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Navigating the Edges: An Examination of the Relationship between Boundary Spanning, Social Learning, and Partnership Capacity in Water Resource Management

This study proposes a framework for measuring and explaining partnership formation and resilience. The motivation for this study is that we currently do not understand the precise mechanism by which partnerships form or how they stay together in the face of change. The framework draws on a design view of systems to argue that partnerships manage change through boundary spanning practices that operate on multiple levels of social reality. The literature suggests that there are many different types of boundary spanning practices. Some types foster social-technical innovations called "boundary objects" while others facilitate the progressive standardization of those practices through the comparison and selection of boundary objects by social actors who are themselves transformed by their adoption of these objects. The framework proposes a way to measure partnership capacity and social learning that corresponds to the orders of boundary spanning practices. It furthermore proposes three hypotheses, one concerned with partnership formation and two concerned with resilience. The first hypothesis states that partnerships form through a convergence of boundary spanning practices and a community of practice. Convergence depends on a host of factors, including the capacity of innovators and early adopters to leverage their early successes to build additional capital to further promote and eventually institutionalize their boundary spanning practices. The second hypothesis predicts that partnerships that demonstrate a pattern of alignment practices integrating operational and strategic concerns will tend to oscillate within a defined range of partnership functions or "states" (restricted resilience). The third hypothesis predicts that partnerships that inculcate a learning culture of institutional design practices will tend to persist under a theoretically limitless range of environmental demands (general resilience). To assess the framework, four case studies of water resource management partnerships in the Columbia River Basin were carried out. Data collection centered on interviews with boundary spanners, field trips, and secondary data. The results partially confirmed the first hypothesis, while evaluations of the resilience hypotheses were inconclusive. However, boundary spanning practices were catalogued according to the various types of partnership processes to demonstrate how the methodology can be used for cross-case comparisons and theory-building.
Date01 January 2011
CreatorsBrown, Stephan Edward
Source SetsPortland State University
Detected LanguageEnglish
SourceDissertations and Theses

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