Is Devolution Democratic? Assessing Collaborative Environmental Management
William D. Leach
Abstract. This paper proposes a normative framework for evaluating the democratic merits of collaborative policymaking processes in which authority is ostensibly devolved from higher levels of government to lower levels or from the public sector to the private sector. The framework casts the democracy of devolution in terms of six criteria: inclusiveness, representativeness, procedural fairness, lawfulness, deliberativeness, and empowerment. The framework is then applied to a random sample of 76 watershed-based stakeholder partnerships in California and Washington State. Although the study reveals potential problems related to the exclusionary nature of some partnerships and the nearly complete absence of national environmental groups, the overall picture is relatively positive. Representation was generally balanced, with environmental and economic stakeholders comparable in terms of number, costs of participation, and level of formal education. Stakeholders typically gave partnerships high marks for procedural fair-ness, and reported improvements in human and social capital, suggesting quality deliberation. Half of the sampled partnerships had implemented new policies or projects, indicating empowerment. Finally, the study detected no evidence of a diminished role for government in watershed management; federal and state agencies are among the most prevalent and influential participants in stakeholder partnerships.