Assessing Legitimacy Within Collaborative Water Governance: How, When, and by Whom?
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Collaborative water governance (CWG) is a form of decision-making for water that involves multiple actors with diverse interests working together to solve common problems (e.g., pollution, scarcity, flooding). CWG has emerged as an increasingly popular model of governance in Western countries and is promoted as a way to enhance the resilience and effectiveness of decisions and actions for water resources. Vital to CWG is the governance attribute legitimacy, which helps collaborations function and produce results effectively. Legitimacy is about the justifiability or acceptance of governance systems, organizations, decisions, and mechanisms. Traditionally, in the context of governance, the state’s legitimacy, which is largely a product of democratic values, has been the primary focus of legitimacy studies. However, the increased use of collaborative governance that involves non-state actors from various societal sectors (e.g., Indigenous peoples, civil society, industry, agriculture) in decision-making has brought to light questions about the nature of legitimacy within CWG. In particular, there are outstanding questions about what types of legitimacy matter for CWG, how legitimacy evolves as a collaboration develops, and how legitimacy perceptions differ by societal sector. The purpose of this research is to provide conceptual clarity about the multi-faceted and dynamic nature of CWG legitimacy. This was done through a multi-case study approach analyzing five watershed-based collaborative governance initiatives in British Columbia, Canada. These cases include the Cowichan Watershed Board (CWB), the Lake Windermere Ambassadors (LWA), the Nechako Watershed Council (NWC), the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB), and the Shuswap Lake Integrated Planning Process (SLIPP)/Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC). The objectives of this research include the following: (1) to synthesise existing legitimacy typologies and build a robust conceptual framework of legitimacy types that can be used for the integrated assessment of legitimacy within CWG; (2) to examine how legitimacy evolves as a collaborative body develops; (3) to determine variations in the composition of legitimacy judgements by societal sector (e.g., government, agriculture, industry, environment) towards CWG bodies; and (4) to provide insight into ways collaborative practitioners can influence legitimacy to enhance the effectiveness and stability of CWG according to various perspectives. The key findings of this research confirm the hybrid, pluralistic, and dynamic nature of legitimacy as a governance attribute. Legitimacy within CWG is sourced from a combination of practice-, results-, institutional-, social-, and individual-based types that exist across 18 different typologies. No one legitimacy typology encapsulates all legitimacy types. Therefore, the synthesis of typologies in a comparable and mutually reinforcing manner is necessary for an accurate assessment of legitimacy. This is particularly true for multi-sector collaborative governance as findings indicate that empirically the range of actors involved in or impacted by collaborative bodies draw on multiple sources that relate to legitimacy types identified across all 18 typologies. Moreover, these legitimacy types, in different combinations, matter more or less at different stages of a CWG body’s development and within the legitimacy judgements of individuals from different societal sectors. As CWG bodies develop through stages of establishment, growth, maturity, decline and then either dissolution or renewal, legitimacy is also established, extended, maintained, defended, and either lost or re-extended. Findings of this research indicate that the sources that most directly influence these legitimacy changes vary at each development stage of a collaboration. In each of the five cases, the most dominant legitimacy sources shifted from at first being focused on a sense of need to collaborate, to process management and the production of results, to the development of a sense of permanence, and then to the defence of the relevance and usefulness of a collaboration under the guidance of a leader. In addition to identifying how legitimacy shifts as a CWG body develops organizationally, research findings also categorized what sources and types of legitimacy are more prevalent in the judgements about a collaboration by actors from different societal sectors. Legitimacy judgements of actors connected to the different cases varied according to whether they represented government, First Nations, agriculture, environmental civil society, industry, local property owner associations, or local businesses sectors. For example, government actors commonly viewed a collaboration’s legitimacy positively when other government actors either participated in or supported a collaboration. Meanwhile, agriculture representatives positively judged a CWG body when it helped address water issues that impact farmers such as the protection of water allocation licences and agriculture-environmental sustainability. From these findings, this research makes both a conceptual and practical contribution to knowledge. Conceptually, the research first builds clarity around the meaning and nature of legitimacy in CWG contexts. Conceptual frameworks concerning the relevancy of multiple legitimacy typologies, the stage-based dynamic nature of CWG legitimacy, and the composition of different legitimacy judgements by societal sector may act as assessment tools to more critically and accurately examine legitimacy. Likewise, methodologically, the research also provides insight regarding the importance of cross-disciplinarily for the study of CWG legitimacy. The multiple fields (e.g., political science, sociology, law, psychology) that all study legitimacy through different lenses provide necessary insight to comprehensively understand the topic. Finally, the research also contributes conceptual knowledge about the considerations necessary to influence or strategically manage legitimacy. Practically, the research also makes a contribution by highlighting ways those engaged in CWG can influence or manage legitimacy. These recommendations include the following: (1) clarify how legitimacy is locally interpreted, (2) strategically assess legitimacy as a collective within a collaborative body, (3) be aware of different discourses and assertions surrounding a CWG body at different times and contexts, (4) pay cautious attention to areas of illegitimacy, (5) patiently deal with challenges of collaboration, and (6) accept that collaborative governance may not be able to establish and maintain legitimacy in all contexts. These recommendations may help build understanding about how to influence legitimacy so that decisions about whether or not and when collaboration should, should not, or should no longer be used, are contextually appropriate. Legitimacy is needed to ensure multi-sector collaborative governance bodies can effectively address water issues. If collaborative bodies are found to be illegitimate or are continuously being delegitimized then not only may resources be wasted as collaborative processes risk inefficiency or dissolution, but also water resource sustainability may be hindered. Conceptual understanding of the applicable theories, perspectives and the dynamics of legitimacy for collaborative governance can help determine whether or not specific collaborative water governance bodies can foster and maintain the popular support needed for their existence. Although findings specifically address CWG in British Columbia, they are also relevant in other contexts of collaborative governance for water and for the collaborative governance of other environmental resources.
Cite this work
Natalya Melnychuk (2017). Assessing Legitimacy Within Collaborative Water Governance: How, When, and by Whom?. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/12579