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Analytics and Beliefs: Competing Explanations for Defining Problems and Choosing Allies and Opponents in Collaborative Environmental Management


Christopher M. Weible is an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

Richard H. Moore is a doctoral candidate in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


The rationale for collaborative environmental management often hinges on two factors: first, specialized training creates biased analytics that require multidisciplinary approaches to solve policy problems; second, normative beliefs among competing actors must be included in policy making to give the process legitimacy and to decide trans-scientific problems. These two factors are tested as drivers of conflict in an analysis of 76 watershed partnerships. The authors find that analytical bias is a secondary factor to normative beliefs; that depicting the primary driver of conflict in collaborative environmental management as between experts and nonexperts is inaccurate; that compared to the “life” and “physical” sciences, the social sciences and liberal arts have a stronger impact on beliefs and choice of allies and opponents; and that multiple measures are needed to capture the effect of analytical biases. The essay offers lessons for public administrators and highlights the limitations and generalizations of other governing approaches.