BEYOND CONSENSUS by Richard Margerum

Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, MIT

In Beyond Consensus, Richard Margerum examines the full range of collaborative enterprises in natural resource management, urban planning and environmental policy.

Beyond Consensus: Improving Collaborative Planning and Management, by Richard Margerum, MIT Press, 368pp

It might come as a surprise that consensus is not the final step in the work of a collaborative trying to generate a plan for the management of a watershed. Consensus means agreement, so once there’s agreement what else is there to do? It turns out − in the world of natural resource management − that reaching agreement on how to proceed must be followed by on-going efforts to implement whatever has been proposed. According to Richard Margerum, beyond consensus one should hope to find collaboratives aimed at implementing (or making adjustments in) plans, policies or project designs.

Margerum has reviewed almost sixty case studies of collaborative resource management, about half in the United States and half in Australia. His focus is mostly on watershed management efforts that took place between 1993 and 2010. He begins by examining the dynamics of collaboration. From there, he moves to consensus-building strategies, especially the various forms of deliberation that stakeholders can use to reach agreement, not merely share their views.

When deliberations go well, Margerum believes they lead to high quality plans with clear goals, solid factual justification and sound intervention strategies. He emphasizes the importance of social, inter-organizational and political networks in sustaining collaboratives and ensuring plan implementation. He concludes by attempting to translate his findings into prescriptions for practice. The prescriptive part of the book is less successful than his very instructive efforts to develop a typology of collaborations.

This review was originally published in full in Review of Policy Research 29, no. 5 (2012): 663–5.

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