When Policy Hits the Ground. An Empirical Study of the Communication Practices of Project Managers of a Water Board in Conversations for Collaborative Governance


Correspondence to: P. Lems, Wageningen University, Communication Strategies, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Email: pieter.lems@wur.nl


Civil servants organize collaborations with private actors with the aim of developing policy outcomes that fit environmental policy frameworks, shaping the course and outcome of collaborations through their communication practices. To investigate these practices and their effect, we conducted a case study, shadowing project managers from a Dutch water board. We identified two distinct communication practices: frame incorporation and frame amplification. These practices respectively expanded or narrowed a process of collaborative governance, either purposefully by building social capital or unintentionally by distancing the conversation partner and his concern. The structural difference between these practices suggests that civil servants lack shared practices that foster collaboration. Interestingly, in neither practice do the civil servants discursively acknowledge their dependence on their conversation partner's support, and thus they deny that they are participating in a negotiation process: they claim that their conversation partner should cooperate. In effect, their conversation partners bypass the incorporation and amplification practices. The research suggests that, of the two practices identified, only incorporation builds the social capital that enables civil servants to switch to another approach in future interactions and start an integrative negotiation on problems and solutions. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment