Democratic Administration in the United States Forest Service
Pluralism, the dominant theory in citizen involvement in the United States Forest Service since the 1950s, has prolonged the process of determining the public interest by promoting the use of appeals and lawsuits. The advent of more collaborative public involvement strategies in the past fifteen years offers the opportunity to assess whether participatory democracy offers a better paradigm for determining the public interest. This research focused on four cases of reported successful collaboration in Region One of the Forest Service and involved in-person interviews with 17 Forest Service officials and 24 citizen and interest group leaders. The researcher translated pluralist and participatory democracy paradigms into characteristic human actions and behavior in the setting of Forest Service public involvement, then analyzed reported actions and behaviors accordingly. Interviewees were asked to choose between two contrasting descriptions of group culture to characterize interactions with the Forest Service, one drawn from the rational choice model in the pluralist paradigm, the other from collaborative literature in the participatory democracy paradigm. Collaboration was rejected as a term for analysis because it lacked specific definition among both Forest Service and public interviewees. Instead, the researcher analyzed the cases using characteristics of participatory democracy drawn from civic republican theorists that also encompassed the characteristics contained in textbook descriptions of collaboration. Two of the cases had all characteristics and provided empirical examples of participatory democracy at work. Another of the cases used stakeholder negotiation that contained some of the aspects of participatory democracy, but lacked the characteristics of being voluntary and of fostering a sense of community. The last case used informed consent and was found to be a combination of participatory culture and synoptic administration. Based on these cases, the researcher concluded that public involvement that uses a participatory democracy paradigm has the potential to increase public trust in the Forest Service and to minimize appeals and lawsuits by creating strong diverse support for Forest Service decisions. The research also examined characteristics of the leadership in the cases and found trust and integrity to be essential to creating a participatory democracy paradigm.
School:The University of Montana
School Location:USA - Montana
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:02/06/2008