Respecting Outcomes in Collaborative Processes: a low water response case study
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Government agencies in Canada are increasingly using collaborative approaches to inform decision-making for complex policy problems. Collaborative approaches encourage participants to share resources and knowledge to build a working relationship for confronting mutual challenges and determining agreeable solutions. It is often assumed that collaborative approaches are cost effective, and lead to solutions that are easier to implement than conventional government decisions. However, a significant challenge is the tendency of government to undermine collaborative processes by setting aside the decisions reached by the collaborative body. This can result in participants being unreceptive to further government actions and blocking implementation because they feel their opinions were not respected. Low Water Response in Ontario was selected to study how outcomes are incorporated into government decision-making and the extent outcomes are being protected by government. Three case studies in southern Ontario were chosen based on their experiences with severe low water conditions. The Institutional Analysis and Development framework was used to structure research. This framework studies contextual characteristics, decision-making structures, how participants interact, outcomes, and evaluation to answer research questions. Provincial, watershed and individual scales of analysis were investigated. Interviews assessed the perspectives of stakeholders in water response teams including provincial government, municipalities, conservation authorities and large-scale water users (over 50,000L/day). Document analysis provided contextual information and key factors regarding Low Water Response implementation. Personal observations provided an opportunity to cross-check information from interviews and document analysis. Findings show that the provincial government incorporated the input of each case study similarly, but each collaborative team felt differently about the extent outcomes were being protected by the government. Largely outcomes are respected by government in Low Water Response despite the fact that the most serious level of drought response (Level 3) has never been declared even though conditions for declaring Level 3 have been met on multiple occasions. There were many positive social outcomes that were evident from collaboration and participants felt that the process was beneficial.