Collaborative watershed-based decision-making: Understanding land use-related risk to drinking water sources

Harkins, Erin
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Guelph

This thesis is an investigation of the value of social learning as a process that facilitates collaborative ecosystem approaches to planning with the intent of reducing risk to human health. More specifically, it examines the value of social learning in a planning process designed to protect quality of drinking water sources. A case study approach was used to examine Ontario's Source Water Protection planning process. Research focused on two different Source Protection Committees; both groups were in their second year of the planning process. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and government documents. Based on a conceptual framework developed from the literature, the analysis examines the watershed as a social-ecological system, and as it relates to the adaptive cycle (Gunderson and Holling, 2002) and processes of social learning. Open and axial coding techniques were used to identify patterns and themes in the data. Study findings suggest that social learning is associated with the development of group trust, and more flexible and adaptive decision-making approaches. These results indicate that social learning can promote effective land use decision-making processes in the interest of protecting source water quality. Recommendations provide suggestions for enhancing opportunities for social learning as part of a collaborative Source Water Protection decision-making process.

social learning, collaborative ecosystem approach, planning, risk, human health, drinking water, water quality