Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Marine Affairs

First Advisor

Tracey Dalton


Many researchers acknowledge that including the public in marine protected area (MPA) planning and management can lead to more effective management, increased levels of trust, and project ownership that encourages project support. However, planners and managers lack clear guidance on how to design and implement successful participatory processes that effectively and meaningfully engage the public. This study investigated the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary nomination process, a recently established process for nominating areas of national significance, to provide insights into how the public was involved in the process. More specifically, the goal of this study was to highlight how specific characteristics of the process (ways participants interact, share information and make decisions) contributed to the quality of the process.

Semi-structured interviews with 14 members of the Mallows Bay-Potomac River Steering Committee were conducted in the summer of 2016. Respondents were asked their thoughts about the process, their motivation for involvement, and their views on the specific mechanisms of engagement that were used throughout the process. Respondents were also asked to share their perceptions of the process in terms of five features of process quality: active participant involvement, decisions based on complete information, fair decision making, efficient administration, and positive participant interactions. All interviews were transcribed and coded into themes and subcategories.

Overall, participants felt that the nomination process effectively incorporated three of the process features: active participant involvement, decisions based on complete information, and positive participant interactions. Respondents described eighteen specific mechanisms that were used to engage participants throughout the nomination process, with five mechanisms emerging as especially important (phone calls, emails, public meetings, one-on-one or small group meetings, and networking). Findings suggest that including multiple mechanisms, both traditional and nontraditional, for stakeholder participation helped to ensure the process was successful. Results from this study will help MPA planners and managers design participatory processes that effectively and meaningfully engage the public.



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