (p.175) necessary scaffold for collaboration (Ansell and Gash 2008). Trust in particular persons and institutions can be developed in many ways, but often it must be learned in the process of collaboration. If trust is successfully built up during early rounds of collaboration, it can then serve as a capacity for more ambitious collaborative agendas.26 Learning to trust stakeholders with opposed goals and preferences is rarely an easy process, but the literature on collaborative governance finds that trust can be fostered even in high-conflict situations. To provide just one example, Moore, Parker, and Weaver (2008) describe a situation of high distrust between local Ohio farmers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a high degree of resistance to the EPA’s water quality remediation strategies. Through a participatory process, farmers were converted into local “experts” who conducted additional investigations into the level and sources of pollution. Through this process, they came to accept the EPA’s evaluations of local water quality while also devising local solutions to water quality programs. Expanded trust in the EPA provided a basis for consent and scaffolding for creative problem-solving.
Trust, as used here, is the expectation that others will honor their commitments and will not behave in an underhanded manner. It is not the same thing as friendship or consensus. Stakeholders may come to trust opposing stakeholders without liking or agreeing with them. Margerum provides a good example in his description of a watershed planning collaboration in Wisconsin: “At the first meeting of the Johnstone River case, one farmer leaned over to the environmental representatives and said, ‘I don’t like greenies’” (2002, 249). However, within a few months, the committee agreed to several common concerns, and although the two protagonists did not agree on all aspects, they worked closely on several initiatives. One critical ingredient of trust building is face-to-face dialogue.27 Another is joint inquiry, which can have a leveling effect that helps to promote trust. As Bohman argues: “The more deliberation is like inquiry the more thoroughly everyone is dependent on everyone else both for their cooperation and for their contribution to the collective organization of knowledge” (1999, 594). In a study of watershed partnerships, Leach and Sabatier (2005) suggest that “joint fact finding” is a useful step toward building trust in conflictual stakeholder groups.
A Transactional Model: Interdependence, Emergence, Feedback
For Dewey, a public is ultimately based on the interdependence of its members. If collaborative governance binds stakeholders together into problem-solving publics, then fruitful conflict, creative problem-solving, and recursive social (p.176) learning can be seen as processes that enable stakeholders to explore the character and meaning of their interdependence. In Dewey’s logic of “transactions,” however, interdependence is not simply a preexisting condition. Instead, the parties to the transaction are understood to be part of a larger field of action and their interdependence can be deepened or elaborated through engagement.28 The value of this transactional logic is that it points in a general way to how the collaborative process can support the development of more ambitious collaborative problem-solving.29
An example from the field of water management indicates how agencies and stakeholders can learn about and deepen their interdependence. Lach, Rayner, and Ingram (2005) describe three different styles of water management. In the traditional approach, water agencies minimize their interaction with external stakeholders. Instead, they focus on developing infrastructure-intensive strategies (building dams and water conveyance infrastructure) that enable them to establish their sovereignty over water resources. As water scarcity increases, however, water agencies discover that this sovereignty logic can be counterproductive. In their attempt to adapt, they often try to develop specific interagency agreements that will allow them to “spread the risk” of water management. This adaptation requires agencies to cooperate with other agencies, but it is largely a defensive attempt to shore up sovereign control over resources. If this defensive approach fails, some water agencies move toward a third strategy of engaging in even deeper and more intense collaboration with other stakeholders. This strategy can lead to more creative and ambitious efforts to jointly address the “wicked problems” of local water management.
This example illustrates how the creativity and ambition of collaborative problem-solving can be a function of the interdependence of stakeholders. To clarify this point, it is useful to distinguish two different types of interdependence at work in this example. The first type of interdependence is externally defined (exogenous). For instance, water agencies and stakeholders are interdependent in the first place because of the background condition of water scarcity. The second type of interdependence depends on choices made by the water agencies and stakeholders. When they engage in joint programs or projects together, they voluntarily enter into a more interdependent relationship with each other. As Lach, Rayner, and Ingram’s description of three stages of water management suggests, creative and ambitious problem-solving only becomes possible when stakeholders willingly engage in this type of “enacted interdependence.”30
Scholars of collaborative governance have pointed to the importance of both types of interdependence (Logsdon 1991; Hood, Logsdon, and Thompson 1993; Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000; Bouwen and Taillieu 2004). Some scholars emphasize the first type. Logsdon (1991), for instance, views interdependence as an exogenous condition that helps to explain whether actors will (p.177) engage in collaborative governance. Other scholars emphasize enacted interdependence. Margerum, for example, observes that collaboration implies that “the parties must in some ways become dependent on each other” (2002, 250).
In fact, collaborative governance facilitates the exploration and linkage of both types of interdependence. Stakeholders must first perceive and acknowledge their existing interdependence before they will voluntarily commit themselves to becoming more deeply interdependent with other stakeholders (Selin, Schuett, and Carr 2000).31 Brown, for example, offers a telling description of the Australian timber industry’s eventual acknowledgement of its interdependence with opposing stakeholders: “The Queensland Timber Board accepted that public opposition was not simply a political impediment fixable through government or public relations, but an issue of business practice that industry had to internalize and confront” (2002, 28). As this example suggests, a significant cognitive shift is often necessary before stakeholders will willingly consider a voluntary deepening of interdependence. The water agencies described by Lach, Rayner, and Ingram initially adopted defensive management strategies that sought to minimize interdependence on other stakeholders. The cognitive shift came only when water agencies and stakeholders more fully recognized their shared fate, and thus recognized a need to enact deeper interdependence.32
Collaborative governance requires stakeholders to bind themselves to a process where they jointly determine strategy with other stakeholders (Thompson and Perry 2006). To do this, stakeholders must forsake some of their autonomy. As resource-dependency theory suggests, however, people and groups often avoid dependence on others (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). When and how then do people and groups voluntarily forsake some measure of their freedom of movement to engage in more interdependent relationships with others? While acknowledging that external conditions (like water scarcity) set the basic parameters of interdependence, the collaborative governance literature suggests that a number of cognitive thresholds must be crossed before stakeholders will successfully engage with each other. A first critical threshold is for stakeholders to achieve “mutual recognition” (Saarikoski 2000) or “joint appreciation” (Gray 1989; Plummer and Fitzgibbon 2004). This means that stakeholders must acknowledge one another as legitimate interlocutors. This may be easy or difficult to achieve, depending on the character of a dispute or the history of conflict between stakeholders.
A second threshold that must be achieved is commitment to the collaborative process itself. Stakeholders must not simply acknowledge each other as legitimate interlocutors but must also become committed to working together in a collaborative way. Although the terminology used varies rather widely in the literature, case studies suggest that stakeholders’ level of commitment to collaboration is a critical variable in explaining collaborative success or failure (p.178) (Alexander, Comfort, and Weiner 1998; Margerum 2001; Gilliam et al. 2002; Gunton and Day 2003; Tett, Crowther, and O’Hara 2003).33
Finally, a third process threshold is achieved when stakeholders develop a sense of “joint ownership” over the collaborative process (Weech-Maldonado and Merrill 2000; El Ansari 2003). This means that stakeholders must develop an understanding that they are collectively responsible for the development and success of the collaborative venture.
These cognitive thresholds of recognition, commitment, and ownership provide a necessary platform for the exploration and deepening of stakeholder interdependence. These thresholds were clearly met in the desert tortoise case. As one participant reported: “The most important achievement I saw was that a group of people walked into the room hating each others’ guts and ready to slit each others’ throats … and now if you were to come visit those meetings and say something against the plan, you’re apt to get eaten by both sides” (Hoben 2000, 6).
To summarize this section, collaborative governance is a process for exploring and enacting interdependence among stakeholders. To voluntarily engage in collaboration, stakeholders must first acknowledge and appreciate their existing interdependence. They must then be willing to further deepen their interdependence with one another. To do this, stakeholders must acknowledge each other as legitimate interlocutors; they must commit themselves to a process of addressing this interdependence through collaboration; and they must establish a joint sense of ownership over this collaborative process. When these cognitive thresholds have been achieved, a “problem-solving public” has been created.
Collaborative Governance as Emergence and Feedback
Pragmatism would not make light of the difficulty of creating even small publics. Getting stakeholders to engage in meaningful discourse is an important step toward achieving mutual recognition, commitment, and ownership (Lasker and Weiss 2003). But there is a Catch-22 inherent in the process of creating “buy-in.” Meaningful discourse is itself a function of mutual recognition, commitment, and ownership; stakeholders engage in serious discussion only when they feel vested in the collaborative process. Superficial discourse, however, can easily erode this sense of investment. Dialogue is thus a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for getting adversaries to engage in deeper interdependence.
To escape this Catch-22, it is useful to analyze collaboration as an emergent process.34 A basic commitment of all process ontologies is that outcomes (p.179) cannot be easily read off starting conditions. Outcomes are explained by something that emerges out of interaction, which may be positive or negative. To produce a virtuous cycle of collaboration, it is necessary to understand how collaboration can produce emergent outcomes that stimulate deeper subsequent interaction, as exemplified by this description of a local resource management case: “The meetings to draft the CCMP initially stimulated broader, more frequent contacts among stakeholders and generated increasing momentum to continue interactions” (Schneider et al. 2003, 145). Emergent phenomena are subtle and not always easily observable. Yet they are critical for understanding collaborative outcomes.
The key to understanding collaboration as an emergent process is to appreciate that something new is created as the product of collaboration—an institutional framework, a joint appreciation, a small triumph, new knowledge or ideas, greater trust, or shared attention to a boundary object. In a British Columbia land use planning case, for example, “Two-thirds of respondents agreed that the LRMP process had second-order effects including changes in behaviors and actions, spin-off partnerships, umbrella groups, collaborative activities, new practices or new institutions” (Frame, Gunton, and Day 2004, 71). Emergent outcomes like this may be negative or positive, but positive feedback can provide structure for supporting deeper collaboration. This positive feedback between process and structure is what chapter 1 referred to as the principle of processual structuralism.
Weber (2009) describes a case of successful collaborative governance in the Blackfoot watershed in Montana. Watershed stakeholders, he observes, had incentives to collaborate, but they lacked the community capacity to effectively work together on watershed problems. He argues that the key to their success was the development of a new set of ideas related to the character of the watershed as a place and to the relationship of stakeholders and their problems to one another. Despite high levels of conflict and institutional fragmentation in the watershed, these new ideas provided a basis for productive negotiations and actions. The Blackfoot watershed community subsequently developed a successful and sustainable collaboration.
One clue to producing successful emergent outcomes lies in the creative character of joint problem definition, inquiry, and experimentation, as described in earlier sections. Lasker and Weiss describe this in terms of creating synergy between stakeholders:
If we take emergent phenomena seriously, we become attentive to how the outputs of each round of interaction produce virtuous cycles of interaction. As Imperial observes: “When viewed over time, collaborative activities also tended to reflect a trial and error process with practitioners becoming engaged in an expanded set of activities once they learned how to work together” (Imperial 2005, 287). Heikkila and Gerlak (2005) describe the development of an Everglades conservation program as occurring in an “incremental and piecemeal” fashion, but this process still led to accumulated experience in working together productively.
Rather than agreeing to a position or solution that a person, organization, or interest group advocated at the start, a group of people who create synergy develops consensus around ideas and strategy they generate together. In this kind of process, consensus does not require (p.180) anyone to “give in” or “give up.” Instead, participants contribute to the development of something new and feasible that many people can support. When a broad group of participants develop and “own” a solution that makes sense to them, implementation is more likely to go smoothly and is more likely to be sustained. (2003, 26)35
As both Imperial and Heikkila and Gerlak point out, there can be an incremental, trial-and-error quality to collaboration, yet positive feedback can lead to more extensive and systematic cooperation. Feedback from emergent outcomes can incrementally deepen understanding or appreciation of interdependence and expand the sense of ownership and responsibility. When the feedbacks are positive and cumulative, they can lead to opportunities for deeper collaboration. For example, after the desert tortoise planning process had successfully created a single species habitat conservation plan for the desert tortoise, the same group went on to establish a governance framework for an additional 200 species.
By conceiving of collaborative governance as an emergent process that produces positive or negative feedbacks, stakeholders become attentive to how the products and byproducts of early collaboration can scaffold more ambitious problem-solving. One way to think about these positive feedback effects is in terms of what have been called “small wins”—achievements of limited scope and ambition. In his article on small wins, Karl Weick (1984) has provided a good model for thinking about the developmental possibilities of collaborative governance. Small wins are important, he argues, because they allow stakeholders to manage emotions in a positive way; a virtuous cycle of small wins, he argues, can produce much more significant problem-solving than initially more ambitious efforts. The importance of small wins has been recognized as especially valuable for so-called intractable conflicts, where opposed stakeholders see no way forward. Putnam, Burgess, and Royer (2003) argue that intractable conflicts can be moved toward more tractable conflicts through incremental improvements in the situations of the negotiating parties.36
(p.181) A Pragmatist model of collaborative governance is therefore “pragmatic” in the sense that it looks for even small opportunities to advance fruitful conflict.37 On the other hand, this pragmatism ultimately aims for more than incremental improvements at the margins of disputes. Therefore, “small wins” that do not feedback positively to deepen subsequent collaboration have no special status from this perspective. In the Pragmatist model of emergence, something new has to be created.
A Pragmatist perspective can understand collaborative governance as a process that binds problem-solving publics together so that they can engage in fruitful conflict. The purpose of Pragmatist collaboration is not to minimize conflict or produce consensus, but to use the interplay of different perspectives to generate mutual learning. A public is bound together, first and foremost, by face-to-face communication, which is necessary to break down barriers to mutual learning. Most political disputes avoid direct conflict, so stakeholders build up defenses against recognizing or appreciating the perspectives of their opponents. To be bound together as a problem-solving public, it is not necessary that stakeholders like or agree with each other. However, there does have to be some modicum of mutual recognition between stakeholders that they are part of a collaborative process. While there is no assumption that stakeholders must ultimately compromise their beliefs or find a consensus position, stakeholders must become committed to deliberating with other stakeholders to define and solve problems. Stakeholders become fully bound together as problem-solving publics only when they jointly take ownership of the collaborative process—that is, when different stakeholders become invested in and take responsibility for the outcomes produced by their attempt to define and solve problems.
In many political situations, even these relatively minimal conditions for creating problem-solving publics may be difficult to achieve. A Pragmatist model of collaborative governance, however, calls attention to a number of possibilities for facilitating fruitful conflict. The first strategy is to focus stakeholders on concrete problems and to shift their attention and energies away from doctrinaire position-taking. This does not mean that stakeholders will naturally share an understanding of the problem. Typically, they will not. Pragmatism would therefore emphasize the importance of a preliminary phase of joint problem definition. Stakeholders are likely to have greater conflict over the causes or solutions to problems than over the definition of the problem itself. Again, it may be more important that stakeholders develop a mutually intelligible way of describing problems than a consensual agreement on problem definition.
(p.182) A third strategy for facilitating fruitful conflict is to move stakeholders beyond a typical negotiation stance. It is possible to do this by focusing on the zone of uncertainty that stakeholders may share and thus to transform the negotiation into an inquiry. In an inquiry, stakeholders must approach problem definition and problem solving as an opportunity for joint learning. Such an approach gives interactions a future orientation that can destabilize past disputes. In defining problem-solving interventions, stakeholders should try to jointly define metrics or benchmarks to evaluate these interventions. In other words, they should treat these interventions as experiments.
A fourth strategy for facilitating fruitful conflict is to shift perspectives in order to reconstruct and reframe the terms of debate. This may mean shifting to a more abstract level of deliberation or it may mean focusing on particulars. Ultimately, fruitful conflict is facilitated by moving back and forth between different perspectives. The goal is not to force stakeholders to discard or change their assumptions per se but to get them to critically scrutinize their assumptions in light of different perspectives.
Despite these Pragmatist strategies for facilitating fruitful conflict, collaborative relationships often begin on an antagonistic and distrustful note. A Pragmatist perspective on collaborative governance is developmental. It says that stakeholders can learn to collaborate. Trust building is one important feature of learning to collaborate. To communicate authentically, to acknowledge the legitimacy of competing perspectives, to commit to collaboration, and, ultimately, to take ownership and responsibility for the collaborative process, stakeholders must develop a measure of trust in each other. Again, affection or agreement is less important than the expectation that other stakeholders will deal with them honestly and straightforwardly. Trust can be built through successful face-to-face communication and interaction.
To break out of a vicious cycle of distrust and negative communication, Pragmatism would focus on how outcomes from early rounds of collaboration can feedback positively into subsequent collaboration. How do the “emergent outputs” from one round of deliberation scaffold deeper collaboration in the next round? These “emergent outputs” may range from an increased understanding of the positions of opposing stakeholders, to shared knowledge produced by joint fact-finding, to a successful problem-solving experiment. Often it is difficult to predict what specific kinds of outputs will shift relations from a vicious to a virtuous cycle. However, we can note two general features. The first is recognition of interdependence. Stakeholders become motivated to transform negative relationships as they come to appreciate their shared fate with opposing stakeholders. Early rounds of problem definition and problem inquiry may help stakeholders to better understand this shared fate. The other general feature is the importance of “small wins.” Small, tangible achievements (p.183) are very valuable for demonstrating to stakeholders that a more virtuous relationship is possible. Early in the collaborative process, ambitions should be measured and strategic in order to increase the likelihood of tangible success. These gains will build mutual recognition, commitment, ownership, and, ultimately, trust. These small wins can provide scaffolding for more ambitious strategies.
Fruitful conflict is gradually transformative. Creative discovery of jointly constructed problem definitions and future-oriented inquiry and experimentation can lead stakeholders to change their own perspectives about public problems and also about other stakeholders. Recognition of interdependence and small wins can reinforce these new views and begin to reveal new possibilities for collaborative problem-solving. Deeper trust can enhance mutual recognition, commitment to collaboration, and joint ownership of the process, producing more far-reaching and critical deliberation.
This idea of collaborative governance can be applied to any sphere of life, from workplace relations to international negotiations. However, this book has focused on how public agencies can foster collaborative governance, helping to bind problem-solving publics together and providing the leadership to foster virtuous cycles of mutual learning among stakeholders. Indeed, public agencies are almost uniquely positioned to play this role, because they are the designated leads for concrete problem-solving. Public agencies can engage stakeholders in focused problem-solving efforts and they can empower stakeholders to deliberate about these focused problems.
Public agencies, however, are often the main barrier to a fuller development of collaboration. It is a common story in the literature on collaborative governance that agencies, guarding their traditional prerogatives and procedures, will prevent effective collaboration or turn it into ritual (Flyvberg 1998; Yaffee and Wondolleck 2003; Thomas 2003a; Ebrahim 2004; Edelenbos 2005). The success of collaborative governance therefore depends on a broader transformation of the role of public agencies in democracy. Developing collaborative relationships with stakeholders is one part of that broader transformation, but successful collaborative governance also requires a specific kind of public agency—one that embodies the autonomous, responsive, problem-solving qualities described in earlier chapters. The concluding chapter draws these ideas together to describe the mutually reinforcing conditions that can help realize the promise of collaborative governance.
(1) . For a more general treatment of the term “collaboration,” see Thompson and Perry (2006). They define collaboration as “a process in which autonomous actors interact through formal and informal negotiation, jointly creating rules and structures governing their relationships and ways to act or decide on the issues that brought them together; it is a process involving shared norms and mutually beneficial interactions” (2006, 23).
(2) . A Pragmatist perspective calls attention to distinctive features and contexts of collaborative governance, just as other approaches might stress distinct features and contexts. For example, rational choice scholars might construe collaborative governance as a cooperative (positive sum) bargaining game. They might then ask why stakeholders are willing to bind themselves to such a strategy, given their voluntary nature. They might set about explaining this in terms of the incentives that stakeholders face, as shaped by existing institutions. They might then observe, for instance, that collaborative governance tends to develop “in the shadow of the state” or when alternative policymaking venues are unattractive. This analysis would be selective, flowing from theoretical assumptions and concerns of rational choice theory. It would highlight some important features of collaborative governance while ignoring or glossing over others. Nevertheless, this selective interpretation would be valuable to the extent that it calls out salient features and advances critical analysis.
(5) . See Kelman (1992) for a good discussion of “adversarial” versus “cooperationist” institutions. He distinguishes “cooperationist” from “cooperative” to avoid minimizing the political conflict inherent in public life.
(6) . We should not assume that cooperation or public-spiritedness are preconditions for governance; however, cooperation and public-spiritedness might be products of fruitful conflict.
(7) . A “transformative approach” to mediation, they argue, suggests two dimensions of growth: the growth of “strength of self” (empowerment) and the growth of capacity to relate to others (recognition) (1994, 84). They define empowerment and recognition in specific terms. Empowerment occurs in relation to goals, options, skills, resources, and decision making. Recognition occurs in relation to the consideration of and desire for giving recognition—recognition in thought, words, and action. Empowerment is not just “power balancing” but rather is practiced with both sides (e.g., the stronger party as well as the weaker party). Recognition is not “reconciliation” but rather a form of perspective-taking that recognizes that others are not instruments of our own desires and interests.
(8) . As Imperial notes of a local resource management dispute: “In Lake Tahoe, prolonged conflict actually set the stage for a prolonged period characterized by productive collaborative relationships” (2005, 311).
(9) . Booher and Innes (2002) argue that an essential ingredient of consensus-building processes is “authentic dialogue.” For a discussion of the relationship between consensus-building practices and Habermas’s theory of communicative rationality, see Innes and Booher (1999) and Innes (2004).
(10) . For an interesting case of non–face-to-face public consultation, see De Carlo’s (2006) analysis of a controversial infrastructure planning decision in France. The French state created a formal consultation process in which it met with stakeholders serially and then acted as an arbiter. However, De Carlo finds that face-to-face exchange did occur informally and was critical to the outcome.
(11) . Festenstein (2004) argues that there are two defenses of deliberation inherent in Pragmatism. The first, which is more Peircean, starts with the search for truth, which leads to the need to deliberate with others. The second, which is more Deweyian, argues that (p.230) deliberation is fundamental to human growth (not simply to discovering the truth). The position taken here is closer to the second than the first. See Talisse (2001) for a discussion of Sidney Hook’s practical principles for achieving deliberation.
(12) . As Wondolleck and Yaffee (2000) write: “How can groups start focusing on problem solving? One way is to work on communication that identifies and shatters misconceptions about each other.” They argue that collaboration has to be built on personal relationships. Kelman (1992) argues that face-to-face communication is the basis for the cultivation of public spiritedness.
(13) . As Putnam writes of transformative processes: “A common feature of these approaches [to transformation] is the way in which participants transcend or move away from the present and alter the rules of the game. Even though what is transcended is different across disputes, conflict interaction moves to a metalevel, a shift, or a qualitatively different plane of abstraction. Parties shift levels of abstraction to talk with each other on fundamentally different dimensions” (2004, 278).
(14) . Bush and Folger (1996) provide a broad outline of the concepts of “transformative mediation.” Transformative mediation “offers individuals the opportunity to strengthen and integrate their capacities for self-determination and responsiveness to others” (264–265). Innes and Booher discuss the way that collaboration can set in motion a “cascade of changes in attitudes, behaviors and actions” (1999, 419).
(15) . Putnam distinguishes reframing from transformation, because “reframing rarely represents a shift in the fundamental understanding of the conflict” (2004, 290). She argues that reframing can lead to transformation if it can hold “opposites together” (2004, 291). Reframing often requires what Mitroff, Emshoff, and Kilmann (1979) call “assumptional surfacing.”
(16) . Kray, Thompson, and Lind (2005) argue that a problem-solving style of negotiation is positively linked to “contingent contracting,” which tries to build on and accommodate the differing expectations of the future held by negotiating partners. They also examine, experimentally, how preexisting relationships and accountability affect whether negotiating parties will adopt a problem-solving approach. Accountability pressures can lead to rigidity in decision making and preexisting relations can lead to attempts to minimize differences between parties. Both these factors can discourage parties from a full exploration of differences (a hallmark of the problem-solving approach, as they describe it).
(17) . The ability to transform a conflict into a shared problem-solving exercise requires, according to Kelman, a prenegotiation phase in which the possibility of joint problem-solving activity can be explored. This is a prenegotiation phase because the ability to transform the conflict into a problem is discouraged during the process of negotiation by concerns about reaching binding commitments.
(18) . Shield (2003, 2005) has argued for using the concept of a “community of inquiry” as a framework for public administration “The community of inquiry,” she writes, “includes all those interested in resolving the problematic situation” (2005, 512). As Smiley reminds us, however, we should not take this “inquiry” metaphor as a mode of depoliticizing the problem-solving process: “The discovery process is itself politically charged, from its assumption of a particular community of inquirers, through its choice to focus on particular consequences and not others, to its interpretation of these consequences with symbols that are themselves powerful political tools” (1999, 642). Obviously, a problem-solving approach must be sensitive to the fact that problem definition is a political process (Weiss 1989).
(19) . Reich (1985) has contrasted three views of the administrative role—a pluralist interest intermediation role, a utility maximizing role, and a social learning role. He argues for thinking of the role of the administrator as one of encouraging social learning.
(20) . Hargadon and Bechky describe how “reflexive reframing” can occur at the collective level when “each respectfully attends to and builds upon the comments and actions of (p.231) others” (2006, 490). This idea of reflexive reframing is similar to Fernandez et al.’s (2001) discussion of “exploratory talk.”
(22) . This description is reminiscent of how open-source systems evolve (Weber 2004). An open source system “grows” through feedbacks between the growing scale and scope of the distributed open-source architecture and the increasingly focused revision of the elemental parts of this architecture.
(23) . In a study of 239 cases of stakeholder involvement in environmental decision making, Beierle (2002) finds that stakeholder involvement increases the quality of decisions by improving the information or analysis or by adding new ideas. Freeman and Langbein (2000) find that participants in regulatory negotiation report learning a significant amount during the process and that this was one of the most important benefits of regulatory negotiation. Saarikoski (2000) finds that a waste management dispute organized as a joint fact-finding collaboration among multiple stakeholders was a failure in several respects but did successfully produce new information that led some stakeholders to reconsider their positions. In a study of oil spill collaboration in Alaska, Busenberg (1999) found strong agreement that stakeholders had learned more about the technical dimensions of marine risks through their participation.
(24) . There is an interesting parallel between this discussion of uncertainty and arguments made in the literature on adaptive management. Walters and Holling contrast different ideas of experimentalism in ecosystem management: “Two kinds of science influence renewable resource policy and management. One is a science of parts…. It emerges from traditions of experimental science where a narrow enough focus is chosen in order to develop data and critical tests that will reject invalid hypotheses. The goal is to narrow uncertainty to the point where acceptance of an argument among scientific peers is essentially unanimous…. The other is a science of the integration of parts. It uses the results of the first, but identifies gaps, invents alternatives, and evaluates the integrated consequence against planned and unplanned interventions in the whole system that occurs in nature…. Since uncertainty is high, the analysis of uncertainty becomes a topic in itself” (1990, 2067).
(26) . In a study of regulatory negotiations, Freeman and Langbein found that “the longer and harder the group worked, and the more they developed working or personal relationships with other participants, the more important a successful result became” (2000, 87). Lee (2007) describes the tensions between a formal, inclusive, and transparent collaborative process versus a more informal, exclusive, and personalistic one. Her study suggests two relevant points: (1) that formal agreements must be underpinned by informal agreement or they end up going nowhere; and (2) that real social transformation of preferences typically requires informal social interaction.
(27) . In an analysis of an EPA experiment in negotiated regulation, for example, Murdock et al. (2005) writes: “We define trust as the expectation that participants in the negotiation will be truthful and honest about their goals, intentions, and actions…. Our clear impression was that over time, people—primarily government and business negotiators—learned to trust other people in six XL pilots…. But trust grew from personal interactions, not from the formation of new institutional bridges. EPA and company negotiators suggest that prolonged face-to-face contact during negotiations helped build trust among XL negotiators from companies, EPA’s regional offices, and state and local agencies.”
(28) . Evolutionary biologists and organization theorists might call this transactional logic “co-evolutionary.”
(29) . Fruitful conflict through communication, creative problem-solving, and recursive learning are both ends and means in this process. They are ends, because a collaborative (p.232) process should be designed to encourage these outcomes; they are means, because they provide scaffolding for more ambitious public engagement.
(31) . Surveying individuals involved in a range of forestry collaboratives, Selin, Schuett, and Carr (2000) found that “recognition of interdependence” was regarded as a very important factor contributing to successful collaborative outcomes.
(32) . As Putnam writes: “Connecting also promotes interdependence that forms the bonds for building a different relationship instead of one centered on exchanging positions and issues” (2004, 286).
(33) . In a survey of American and Australian collaborative groups, Margerum (2002) found that “member commitment” was the most important factor facilitating collaboration. The weak commitment of public agencies to collaboration, particularly at the headquarters level, is often seen as a particular problem (Yaffee and Wondolleck 2003).
(36) . However, the point is not merely that all action should proceed in an incremental way, extending only marginally beyond the status quo. This is the interpretation of Lindblom’s incrementalist model that led people to criticize it as conservative. Rather we are talking here of Follett’s idea of “compound growth,” where small wins become the building blocks for much larger wins.
(37) . As Margerum writes of stormwater management stakeholders in Australia: “Stakeholders emphasized that plans had to be pragmatic because the complexity of the setting required some concrete actions to build the confidence of the group, generate momentum, and help them determine their role” (2002, 245).