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Searching for Science in the Puget Sound Basin

Challenges confronting collaborative partnerships in finding and applying usable knowledge
Katherine Cheng
Craig Thomas
Tue April 11th 2023, 4:00 - 5:30pm
Event Sponsor
The Bill Lane Center for the American West
Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2) Room 299
473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305

As in many parts of the American West, environmental resources are crucial to the way of life in Washington State – affecting human wellbeing, economic security, and traditional ways of life. In recognition of this complexity, many environmental management practices in Washington are undertaken through multi-stakeholder partnerships, which connect public, tribal, and nongovernmental stakeholders at the interface of knowledge diffusion, public policy, and management practices. Our research focuses on how scientific research is valued, acquired, and applied in multi-stakeholder partnerships in the Puget Sound region of Western Washington. We conducted open-ended interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders across numerous partnerships, exploring how partnership members search for scientific information, what makes scientific information useful, and how it is weighed alongside social, political, and economic considerations. We coded and analyzed the transcripts using MAXQDA, a computer-assisted content analysis program. The findings paint a curious picture of the role of science in multi-stakeholder partnerships.  A common criticism of collaborative partnerships has been that political considerations may overwhelm scientific information in consensus-based decision-making. We found the opposite.  Partnership members expressed more concern about finding, interpreting, and applying scientific information than feeling impeded by political considerations.




Katherine Cheng has been a PhD student at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy & Governance since 2020. She holds bachelor's degrees in economics and international affairs from the University of Georgia and a master's degree in agriculture and resources economics from UC Davis. Her research interests include participatory governance, civil society, and use of knowledge in collaborative partnerships. Prior to joining the Evans School, Katherine worked with nonprofits in San Francisco, Washington DC, and Athens, Georgia. She has also conducted research as a Fulbright scholar in Fortaleza, Brazil.




Craig W. Thomas is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy & Governance. His research analyzes collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders, with a particular focus on how science is used in collaborative decision-making processes for habitat conservation planning, watershed management, and marine ecosystem management.  He has also served in a variety of capacities, including Editor of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (2009-2013), Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the Evans School (2016-2018), and member of the Public Management Research Association Board of Directors (2019-2023). Professor Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Master’s in Public Policy from UC Berkeley.