Collaborative Governance: How We Can All Guide the Future of Our Coast

04.11.2017 | In Restoration Projects, Science
By Rachel Rhode, Program Assistant, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Collaborative Governance. A concept that is exactly what it sounds like. The involvement of a diverse group of stakeholders, both public and private, that meet to inspire and attain a common agreement on public policy. Getting multiple stakeholder groups together to formulate a common understanding is imperative for the survival of coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River Delta.

With each passing hour, day and year, Louisiana’s coast disappears into the Gulf of Mexico. It isn’t just one landowner or community losing land; it’s an entire state and nation. Collaborative governance is not a new concept for Louisiana, but it needs to be stressed as a necessity for coastal restoration. Why? Because it can encourage successful collaboration with elements of inclusiveness, transparency, and empowerment. It can also result in mutual benefits for all stakeholders involved.  

Sediment Diversion Design - Restore the Mississippi River DeltaA recent publication in the journal Coastal Management emphasizes the importance of collaborative governance and the many benefits it provides. Large-scale restoration that surpasses local political and administrative boundaries, such as the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, can benefit from collaborative governance by building an understanding with local stakeholders and communities.

As the state develops an operations plan for the diversion, they will need to balance the land-building efforts with the needs of the communities and ecosystem. This will need to be done in a timely manner to allow for input, participation and response. The Sediment Diversion Operations Expert Working Group advocated for many of the same recommendations in their 2016 report.

For example, both publications suggest using “traditional ecological knowledge” or TEK – knowledge gained through generations regarding change and sustainability of local resources – to help ensure stakeholder concerns are being considered and addressed. In collaborative governance, this helps build confidence and interest in the process between those implementing the operations strategy and those who work, play and live along the coast. This is essential to ensuring that collaboration is occurring and with diverse input by those most interested, such as fishermen or local business leaders, who are sometimes not fully included in the process.

Another key recommendation is backing up operations’ strategies with sound science. Scientific studies can be used during the decision-making process and provide unbiased and relevant information. It can encourage a common understanding while also reducing unknowns.

These studies also present topics, like sea level rise impacts or economic effects, to the general public and make them aware of collaboration efforts and how strategic decisions are being made. This can influence policymakers to make decisions with input from both the public and scientific communities.

The scale of a sediment diversion is large, and now more than ever, collaborative governance is needed to implement an effective operations strategy. Efforts should be focused on including and building an understanding among stakeholders. This transparency allows all interested parties to feel involved in the decision-making process, which is crucial to building a successful operations strategy.