An interdisciplinary and multi-theoretic strategy for bridging theory and practice of collaborative public land management
Category: Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
Author(s): Peter B. Williams
Author(s): Peter B. Williams
Description: Collaborative approaches to public land management have emerged as attractive alternatives to traditional approaches. Explanations include political ones about greater democratization and methodological ones about improved understanding. Regardless of teleological reasons for pursuing collaborative approaches, insufficient attention to implications has occurred. Needed is a bridge between theory and practice to produce actionable knowledge about and for collaborative public land management. Designing such a bridge is not a task to take lightly. Traditional approaches to public land management and planning assume that directly applying methods from empirical sciences is appropriate; yet, a plan is situationally unique and, thus, not falsifiable. Inapplicability of falsifiability suggests methods of empirical science are less appropriate than traditionally assumed. Nevertheless, empirical methods remain essential tools. Empirical testing of traditional rational planning, for example, shows methodological and semantic inconsistencies between theory and practice that strongly suggest paradigmatic anomalies. This work, too, is more about planning than empirical testing of general laws. It challenges the assumed appropriateness of empirical methods. Appropriate methods suit a decision situation, in this case that of public land management. This work begins with a close look at that decision situation, asking the abductive question “what-if?” It probes implications of the situation’s inherent wickedness and then proposes approaching collaborative public land management strategically by bridging theory and practice in a manner relevant to each. It introduces a new definition of collaboration that incorporates lessons learned over the past decade and challenges contemporary thinking regarding power, learning theory, and solution-orientations. It adapts sharp-image diagnosis methodology from organizational strategy, the recognition-primed decision model from decision research, sensemaking theory from organizational psychology, and grounded theory from qualitative research. It proposes a diagnostic framework grounded in abduction reasoning and oriented towards appropriateness-based decision and actionable knowledge. And it proposes plausible, actionable measures of success germane to immediate planning challenges, to the theory and practice of collaborative public land management, and to the proposed bridge between them. Beginning with those measures, it invites and encourages researchers, scientists, practitioners, and consultants to test the proposed framework empirically, to suggest additional plausible and actionable measures, and to do so collaboratively.