Knowledge engagement in collaborative water governance: A New Brunswick example
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Authoritative, top-down forms of environmental governance are presently giving way to more collaborative approaches in which decision making is an ongoing negotiation between government and non-government actors. There is growing consensus that critical environmental concerns—such as contamination of drinking water—relate as much to political, economic and social issues, as to technical and scientific issues. As the trend toward collaborative environmental governance continues, and as science-based knowledge increasingly shares a role in decision-making processes with more “local”, non-scientific knowledge, questions arise concerning how diverse knowledge contributions are understood and engaged in these governance processes. This research explored the relationships between knowledge and collaborative environmental governance processes. The purpose of the research was to identify (1) types of knowledge that individual actors bring into collaborative governance pertaining to water resource protection, (2) uses of that knowledge, and (3) features of collaborative processes that affect the engagement of actor knowledge. Collaborative water governance in New Brunswick provided the context for the research. Most actors did not see a definitive distinction between “expert”, scientific and “local”, non-scientific knowledge; they considered both to be important contributions. Nonetheless, science-based knowledge, especially natural science, was found to be a predominant knowledge type among actors involved in collaborative water governance. Science-based, expert knowledge was more readily used than local knowledge types in the various stages of collaborative governance. Leadership and the definition of actor roles were considered paramount for engaging a wide range of knowledge types in collaborative governance processes.