Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Rosemary O'Leary


Collaboration, Collaborative, Governance, Transboundary, Water policy, Watershed

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


Collaborative governance- or collaboration- has become increasingly important for the design and implementation of public policy in the United States. This dissertation explores concrete and unique policy-related benefits emerging from collaboration, and the processes by which they emerge.

Collaboration is defined broadly as "any interaction between two or more organizations undertaken with the intention to cooperate." This definition is applied in the context of water quality management, where the physical nature of watersheds and the lack of regulatory authority available to policy-makers leads to a variety of collaborative arrangements.

A survey of literatures addressing collaboration from different theoretical angles revealed five concrete, policy-related benefits of collaboration: 1) resource access/exchange, 2) innovation generation, 3) coordinated action, 4) working relationships built through social capital, and 5) reduction/resolution of conflict. A rich empirical dataset was developed to explore these benefits, utilizing one large case (the Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration) and one smaller case embedded in the first (water quality management in the Northern Virginia, or NOVA, region). Key data sources included 1081 Bay Journal newspaper articles and 86 hours of audio interviews. Coding revealed 456 instances in which collaboration led to one of the five benefits, including 243 instances of resource exchange/access, 99 instances of coordinated action, 62 instances of working relationships developed through social capital, 28 instances of innovation generation, and 24 instances of conflict resolution.

The analysis in this dissertation focuses on the 99 empirical instances of coordinated action. A process common to all instances, called "Harmonizing", is identified and described. Harmonizing occurs when organizations address a shared problem at a scale that approaches the actual scale or scope of the problem. Chapter 5 features an original typology of harmonizing based on the type of "problem landscape" over which organizational actions are harmonized: geographical, organizational, or ecological. Chapter 6 describes how harmonizing solves three types of "boundary" problems common to many policy areas (not just water quality management) and results in more holistic and efficient policy-making by avoiding the pitfalls of duplication, divergence, omission, and counter-production (Huxham and MacDonald 1992).

The context of collaboration is explored by applying three contextual codes to the data: 1) the types of groups collaborating, 2) the collaborative forum, and 3) the policy area in which collaboration occurs. A key contextual finding is that certain collaborative forums - particularly coordinating organizations- facilitate harmonizing under difficult conditions. A thematic analysis of the role of coordinating organizations, utilizing a broader spectrum of data, revealed in more detail the roles that coordinating organizations play in overcoming obstacles to collaboration such as competition, parochial perspectives, and accountability concerns.

The greatest contributions of this dissertation relate to the benefit of coordinated action. However, a thematic analysis (presented in Chapter 8) uses empirical data to describe the other four benefits and processes by which they emerge. It is found that resource exchange generates benefits at the community level - not just at the organizational level as implied by resource exchange theory-- by expanding the overall resource base and improving organizations' collective ability to act. Another key finding is that including perceived "naysayers" in the decision process helps to prevent innovations from being squashed, by forcing a serious conversation about perceived versus real obstacles.


Open Access