Collaborative Governance or Private Policy Making? When Consultants Matter More Than Participation

2019, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, with Tyler A. Scott

Full title: “Collaborative Governance or Private Policy Making? When Consultants Matter More Than Participation in Collaborative Environmental Planning”

Link to article


The study of collaborative governance constitutes an established sub-literature within environmental policy and management scholarship. Among the lessons of this literature is that collaborative planning outputs are shaped by the mix of collaborative participants in question and the commitment participants exhibit towards joint planning efforts. This paper argues that a focus on the composition and commitment of collaborative participants ignores an increasingly prevalent actor in environmental planning – private sector contract consultants. We examine the relative influence of stakeholder attendance and the consulting firm providing support and facilitation in the case of integrated water resource management (IWRM) planning in the state of Georgia. Using attendance data derived from meeting minutes for ten concurrently operating regional IWRM councils, we document that neither the strength nor the commitment of collaborative efforts correlate with the content of planning outputs. Instead, the variation observed among regional plans can be largely explained by taking into account the consultant firms that were contracted to advise IWRM councils. Our discussion addresses the practical implications of relying on professional consultant services in environmental policy processes, and the theoretical imperative of incorporating consultant influence when explaining collaborative governance processes, outputs, and outcomes.