Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Karen Tracy

Second Advisor

Robert Craig

Third Advisor

Timothy Kuhn


In 2005, the state of Colorado mandated the creation of water roundtables in HB05-1177. The purpose of the water roundtables was to provide a public forum for collaboration, discussion, and local decision-making in river basins. Understanding the practice of public deliberation that combines the external trappings of democracy with the substance of legal rule is a puzzle facing communication scholars. Thus far, there are few studies at the intersection of communication, environmental governance, and water. Past research has focused on the importance of public involvement and deliberation, while neglecting variations in the underlying practices of meetings. This dissertation moves beyond a focus on publics to explore processes of institutional change and renewal within a particular type of hybrid meeting: those with competing discourses of public good and private rights. The study inductively reconstructs the communicative practice of roundtables and provides analytical insights that inform communicative practices of deliberation about a critical, non-substitutable resource. First, it suggests that not all public meetings are created equal. Scholars wishing to understand the discourse of public deliberation must look beyond a public/private dichotomy to include distinctions in both the aim and criteria for deliberation. Secondly, the project offers a cautionary tale for policymakers and researchers who view public involvement as a source of democratic change. This case study develops our knowledge of the relationship between discourse and institutional forms of public deliberation and suggests that relational ways of decision-making offer strengths that have been previously overlooked.