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New spaces, ancient places: collaborative governance and sustainable development in Canada's coastal regions

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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The concept of collaborative, multi-level governance has garnered increasing attention in academic and policy arenas as evidence of large scale governance failures in coastal regions mounts. Collaborative governance is presented as an alternative to current, status quo planning and decision-making processes appropriate for addressing sustainability issues in complex social-ecological systems. This research explores the potential and application of collaborative governance through a comparative analysis of six collaborative governance models in three Canadian coastal regions. Characteristics of each model, relationships between these characteristics, barriers, enablers and outcomes were examined within a complex, adaptive social-ecological systems (CASES) framework. To date, the primary outcomes of these collaborative governance efforts have been building governance capacity and slowing rather than reversing social-ecological decline. Ecological outcomes have been especially difficult to achieve, particularly in more complex systems, and multiple-objective outcomes remain under-recognized and often unstated. Resistors to integrated, collaborative governance approaches include lack of support and flexibility within existing policy systems, rivalries and differing perspectives among actors, limitations in understanding, and cultures that favour exploitation over stewardship and specialization over integration. Leadership and relationships are key factors in achieving sustainable development outcomes and overcoming resistance to new approaches. Culture and commitment to place can be significant enablers, often personified in and providing inspiration to a small number of instrumental leaders who link new scales of regional and multi-level governance to local communities and their rich and varied histories. Relationships are critically influenced by willingness and capacity to share power and knowledge, through both formal mechanisms and informal interactions. Open and ongoing communication about problems and strategies, but also deeper principles and values, is needed to foster social learning and greater commitment to sustainable development principles. Increased commitment to, and capacity for, shared learning and accountability are required if existing collaborative governance models are to achieve higher order sustainable development outcomes and foster significant change within broader governing systems.
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