Panel Paper: Emergence and Function of a Watershed Governance Network: A Case Study of Northeast Ohio

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 2:05 PM
Plaza I (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Wendy Kellogg, Cleveland State University
Policy makers recognize that more effective watershed policies emerge from collaborative governance. Research funding, planning, and management policies are shaped not only by institutional constraints (legal and administrative), but also by stakeholder interests; local, state and federal government funding initiatives; and changes in the land and water resources themselves in response to previous policy implementation. More recent research has framed watershed governance as an application of complex adaptive systems, social-ecological systems (SES), and networks in order to explore the co-adaptation of human and natural systems and assess attributes of resilience and sustainability. This paper presents the results of research using these frameworks to explore a networked governance structure in an urbanizing watershed.  

The Chagrin River is a small, high quality, direct tributary to Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio at the edge of the Cleveland urbanized area. For the last 15 years it has been the focus of considerable scientific research, state-agency program funding, and coordinated local-government action. The current research seeks to understand governance of the Chagrin as a network of water and land management characterized by selected components of structure and dynamics, including how the network is organized, how it functions, how capacity for policy development and implementation is produced and reproduced, and whether the governance network will have the adaptive management capacity to respond to disruptions. Key sources of disruption include chronic pressure from low density urbanization, dramatic changes predicted in the river’s hydrological function from climate change, and challenges in local and state government fiscal conditions.

The paper assesses adaptive governance capacity and its future in the Chagrin River network by comparing data on environmental quality and network governance characteristics. Data for historical and current biophysical conditions come from policy and planning documents, maps, and existing histories of the valley. A computer-based network analysis identifies individual and organizational nodes, including their positions and levels of interaction across the network. Interviews with local elected decision makers, professional staff and citizen leaders from valley community NGOs, and staff from county, state and federal agencies thicken the description of these interactions. Combined, these methods allow us to assess the network’s function and capacity both quantitatively and qualitatively. Particular attention will be paid to processes and mechanisms that both stimulate and support collaboration via mandates, funding, inter-jurisdictional resource problems, bridging organizations, citizen engagement, and other means; processes and mechanisms that build effective organizational and interpersonal relationships; the “location” of technical and scientific knowledge in the network; and the social learning opportunities that support generation and sharing of this knowledge as the basis for decision making.

The research findings reported in this paper will enhance understanding of the long-term capacity-building mechanisms and processes that support policy development, implementation, and decision making for sustainability. This knowledge will inform both scholars and practitioners engaged in research about water resource planning and management and those interested in the social-ecological dimensions of complex adaptive systems.