Watershed Management: Developing Leadership Capacity in Collaboration and Civic Engagement for Collective Action

Watershed Management: Developing Leadership Capacity in Collaboration and Civic Engagement for Collective Action

Final Report


Throughout the North Central Region, collaborative watershed groups have formed to address nonpoint sources of pollution. A great deal of research on what makes some watershed groups more effective than others points to the ability of groups to engage key stakeholders in planning and implementation of watershed plans. But many, if not most, watershed group leaders do not have formal training in collaborative process or civic engagement, two key components of an effective stakeholder engagement process. At the same time, many of our land grant universities and other non-governmental organizations that support watershed efforts have educational programs such as watershed academies  designed to build capacity among watershed leaders to facilitate collaborative watershed planning and implementation.


The purpose of this project is to conduct a needs assessment of the need for educational programming on collaboration and civic engagement among watershed leaders. The needs assessment will also involve an inventory and evaluation of existing educational programs targeting watershed leaders to determine what is being taught and to identify high quality programs and materials that could be adapted by other programs in other states. Results of the needs assessment will be reviewed by a panel of experts from within and outside the land-grant system resulting in a strategic plan to address priority educational needs across the North Central Region.

Intended Impacts

Impacts of this project in the short term include increased knowledge and awareness among university educators of the competencies required by watershed leaders to lead or facilitate collaborative processes and civic engagement. We also anticipate that the strategic plan will lead to the development of new educational programs and enhancement of existing educational programs targeting watershed leadership, which will ultimately result in more effective watershed plans and improved water quality.


The inventory of watershed and lake leadership programs will start in the spring of 2015 and be reported to the core team in May 2015.  From June through August 2015 subgroups from the core team will work with an expert panel to identify priority knowledge / skill areas, exemplary programs, and priorities for new program development.  The results from the subgroup work will be reviewed by an external review panel in September and October 2015, which will inform the development of a comprehensive strategic plan by December 2015.

Progress Report:

The Co-PI’s convened the Core Team members via phone conference in February and April of 2015. The purpose of these meetings was developing guidance for the Graduate Research Associate (GRA) to focus the literature review and educational program inventory. The group agreed that the initial literature review should be limited to research on leadership skills associated with watershed management. The group agreed that the inventory of leadership training and education programs should also be limited to programs with a watershed or lake management focus. Core Team members created an initial list of journal articles, books, and reports for the GRA to jump-start the literature review. A separate list of watershed and lake leadership programs in the North Central Region was also generated for the GRA.

Throughout the Spring and Summer, Molly Illes, our GRA at the University of Minnesota, has been busy researching the watershed and lake management literature to answer the following question: What knowledge and skills do watershed and lake management leaders need to be effective at collaboration and civic engagement? Ms. Illes is in the process of compiling and synthesizing findings from the literature review in the form of a draft report to the Core Team. She is also in the process of collecting detailed information about the watershed and lake leader educational programs she has identified around the region by conducting phone interviews with the program directors. Her report to the Core Team will include a summary of these programs and how they address collaboration and civic engagement.

Co-PI’s Barb Radke and Joe Bonnell will review Ms. Illes’ report before forwarding to the Core Team, Expert Panel, and External Reviewers in early September, with guidance on how to review the report in preparation for a web-based meeting later that month to develop a concept map of knowledge and skill areas for collaboration and civic engagement. Following the September meeting, Core Team members will work in sub-groups to further develop the concept map and to compare the concept map to existing leadership program offerings around the North Central Region.

The Core Team, Expert Panel, and some External Reviewers will meet in Chicago in November to finalize the concept map, identify model programs, instructional modules, and materials, and gaps in existing programs. In addition, a primary focus of the Chicago meeting will be to develop a plan for applying the knowledge gained from this study to address gaps in existing programs to strengthen watershed and lake leadership programs in the areas of collaboration and civic engagement. Core Team members will be asked to identify funding opportunities, including sponsors, partners, and grants, to implement the plan. A final report will be submitted to the North Central Region Water Network Leadership Team by February 12, 2016.

Core Team Members:

Role Name Affiliation
Co-PI Joe Bonnell The Ohio State University
Barb Radke University of Minnesota
Core Team Member Scott Chazdon University of Minnesota
Chad Cook University of Wisconsin Extension
Chad Ingles Iowa State University
Eric Olson University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point
Jo Latimore Michigan State University
GRA Molly Illes University of Minnesota
Joe Bonnell, PhD
Program Director, School of Environment and Natural Resources 
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