Date of Award

Winter 2019

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Safford

Second Advisor

Catherine Ashcraft

Third Advisor

Holly Bamford


It is widely accepted that public policy decisions that account for scientific and technical advice are likely to improve outcomes for all. With more data and information available though, it is becoming increasingly difficult to even agree on the baseline facts. This research explores the question: How do cross-sectoral engagement opportunities influence science intensive disputes over the management of coastal and ocean resources? To address this question, I studied two cases in New England: 1) marine fisheries management (Northeast Multispecies Complex aka groundfish) and 2) estuarine water quality management (Great Bay, New Hampshire). Informed by participant observation and semi-structured interviews with researchers, managers, and the regulated community within each case, findings from this research are presented in three analyses: 1) examining the potential role negotiation theory can play in better understanding these dispute cases; 2) understanding how science is used within the existing processes as well as whether there is interest in and potential for more collaborative approaches; and 3) understanding the impacts of engaging across different groups of perspectives. Taken together, the findings from these analyses show that when done well, cross sectoral engagement activities help to develop relationships, open lines of communication, and expand individual and collective understanding of the issues at hand (not driven by just one group view). These types of engagement activities also create space for creative solutions. While decisions will ultimately still need to be made and “value claimed,” processes that enable a more complete picture and an expansion of the ideas at the table will ultimately be more resilient and adaptive in the face of change. These approaches can be hampered by poor process design, power imbalances, lack of resources, use of legal tools in adversarial as opposed to collaborative approaches, limited familiarity with potentially beneficial approaches from negotiation (mutual gains and/or principled), and lack of training and/or exposure to other perspectives or ways of thinking. Taken together, efforts to think differently about systems approaches, changes to research processes, new perspectives on stakeholder engagement, and multi-partner collaborative efforts might help make the jump towards progress in social-ecological systems.