A pluralistic perspective on the intractability of the International Joint Commission's Lake Ontario‐St. Lawrence River study

Date01 May 2015
Published date01 May 2015
Academic Paper
A pluralistic perspective on the
intractability of the International Joint
Commissions Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
River study
Janey Gray Trowbridge*
Research Afliate, George Mason University, VA, USA
As environmental public participation has become increasingly mandated worldwide, its advantages and disadvan-
tages have been widely documented. This article uses qualitative analysis of documentation and interviews with 40
participants in a USCanadian International Joint Commission water management controversy. It demonstrates
how ambiguity and diffuse powerthat is, two characteristics of organizational pluralismrevealed in communica-
tion and governance contribute to the challenges of resolving the 13-year controversy.The article adds to the literature
that has largely focused on power disparities between governing or managing organizations and stakeholders and
makes recommendations for addressing situations involving organizational and scientic ambiguity as well as rela-
tively equal distribution of power. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
A recent US National Research Council report noted
that environmental public participation (EPP), the
focus of this case study, oftenfullls the fundamental
goals of improved qua lity and enhanced leg itimacy
of decisions and capacity-building of individuals
and institutions (Dietz & Stern, 2008: 4851). But
EPP can also lead to degradation in decision-making
quality, especially with regard to handling of
scientic information, and trivial or even undesirable
results at substantial costs in time, effort, and funds
(Beierle & Cayford, 2003; Dietz & Stern, 2008).
Some of these EPP projects become intractable,
that is, long-standing and eluding resolution
(Putnam & Wondolleck, 2003). Though reaching an
agreement is not the only objective of an EPP project
(cf. Campbell, 2003; Carr et al., 2013; Dietz & Stern,
2008), prolonged decision making can have negative
consequences. For example, among other aspects of
governance, the US Institute of Conict Resolution
(FY, 2010) tracks costly delays in implementing
needed environmental protectionmeasures, foregone
public and private investments, and deep-seated
antagonism and hostility repeatedly reinforced
between stakeholders by unattended conicts.
The sources of intractable environmental conicts
and ways to resolve them have been analyzed using
a variety of theories and models, including frame
analysis, critical cultural analysis, and quantitative
and qualitative systems analysis (see Peterson &
Franks, 2006). This article uses data from an interna-
tional case study to derive a different analytical frame-
workorganizational pluralismto gain additional
insights into intractability and to elicit practical
communication-oriented implications for policy makers.
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is charged
with the prevention and resolution of transboundary
*Correspondence to: Janey Gray Trowbridge, Ph.D., Research
Afliate, George Mason University,VA, USA.
E-mail: Jtrowbr1@gmu.edu
Journal of Public Affairs
Volume 15 Number 2 pp 153162 (2015)
Published online 11 November 2013 in Wiley Online Library
(www.wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/pa.1497
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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