Protecting our children's water": Using cultural models and collaborative learning to frame and implement ecosystem management

Christine Baumann Feurt (2007)

Institutional, disciplinary and perceptual barriers at the science to management interface act as barriers to environmental problem solving. Characterizing the nature of these barriers is critical to the design of successful bridges. Cultural model based Collaborative Learning is presented as a barrier assessment, bridge building and science translation tool for increasing the integration of science and management in order to accomplish ecosystem management objectives. This case study applies an action research approach to develop and test interdisciplinary tools and learning strategies to support ecosystem management at the watershed scale. Implementation of the Coastal Training Program of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) provides the context for this study. Grounded theory analysis of qualitative interviews of municipal, state and federal water program managers in southern Maine produced six cultural models of water's value and a diagnostic cultural model used to reason about land use and pollution related threats to water. Knowledge and expertise about protecting water is distributed within seven knowledge domains and an eight component human activity system. Water program managers are categorized in two groups based upon unique clusters of cultural models that are given priority by each group. Users of water are municipal managers including water and wastewater treatment managers, planners and public works directors. Protectors of water include federal and state natural resource specialists, environmental regulators, scientists and watershed educators. Sources of conflict and collaborative potential between the two groups are evaluated and used to secure municipal commitment to participate in a regional watershed council. The watershed council participated in a series of Collaborative Learning workshops to implement a regional watershed management plan. Evaluation of the Collaborative Learning process suggests that collaborative knowledge networks are a mechanism for supporting community based ecosystem management and science translation. A conceptual framework for this network in southern Maine is presented.