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Science on the Sideline: Pragmatism and the Yellowstone River Basin Advisory Council

Gilbertz, Susan J., Hall, Damon M., Ward, Lucas C., Anderson, Matthew B.
Water resources management 2019 v.33 no.4 pp. 1411-1424
basins, experts, professionals, water resources, watersheds, Montana
In 2013, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation engaged twenty citizens with diverse water interests as the Yellowstone Basin Advisory Council (YBAC). The purpose of the YBAC was to provide basin-specific recommendations for an updated water plan. Our research group documented the degree to which the YBAC incorporated scientific and technical information into its deliberations and final recommendations. Based on empirical evidence, this study illuminated three dynamics that discouraged the group’s use of certain sets of scientific and technical information. However, we also found that the convening managers, technical experts, and YBAC members were operating as pragmatic participants who created deliberative spaces where tensions between conflicting goals and values did not need to be addressed head-on. We argue that because this pragmatism guided certain scientific issues to the sideline, it helped the group pre-empt conditions of intractability that would otherwise threaten the overall collaborative process. While the sidelining was important in terms of “getting things done,” it, nonetheless, marginalized some important scientific issues. To validate and advance our findings, we presented the YBAC case, the dynamics that sidelined science, and our corrective recommendations to water resources professionals. We then solicited their ideas for specific strategies they might employ to avoid sidelining essential scientific and technical information. As a research innovation, their inputs help close the loop between critical observations and practice.