Seeking Simple Models of Highly Nuanced Systems: Building a Model of Water Quality Management

TitleSeeking Simple Models of Highly Nuanced Systems: Building a Model of Water Quality Management
Publication TypeConference Paper and Presentation
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsScheinert, S, Koliba, C, Zia, A, Reynolds, A
Conference NameAnnual Conference of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)
Date Published11/08/2013
Conference LocationWashington DC

Governance networks are complex adaptive systems (Koliba et al., 2010). That is, a governance network is characterized by non-linear and multi-threaded processes, and unexpected emergent properties that often grow from actors’ behaviors informed by simple decision and interaction rules (Johnson, 2002; Axelrod and Cohen, 2000; Holland, 1996, 1992). Understanding the changes to a governance network over time can provide insights into important governance matters: selection of policy tools, mobilization of policy actors and ascriptions of tasks to achieve certain goals. These insights can be used to guide public managers in their on-going efforts to produce effective and appropriate governance strategies. However, tracking the evolution of governance networks over time poses challenges (Pierson, 2004) that include establishing network boundaries and possessing adequate data sources to describe and model changes to a network. In this situation, one place where governance network structures are more clearly articulated is in comprehensive strategic plans, which define network actors, their roles, and the policy tools and tasks they seek to mobilize. Analyzing how these reified network structures change over time among different versions of strategic plans provides us with an opportunity to understand emergent governance network structures.
We apply a governance network analysis framework to study the changes in network form and function described over the course of more than fifteen years of Opportunities for Action (OFA) strategic plans, designed to manage the Lake Champlain Basin. The management of water quality in Lake Champlain is challenged by several factors, including the interjurisdictional nature of the basin spanning two states and one international border, the difficulties in pinpointing the causes of water pollution, and the apparent trade-offs between economic, environmental and quality of life implications that any combination of policy solutions inevitably encounters. Thus, governance of the Lake Champlain Basin has involved various actors and complex interactions. To better understand the dynamics of this governance network, we ask how the network structures and functions that are implicit in OFA plans spanning the years 1996, 2003, and 2010 have changed over time. The study builds the common task networks that appear in the three OFA plans over time, and applies dynamic network analysis techniques to identify patterns of change in the plans and networks. These networks link organizations by identifying which organizations the plan has assigned to the same tasks, and so imply that these organizations should be interacting during their efforts to enact the plan. Examining the changes and plotting the patterns of change in the network guide understanding of the effort and scope of adaptation in pursuit of solutions to persistent, complex governance issues. Although this study focuses on one watershed, the implication for watershed management of other ecosystems can be drawn. In short, implications for understanding planned networks as the blueprints of complex adaptive systems will be drawn.

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