Navigating Collaborative Governance for Sustainable River Recreation

Anna Bettis Anna Jean Bettis is a dual Sustainability alum, having first completed a Bachelor of Arts with an international development track and recently finishing her Masters of Sustainability Solutions (MSUS) at ASU with a focus on conservation. From December 2015 through May 2016, Bettis culminated her sustainability knowledge and experience in her MSUS applied project, “Collaborative Governance for Sustainable Recreation on Rivers” with multiple stakeholders from the Verde Front in Arizona. Along with facilitators at the Southwest Decision Resources, stakeholders included: Prescott National Forest, Coconino National Forest, Arizona State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, Yavapai County, Town of Clarkdale, City of Cottonwood, Town of Camp Verde, City of Sedona, Town of Jerome, Sedona Chamber of Commerce, Out of Africa, Verde River Valley Nature Organization, American Rivers and Friends of the Verde River Greenway. Bettis said that the primary goal of the project was to examine the Verde Valley’s collaborative governance network as a case study to “gain insight into the variables that either enhance or erode strength of the collaboration in its unique context…By providing context specific recommendations based on tested and respected theories on collaborative governance, this project aims to improve the ability of the Verde Front to reach their sustainable recreation goals.” However, the project goals didn’t start out this way. “One of the challenges that I faced came at the projects outset,” Bettis said. “I went into the project thinking I would have a larger focus on the ecological outcomes of the collaboration. However, when I began talking with participants I quickly realized they were still in the planning stages, and measuring on the ground ecological outcomes was not going to be possible. I had to be flexible and rethink how I was going to design the research to be useful to those involved, which I believe I was able to do successfully.” The major outcome of the project was a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the collaborative effort for the Verde Front. Bettis produced both an academic paper for her applied project and a more digestible practitioner document aimed at helping the facilitators in the collaboration to better achieve their goals, whom she says were invaluable to the success of the project. “The facilitators at Southwest Decision Resources allowed us to observe the collaborative governance process and connected us with relevant stakeholders to interview,” Bettis said. “The project would not have been possible without the valuable insights and contributions of these individuals.” In addition to the facilitators, Bettis found great support from her adviser Dr. Michael Schoon and his research team, which was working on collaborative governance case studies across Arizona. She also received a small scholarship from the School of Sustainability to cover transportation costs incurred to conduct interviews. Bettis said she was able to use the skills from her applied project experience to boost her resume. She learned how to be more flexible and adaptive while remaining diligent in her commitment to the project. She also learned how to use the qualitative data analysis software Atlas Ti for the first time, a skill she has since transferred into her new career upon graduation. “In my current role I undertake a number of research activities involving disparate groups. I have been able to build on what I learned from this project to be resilient to the challenges that inevitably arise working in the real world,” Bettis said. For the students who will be doing their own applied projects, Bettis said you should “start your project well in advance. The process was much more time consuming than I originally anticipated. I set up the project during my third semester and undertook the research during my final semester. If I could do it over again, I would set it up my third semester and give myself a full year to complete the project. I would also recommend that they take a qualitative methods class prior to starting their project. I took mine concurrent to my project. However, that course contained a lot of useful information for doing qualitative research and I would have liked to have been introduced to those concepts prior to designing the research.” Bettis said there are still ways to build upon her project, too. “Dr. Nigel Forest and Dr. Arnim Wiek approached me about the possibility of using this research as a promising example of a transformation solution for some work they are doing around the Colorado River Basin. I am busy now in my job, but if another student wanted to pick that back up that would be great.“