Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Marine Affairs

First Advisor

Tracey Dalton


Collaborative processes for natural resource management have emerged in the past four decades as a response to ineffective environmental policies developed by top-down, centralized regimes. As more people have become involved in these processes, governance has shifted from single sector approaches to networks of stakeholders that include state and federal agencies, environmental organizations, the public, and others. Evaluating the success of these participatory processes involves examining not only the outcomes of the process, but also the process itself. Rhode Island has a history of public participation in coastal policy development, especially through the development of Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs). Recently, the RI Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), the University of Rhode Island (URI), RI Sea Grant, and the URI Coastal Resources Center (CRC) have initiated the planning process for a new SAMP, the Shoreline Change SAMP, in order to address issues of erosion, inundation, and storm flooding along the coastline.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the network structure and stakeholder perceptions of process quality in the early stages of the Shoreline Change SAMP, and to explore relationships between network structure and perceptions of process quality. An online survey of 232 stakeholders involved in the SAMP process was conducted during the fall of 2013. Twenty-seven stakeholders responded, representing state and federal agencies, local officials and board members, non-profit organizations, environmental organizations, and members of university and academia. Results of this research indicate that overall, survey respondents had positive perceptions of the quality of the Shoreline Change SAMP process, and that the social network supports positive initial interaction between actors. However, respondents expressed some doubt as to how decisions will be made in the process and if people from all relevant interests are participating. Furthermore, the density of the overall network was low, but the structure indicates a core-periphery network, which is a network defined by a core of densely connected actors and a periphery of actors who are more connected to the core than to each other. This structure has the potential to increase information sharing and connect the network to a larger number of people as the process evolves. Finally, findings indicate that people within the core of the network tended to have more positive perceptions of the process than people who were not as well connected.

Findings provide SAMP coordinators and other coastal management practitioners valuable insight into developing and conducting high quality participatory processes. Understanding relationships between network structure and process quality highlights how stakeholders’ positions within a network can influence their perceptions of the process.



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