Date of Award

Fall 2017

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Catherine Ashcraft

Second Advisor

Mary Adamo Friedman

Third Advisor

David Burdick


Like many coastal communities, the beach and dune ecosystems in Seabrook, New Hampshire are vulnerable to storm surge, sea-level rise, and extreme weather. Fostering coastal resilience in Seabrook requires local, regional, state, and federal stakeholders to collaborate on a broad range of issues. According to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) theory, stakeholders need to recognize their interdependence to be willing to collaborate. Interdependent stakeholders are aware their interests cannot be met by working alone and that their independent actions impact one another through complex social and ecological feedback loops. ADR practitioners often conduct a stakeholder assessment(SA) as a first step in a collaborative process to evaluate the feasibility of a collaborative solution and propose an appropriate process design. In the ADR literature, little attention has been paid to the impacts the SA itself might have on participants’ perceptions. My research analyzes whether participation in a SA affects participants’ perceptions of interdependence. First, I surveyed and interviewed ADR practitioners about their practice and experience using stakeholder assessments. I found practitioners use SA for the same reasons described in the literature. Compared to the literature, ADR practitioners have a more flexible approach to the interview process and how results are reported back to stakeholders. Practitioners also discussed instances of SAs when participants seemed to increase their perceptions of interdependence by either broadening the scope of issues they considered relevant in a conflict or considering ways to meet their own interests by meeting the interests of others through integrative solutions. Next, I conducted a stakeholder assessment in Seabrook, NH on dune and beach management issues. The stakeholder groups identified include the Town of Seabrook and Rockingham County, the Seabrook Beach Village District, New Hampshire state agencies, Federal agencies, and the University of New Hampshire. Key issues for beach and dune management include dune protection, wildlife and habitat protection, beach access and recreation, and harbor dredging. The assessment recommends (1) convening an advisory group with representatives from all major stakeholder groups to work on providing input for Seabrook’s 2019 beach management plan update, (2) forming a subgroup to determine if Seabrook wants to use harbor dredge material for nourishment of Seabrook beach, (3) forming a subgroup to address gaps in scientific knowledge, outreach needs, and funding needs, and (4) reconvening the advisory group periodically to consider longer-term tasks and respond to new challenges. Finally, I conducted pre- and post-surveys to determine whether the Seabrook stakeholder assessment had an impact on participants’ perceptions of interdependence. My findings, which by necessity were based on limited survey results, support my hypothesis that participating in an assessment increases participants’ perceptions of interdependence, both in the issues they consider relevant and the other parties with whom they need to work.

Bialowas_Emily_MS Thesis Defense Presentation Slides.pdf (10983 kB)
Emily Bialowas's MS thesis defense presentation slides are available here.