Better the Devil You Know: A New Theory of Negotiation in Collaborative Governance and Evidence from Endangered Species Management
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While a growing literature in collaborative public management has made progress in our understanding of stakeholder collaboration, it has generally evaluated such efforts on criteria such as inclusiveness and the emergence of consensus. However, this theoretical framework, while not necessarily incorrect, has left us wanting for detailed explanations of individual and group decision-making processes, negotiation strategies, and the differential influence of competing interest groups within collaborative negotiations. How do individuals or groups involved in collaborative governance make decisions when their preferences and values are opposed? How do they reach a unified outcome that all can accept? Who compromises, on what, how much, and why? What role does the technical complexity of the problem play in this decision calculus? These are the key motivating questions behind this dissertation. I provide answers to these theoretical questions first by proposing a decision-making theory that draws from procrastination, obedience, and rational addiction theories in behavioral economics literature. I then show how this theory can be applied to explain why sometimes interest groups involved in long-term negotiations, such as those in collaborative governance arrangements, sometimes make decisions and agree to solutions that, on the surface, seem inconsistent with their preferences. I argue that one of the key elements driving this type of behavior is the technical complexity so frequently involved in these cases. The dissertation then examines this theory empirically through studies of two recent cases of collaborative governance drawn from Habitat Conservation Plans under the Endangered Species Act: the Florida Beaches Habitat Conservation Plan and the Charlotte County (Florida) Scrub-Jay Habitat Conservation Plan. The case selection is designed to give maximum variation in technical complexity between the two cases. I employ archival research and in-depth interviews with individuals involved in the negotiation processes over these two cases in order to understand the most important factors affecting individual and group decisions throughout the process. The results are consistent with the predictions drawn from the theory. In the higher complexity case, the interaction of technical and political complexity has resulted in perpetual delay and thus the least effective alternative for preserving the species. In the comparison case, however, negotiations resulted in the most robust conservation alternative that was practicable under the circumstances.
Shreck, Brian (2015). Better the Devil You Know: A New Theory of Negotiation in Collaborative Governance and Evidence from Endangered Species Management. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from