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

Non-point sources of pollution are considered the most common cause of impairment to water quality in the U.S. (USEPA, 2016). Collaborative watershed groups play a central role in addressing non-point sources of pollution to surface waters of the United States. Collaborative watershed management engages key stakeholder groups in identifying water quality impairments and then developing water quality goals, strategies and actions to address the identified impairments (USEPA, 2005). The social dimensions (e.g., civic engagement and collaborative process) are frequently cited as core elements of the watershed approach (Wright-Morton & Brown, 2011; Sabatier, et al, 2005), but many watershed leaders lack the knowledge and skills to effectively engage stakeholders in collaborative processes. The long-term goal of this project was to strengthen the capacity of the land grant universities in the North Central Region to provide educational programs and resources in the social dimensions of watershed management for watershed leaders. Toward that end, a literature review was conducted to identify key elements of watershed leadership, leading to the creation of a conceptual framework to describe the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and aspirations (KASA) required by watershed leaders to effectively lead civic engagement and collaborative processes. Four overarching themes emerged from the literature review and were identified as core values associated with civic engagement and collaboration for watershed management.

  1. Processes for dialogue and deliberation advance democratic principles.
  2. Diversity of stakeholders and participants is valued.
  3. Collaborative learning is supported.
  4. Structures and processes are in place to manage conflict.

A second key outcome of this project was to identify and characterize watershed and lake leadership programs offered through the land-grant universities around the North Central Region. Programs emphasizing civic engagement and collaborative process were also included in the program review. A more extensive inventory of instructional modules, lessons, and educational resources is currently underway as a direct result of this seed project. In summary, this project resulted in the development of a conceptual framework identifying core values and KASA associated with effective leaders in civic engagement and collaborative process for watershed management. This conceptual framework will be used to identify educational programs and products currently in use around the North Central Region and gaps in programs and products available to increase capacity among watershed leaders to effectively lead civic engagement and collaborative processes.

Purpose

Non-point sources of pollution are considered the most common cause of impairment to water quality in the U.S. (USEPA, 2016). In the region served by the North Central Region Water Network, nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural land is associated with lake eutrophication, including harmful algal blooms in the western Lake Erie basin, and is considered a significant contributor to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Collaborative watershed groups play a central role in addressing non-point sources of pollution to surface waters of the United States. Collaborative watershed management engages key stakeholder groups in identifying water quality impairments and then developing water quality goals, strategies and actions to address the identified impairments (USEPA, 2005). The social dimensions are frequently cited as core elements of the watershed approach (Wright-Morton & Brown, 2011; Sabatier, et al, 2005), but many watershed leaders lack the knowledge and skills to effectively engage stakeholders in collaborative processes.

The land-grant universities in the North Central Region can play a valuable role in building the capacity of watershed leaders to engage watershed stakeholders in collaborative processes. The purpose of this project was to strengthen the capacity of the land grant universities in the North Central Region to provide educational programs and resources in the social dimensions of watershed management for watershed leaders. This project supports the work of university and non-profit program directors, coordinators, and educators who develop and deliver educational programs aimed at increasing the capacity of water resource professionals and stakeholder representatives to lead collaborative approaches to watershed management.

Methods and Activities: The primary focus of this project was to conduct an assessment of the need for educational programs and materials related to civic engagement and collaboration for watershed management. The project was completed in three phases. Phase 1 consisted of a review of the literature to identify key characteristics of effective watershed leaders in the areas of collaboration and civic engagement. Phase 2 involved a scan of existing watershed and lake leadership programs. During Phase 3, members of the project team organized the findings from the literature review to create a conceptual framework of watershed leadership for collaboration and civic engagement. The team also created a platform to conduct a more in-depth assessment of existing watershed and lake leadership programs to identify existing educational programs and products that address the leadership attributes identified in the literature review. The in-depth program assessment will also enable the team to identify gaps in existing educational programs and products. Following is a more detailed description of the methods and activities associated with each phase of the project.

Phase 1: Literature review

One of the first steps toward the implementation of this project was to hire Molly Illes, Graduate Research Associate at the University of Minnesota, to conduct the literature review and program scan. Ms. Illes worked under the direct supervision of Scott Chazdon, Evaluation and Research Specialist with University of Minnesota Extension, and received guidance from Barbara Radke, Associate Extension Professor for Leadership and Civic Engagement, University of Minnesota Extension, and Joe Bonnell, Program Director for Watershed Management with Ohio State University Extension. Members of the project team were asked to provide an initial list of references for Ms. Illes to begin identifying leadership attributes for collaboration and civic engagement. Beginning with those initial references, Ms. Illes broadened the review, focusing on research conducted in the context of watershed management. A second-tier review was also conducted of non-water related reports, but the majority of sources were specific to watershed and water resource management. Out of the review of the literature, eighteen topics emerged, which were presented to the project team in Chicago on November 3, 2015. The literature review submitted by Ms. Illes is provided as an addendum to this report.

Phase 2: Program Scan

In addition to the literature review, Ms. Illes was also charged with identifying educational programs offered throughout the North Central Region that targeted watershed and lake management leaders. The purpose of this program scan was to identify existing programs and conduct a rough assessment to determine what aspects of civic engagement and collaboration those programs cover. Some members of the project team are directly involved in such programs, including the Ohio Watershed Academy (Joe Bonnell), the Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute (Jo Latimore), and the Wisconsin Lake Leaders Institute (Eric Olson). As with the literature review, the project team was asked to provide names and contacts for any programs that should be included in the scan. Ms. Illes also conducted several online searches for leadership programs in civic engagement and collaboration for water resource professionals. Some programs not specifically targeting watershed leaders but specializing in collaboration and civic engagement were included in the final program scan report. The principle investigators felt that these programs, while not water specific, could be a valuable source for curricula, instructional modules, assignments, and resources that could easily be adapted to a watershed and lake leadership context. The program scan report was presented to the project team in Chicago on November 3, 2015 at the same time as the literature review.

Phase 3: Conceptual framework and program scan next steps

Members of the project team met at the Chicago Botanical Gardens on November 3-4, 2015. The meeting began with a presentation by Ms. Illes to provide an overview of the results of the literature review and program scan. After Ms. Illes’ presentation, the team spent much of the first day reviewing, revising, and organizing the 18 topics that emerged from the literature review. Members of the project team have numerous years of combined experience working with and building leadership capacity with collaborative watershed groups and more broadly working with communities and organizations to conduct effective civic engagement and collaboration. The team applied this practical experience with theoretical grounding in their respective fields to condense and organize the 18 topics into a more cohesive conceptual framework. The group recognized that the 18 topics Ms. Illes identified from the literature review were a mix of knowledge/skill areas and qualities of effective civic engagement and collaboration. The 18 topics would need to be reworded to make them more useful for evaluating educational programs and developing learning outcomes for leadership programs. Therefore, the group went through the 17 topics (two items were considered redundant) and identified the following four overarching themes:

  • Democratic process
  • Participant/stakeholder diversity
  • Collaborative learning
  • Critical thinking and conflict: Power and politics

Outcomes and Deliverables

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
Contacts:
Joe Bonnell, PhD
Program Director, School of Environment and Natural Resources 
614-292-9383 Office