Participatory ecological governance: Insights from a case study of the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership

Rob B. Moir (2002)

Institutions charged with environmental management are going through a transformation from hierarchical, top-down, control systems to partnership-based, more participatory inclusive systems of governance. There are many examples of this in the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies. The Boston Harbor Island Partnership is the first effort by the National Park Service to manage a park using participatory ecological governance principles. There is an emerging literature that has studied these processes but no firm theory has yet been developed. The purpose of this project was to study the new national park of the Boston Harbor Islands in order to gain insights into some of the important concepts relevant to a theory of participatory ecological governance. A review of the literature has shown that several concepts are important, including consensus building, leadership, and participation. In this dissertation research I have completed an in-depth case study using narrative analyses of the fourteen principal players in the governance process to gain depth of understanding about how this Partnership approached the ideas of consensus building, environmental leadership and participation inclusive of multiple levels of stakeholders-citizens. My intent was to shed more conceptual clarity on the meanings and significance of the three concepts--to reach an understanding of how this process and other governance processes like it function. The results are not a theory of participatory ecological governance for this specific case, but instead offer twelve insights for applications by institutions and groups interested in participatory ecological governance. An alternative to the arguments for and against government giving land over to local control is suggested. Instead, federal, state, and municipal governments demonstrated that they could govern in partnership with public and private interest groups. For the National Park Service, the practice of participatory ecological governance should lead to a governance by participants (federal and public) who are increasingly knowledgeable, adaptive, creative problem solvers, and who practice collaborative leadership in an egalitarian fashion. This governance should also lead to a public more invested in and understanding of their natural resources and ecosystems, and to national parks that have greater public access, conservation, interpretation and recreation.