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Does collaborative governance increase public confidence in water management? Survey evidence from NZ

June 2020

Publication: Water Alternatives
Author(s): Tadaki, M.; Sinner, J.; Stahlmann-Brown, P. and Greenhalgh, S

Collaborative decision-making is widely understood as a democratic corrective to top-down forms of environmental management; it is a way in which citizens can contribute local knowledge to the policy process and have a more direct role in shaping policies and rules that affect them and their environments. However, while the democratic virtues of collaborative governance are often asserted, they are rarely evidenced; this leaves claims of democratic empowerment open to question. This study used a longitudinal survey of three New Zealand regions (n = 1350) to identify whether major multi-year investments in collaborative decision-making (2012-2018) are leading to increased public confidence in the effectiveness, responsiveness and fairness of water management institutions.

Residents in collaborative catchments were found to have scores that were statistically indistinguishable from residents of non-collaborative catchments on management effectiveness, perceived agreement about water management, and fairness. Collaborative catchment residents did assign higher scores for water management responsiveness than did other residents, but the size of this difference was small compared to the effects of gender, ethnicity, region and level of individuals’ prior engagement in water management.

Despite major investments in collaborative community decision-making exercises, community confidence in the legitimacy, fairness and effectiveness of environmental management has not improved over the four years documented in our surveys.Researchers and practitioners should focus on developing ways to assess – and realise – the democratic benefits of collaborative decision-making for water.

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