Working to understand and improve collaborative governance effectiveness, outcomes, and impacts in order to create more equitable and sustainable systems to manage natural resources.


Over the past three decades, the concept of collaborative governance has been increasingly touted as a process and mechanism that allows greater democratic management of natural resources and more effective environmental outcomes. At its core, the concept recognizes that multiple institutions and stakeholders (public, private, and nongovernmental) have a role in managing natural resources, and all stakeholders’ perspectives are to be incorporated into management decision-making. In opposition to traditional, top-down, regulatory, or adversarial approaches, collaborative governance is seen as more effective and efficient when the issues transcend socio-political boundaries, involve multiple private actors, occur within complex socio-ecological systems, and/or require adaptability or flexibility to local context. Collaborative approaches are justified in terms of morality (incorporating stakeholders is the right thing to do), process (it is a more efficient use of resources), and outcomes (final decisions are likely to be more effectively implemented).

Collaborative governance approaches have substantial promise to lead to more equitable and sustainable management of natural resources. However, to understand the effectiveness, outcomes, and impact of collaborative approaches, there are a number of dimensions that require further research. These themes include, for example:

  • The effects of scale, system characteristics (resilience, capacity, feedbacks), socio-political institutional boundaries, and ecological complexity on management of environmental issues, processes, and outcomes;
  • Effectiveness and outcomes of stakeholder engagement and shared discovery processes;
  • Extent to which stakeholder engagement incorporates equity, justice, and deliberative democracy;
  • Organizational, legal, administrative, and ecological conditions that facilitate or constrain collaborative approaches;
  • Integration of multiple types of knowledges (e.g., scientific, technical, local, administrative) into stakeholder engagement and policy-making, known as co-production;
  • Participatory research approaches that integrate biophysical and social sciences for effective assessment and analysis of environmental conditions (e.g., collaborative modeling, citizen science);
  • Identification of relevant, achievable, and measurable outcomes and measures; design and assessment of performance-based policies and accountability systems.

Extension and outreach opportunities in this area could involve education and training programs that enhance skills for participating in and leading collaborative approaches.


Kathryn J. BrasierPh.D.
Professor of Rural Sociology
Director of Graduate Studies

Associated Members


  • Melik DemirelHuck Chair, Professor of Biomimetics* 
  • Lara FowlerSenior Lecturer, Penn State Law & Assistant Director IEE*
  • Danielle LawsonAssistant Professor of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management & Science Education
  • Matthew RoyerAssistant Research Professor, Director Agriculture & Environment Center*


  • Ted AlterProfessor, Agricultural, Environmental & Regional Economics
  • Elizabeth Boyer, Professor, Water Resources*
  • Rachel BrennanAssociate Professor, Environmental Engineering*
  • Stephanie BuechlerAssociate Professor, Gender Equity in Agricultural Research and Education (GEARE) program; International and National Extension
  • Paige CastellanosAssistant Research Professor*
  • Anil Kumar ChaudharyAssistant Professor, Agricultural & Extension Education*
  • Guangqing ChiProfessor, Rural Sociology, Demography & Public Health Sciences
  • Alyssa Collins, Associate Research Professor, Plant Pathology & Microbiology, Director Southeast Agricultural Research & Extension Center
  • Jill FelkerLecturer, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
  • Erika GandaAssistant Professor of Food Animal Microbiomes*
  • Zhen LeiAssociate Professor, Energy & Environmental Economics*
  • Carolyn LowryAssistant Professor, Weed Ecology & Management*
  • Allyson MuthAssistant Research Professor, Private Forest Management
  • Christopher ScottGoddard Chair of Forestry & Environmental Conservation
  • Rui Shi, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering*
  • Nathaniel WarnerAssistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Hong WuStuckeman Career Development Assistant Professor in Design*

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