Local Partnership Research Project

Local Partnerships, Governance and Community-based Resource Management

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State and federal agencies have expressed interest in exploring the potential for community-based, locally-driven resource decision making efforts to help them meet their public trust responsibilities, and to achieve resource management, community well-being and economic development goals. While these "local partnerships" provide opportunities to further clarify public values and to identify resource issues at a scale that contributes to the development of effective management and policy responses, agencies must better understand the needs and expectations of these efforts, as well as their social and resource outcomes, in order to work more effectively with them and better allocate scarce public resources. Similarly, local partnerships are more likely to achieve their goals if they have a better understanding of the ways agencies make decisions, and the legal and political constraints within which agencies operate.

Although many public agencies have historically served traditional constituencies quite successfully, the agencies are struggling to identify and work with emerging and more diverse interest groups, many of whom have a high level of political sophistication and access to decision making processes. Surveys have found more than 400 cooperative efforts in California involving private landowners, NGOs and citizens in the local coordination and integration of land and natural resources planning and management. Many local partnerships and collaborative efforts have shown real success in bringing together formerly adversarial groups, finding common ground, and breaking long-standing stalemates.

These efforts signal a change in the ways resource management agencies will eventually do business, as well as in public expectations of the performance and outputs of those agencies. Most importantly, local partnerships and their resource decisions point the way to new forms of environmental governance: the institutional means by which ideas, values and interests interact to create sustainable ecosystems, economies and communities.

The Local Partnership Research Project

The Local Partnership Research Project, conducted by the University of California and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), will investigate the factors that contribute to the success of local partnerships and coordinated efforts as they work toward their resource conservation goals and how resource managers and partnerships might work together more effectively. The key public policy objectives will be to better understand the goals and expectations of local partnerships and collaborative efforts, and the role of public and private investments of time and resources in achieving success.

Preliminary examination of several partnerships indicate that a number of dynamics drive these efforts, including:

Thirty in-depth case studies will be conducted to identify existing and potential linkages between local partnerships, resource decisions, public policy, and the larger system of environmental governance.

Why Local Partnerships Form

A wide range of issues prompt local partnerships to form, including regulation, litigation, gridlock and social disintegration. How partnerships operate and mature are importantly determined by their origins. Case studies will focus on patterns of emergence and growth, and the degree to which factors such as gridlock, agency responsiveness, and the larger policy environment affect their success.

Performance Measures and Conditions for Success

Most partnerships succeed and fail on many fronts, often simultaneously. Partnerships, agencies and the general public often measure success quite differently. The case studies will explore how groups measure their own success, and compare those measures with the expectations of related actors.

The Appropriate Type and Level of Public Agency Investment in Group Formation and Activities

Public agencies want to put their resources where they can be most effective. The Project will identify ways public agencies have been involved with local partnerships, and how that involvement has affected both public agency and local partnership performance. Several indicators have been identified, including the timing and effect of public agency investment, the degree of group discretion over budget decisions that allocate public funds, and the kind and quality of agency in-kind contributions to partnership activities. The results of the study will inform both partnerships and agencies in their decisions about how and where to put limited resources.


Researchers synthesized comments and recommendations in public forums; analyzed the literature on emerging local efforts in the United States; facilitated focus groups; and conducted informal interviews with representatives of public agencies and the research community.

The research team will: examine three partnerships in depth via open-ended and structured interviews; gather quantitative data common to each of the partnerships, (e.g., the partnership' geographic scope of concern, stakeholder representation, funding, estimates of in-kind and compensated person-days, regional socio-economic and demographic data, baseline resource information, etc.); and critique the methodology and approach with agency and local partnership participants in preparation for phase III.

Selection criteria for the thirty cases will include: the variety of issues with which the partnership directly and indirectly concerns itself; the diversity of membership; patterns of public, private and corporate land holdings; socio-economic and demographic context; geographic location and extent of area of concern. Methodologies, objectives and interview questions will be discussed with partnership members as part of the review process. A partnership's participation in the case studies must be approved through the group's customary decisionmaking process.

Sponsorship and Management

The project is currently funded by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Research will be conducted through the Division of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Davis. Several agencies and local partnership representatives will serve on an Advisory Group and provide periodic review and commentary on the research and its potential applications.

For More Information Contact the Principal Investigators...

Mark Nechodom, principal investigator
Division of Environmental Studies,
University of California, Davis
916-752-5678 e-mail: manechodom@ucdavis.edu

Jonathan Kusel, director and principal investigator
Forest Community Research, Westwood, CA
916-284-1022 e-mail: kusel@nature.berkeley.edu

Please visit the Project's web site for on-going updates:



Contact Clay Brandow via email at clay.brandow@fire.ca.gov

Last edited on May 9, 1997 by Clay Brandow