Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Deserai A. Crow

Second Advisor

Tanya Heikkila

Third Advisor

Tomas Koontz

Fourth Advisor

Douglas Kenney

Fifth Advisor

Lisa Dilling


Over the past three decades, collaboration has become a foundational tenet of modern environmental governance. By encouraging diverse stakeholders to interact repeatedly, explore complex issues in depth, and develop consensus on management actions, collaborative environmental governance processes have the potential to positively impact the environment and increase resource sustainability while also expanding citizen participation in policymaking. This dissertation investigates the role of collaboration in governing water resources in the Colorado River Basin, located in the western United States and Mexico. In this region, predictions for a warming climate and a rapidly growing human population make the effective management of limited freshwater one of the most critical challenges of our time. Although narratives abound of future “water wars” over a largely desiccated Colorado River, the Basin has become a test bed for processes that experiment with new ways for users to collaboratively govern the river in order to increase benefits across sectors.

Using a mixed-method approach, this project examines how stakeholders interact, learn, and produce policy change in three on-going “landmark” cases of collaborative water governance in the Colorado River Basin. It begins by suggesting how a well-tested policy process framework, the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF), can be adapted to rigorously evaluate collaborative processes in a way that ultimately facilitates comparisons across multiple governance arrangements (Chapter 3). The chapters that follow test ACF hypotheses that have been modified for collaborative contexts on cross-coalition coordination and the connection between learning and policy change. Findings indicate that while collaborative processes foster coordination across coalitions and facilitate the creation of multi-benefit policy outputs, they fail to breakdown boundaries among existing coalitions, a step presumed necessary for legitimizing collaborative approaches to policymaking (Chapter 4). Furthermore, specific institutional features of collaborative processes were found to increase individual learning, a variable that significantly predicts an actor’s perception of collectively-produced policy change (Chapter 5). These findings are presented in hopes of informing both the theoretical study of collaborative environmental governance processes and improving the efficacy of such processes in practice.