From Experiential Knowledge to Public Participation: Social Learning at the Community Fisheries Action Roundtable


Extensive research demonstrates that public participation in environmental decision making can increase understanding of diverse worldviews and knowledge bases, public faith in governance institutions, and compliance with resulting rules. Concerns linger around costs, possibilities of polarization and decreased legitimacy in cases of poorly executed processes, and the ability of newly empowered groups to gain political leverage over others. If participants in public processes can bracket their personal experience to better assess other viewpoints, establishing mutual respect and understanding through deliberative exchange, they increase the likelihood of maximizing participatory benefits and minimizing risks. Such reflexivity indicates double-loop social learning, change undertaken through collective discussion and interaction. A capacity-building workshop program aims to foster such learning within the Maine fishing industry. Case material draws primarily on participant observation and interview data, using a grounded theory approach to qualitative analysis. Evidence indicates that in social contexts removed from the norms of daily life and the frustrations of past fishery management confrontations, harvesters acquire knowledge and skills that facilitate more strategic and productive behavior in formal and informal marine resource decision venues. Suspensions of longstanding spatio-temporal assumptions around the prosecution and management of fisheries comprise key learning moments, and yield corresponding changes in industry attitudes and actions. With heightened appreciation for a diversity of experiences and management priorities, harvesters can better mobilize a broad spectrum of local knowledge to develop viable regulatory proposals and collaborative decision processes.

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Environmental Management



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