The Agricultural Community and its Contribution to Collaborative Environmental Problem-Solving
Simpson, Hugh Charles
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Collaboration has been proposed as an inclusive forum for bringing together state and non-state stakeholders to deliberate and negotiate solutions to complex environmental problems. A key aspect of collaborative approaches is the potential to help stakeholders share and integrate expert science and local knowledge with their beliefs and values. This process creates a vernacular knowledge that is necessary to address the quasi-scientific characteristics of complex environmental problems. Stakeholder networks have an important role in collaborative processes, and the creation and sharing of knowledge. The manner in which stakeholder networks form, function, and contribute to the creation and sharing of knowledge, both internally and externally, is not well understood from both a theoretical and empirical perspective. The purpose of this research is to provide insight concerning this gap in the literature by addressing three research objectives: (1) to develop a conceptual framework for evaluating the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge by a stakeholder network within collaborative problem-solving processes; (2) to use the conceptual framework to evaluate the contribution of stakeholder networks to the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge in an actual example of a collaborative problem-solving processes; and (3) to develop recommendations for the design of collaborative problem-solving processes in order to facilitate the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge using stakeholder networks. A case study was used to evaluate a multi-stakeholder problem-solving process that has involved stakeholder network representatives at the watershed and provincial scales in Ontario, Canada. This was undertaken through an extensive literature review, and the analysis of data collected through participant observation, survey questionnaire, and a review of publicly available documents using a mixed methods research approach. The research focused on the evaluation of the formation and function of an agri-environmental network composed of representatives from key provincial farm organizations and the provincial agricultural ministry. This research seeks to provide insight concerning the role of stakeholder networks in the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge within collaborative problem-solving processes, and provide insights for both theoretical and practical applications of collaborative approaches to problem-solving. This addresses questions in the literature regarding the effectiveness of stakeholder networks to contribute knowledge to problem-solving within forums that are intended to be collaborative in nature, but may also include elements of a regulatory approach. Further, this agri-environmental network has supported the development and function of a diverse group of farm community representatives involved in a prescribed environmental problem-solving process. The research demonstrates that this network has been effective in contributing to the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge in a coordinated fashion at the local and provincial scale. This responds to questions in the literature concerning how stakeholder networks communicate and cooperate across different scales and administrative, physiographic and political boundaries. The study also provides recommendations for practice concerning the selection of community representatives, the creation of vernacular knowledge, and the promotion of stakeholder network involvement as part of collaborative approaches to problem-solving. Although the research results are situated in an Ontario context, the results of the study can be applied in other jurisdictions where stakeholder networks exist or may emerge to participate in collaborative approaches to environmental problem-solving.