Life-cycles and developmental processes in watershed partnerships: Sustaining the useful life of governance networks

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Mark T. Imperial, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
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Abstract: Life-cycles and developmental processes in watershed partnerships: Sustaining the useful life of governance networks Governance networks ebb and flow, become dormant or extinct, only to resurface with new members, and names, forms, or boundaries. The paper uses a systematic qualitative analysis (e.g., coding, cross-case analysis) of data from 6 watershed governance efforts in the United States – Delaware Inland Bays, Lake Tahoe, Narragansett Bay, Salt Ponds, Tampa Bay, and Tillamook Bay – to examine these developmental processes. The study’s objective was to develop theory grounded in these data to explain the linkages between network structures and processes. The paper describes a four stage life-cycle model. Each stage represents a cluster of developmental challenges related to sustaining the health and useful life of a governance network. The activation stage is the turbulent period of network formation. The collectivity stage is exemplified by high member cohesion and reliable network processes. The institutionalization stage marks the solidification of network processes. The final stage is stability, decline, reorientation, or recreation, which recognizes the various paths mature networks follow. The model’s central feature is the convergence on a configuration of rules (formal and informal) that create the social architecture that structures network processes. These relatively long periods of convergence are punctuated by reorientations involving relatively rapid periods of discontinuous change that alter character of the network’s structure and processes. Recreations are also possible that involve the additional shift in core values. The analysis identifies three interrelated sets of rules that interact to form this social architecture by building on the work of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues. Some rules are crafted deliberately. Others emerge as members confront developmental challenges or get imposed upon the network by funders, government agencies, or legislators. Two sets of boundary rules are particularly important – member rules and strategy rules. Decision rules create the processes members use to make decisions and include rules related to preference aggregation, distribution of power, distribution of roles or responsibilities, and the distribution of participation in decision making. As networks evolve, coordination rules emerge to specify resource exchanges, monitor behavior, enforce agreements, and resolve disputes. The analysis also found evidence of at least two reorientation (recreation) in each watershed, with examples of changes occurring both endogenously in response to self-organizing processes and exogenously as network actors responded to incentives provided by federal funding agencies. The social architecture is important because governance networks, like other organizational forms, are a functional enterprise with a useful life. The social architecture provides coordination, direction and shared purpose to network processes. However, once established, it can be costly and difficult to change. Similarly, once the network’s useful life has passed, it is time to disband, re-orient, or re-create the network to allow their resources to be redeployed in more productive public purposes. Accordingly, framework presented in the paper identifies important design choices that members should carefully consider during the development of governance networks.

Additional Information

Imperial, M. T. (2019). Life-cycles and developmental processes in watershed partnerships: Sustaining the useful life of governance networks. In defense of the commons: Challenges, innovation and action, the seventeenth biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Lima, Peru, July 1-5, 2019.
Language: English
Date: 2019
Governance networks, Collaborative governance, Watershed partnerships, Social architecture, Life cycles
Natural resources--Co-management
Life cycles (Biology)

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