Use of science in collaborative environmental management: Evidence from local watershed partnerships in the Puget Sound
The science-policy nexus has long puzzled scholars and managers working across diverse public policy areas, including environment. The rise of science-based management, especially in an era of big data, assumes science can improve environmental policy. At the same time, increasing attention to stakeholder engagement provides avenues for non-scientists to participate in collaborative environmental management, which might displace science in decision-making processes. Prior research points to a variety of factors thought to affect the degree to which science is used in collaborative partnerships. Drawing on such research, we examine the use of science across 9 collaborative partnerships structured and resourced from the top-down by a state government agency. All of these partnerships are working in the U.S.’s second largest estuary, the Puget Sound in Washington State. Data from partnership meeting minutes indicates that science is scarcely discussed in executive committee meetings, but is more commonly discussed in technical committee meetings. We thus might expect that the ecosystem management plans produced by these technical committees would be closely informed by science. Results indicate these plans include few citations to peer-reviewed scientific studies, but they do draw consistently on scientific information from grey literature including scientific and technical reports from federal and state agencies. These results raise important questions about government efforts to foster the use of science in collaborative partnerships, including the benefits and drawbacks of using grey literature rather than scientific articles directly, the interaction of science with other forms of knowledge, and local actors’ capacity to understand and access science.
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