Legitimacy of collaborative environmental governance in New Zealand : the Manawatū River Leaders' Forum : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Environmental Management at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
Over the past few decades, collaborative governance has emerged as an alternative to
traditionally adversarial approaches such as hierarchical command-and-control
regulation. A wide range of governance theory praises collaborative governance with
multi-stakeholders’ participation as an effective strategy to deal with a public issue.
Environmental deterioration, such as water pollution, is a cross-cutting issue that has
been in a favour of collaborative approaches to resolve. The promise of collaborative
environmental governance is to make environmental policy more effective for
However, multi-stakeholders’ participation poses challenges in practice if it really
makes any difference to and is compatible with environmental policy decision-making
processes within a set timeframe. Power imbalance, for example, entails legitimacy
deficits to ensure the effectiveness of collaborative environmental governance.
Therefore, legitimacy is an important concept that defines a political acceptance
whether or to what extent collaborative governance can result in more sustainable or
effective environmental policy.
This study assesses legitimacy of collaborative environmental governance by using the
Manawatu River Leaders’ Forum (MRLF), a collaborative forum to solve water quality
issue in southern North Island of New Zealand, as a case study. The study focuses on
developing a framework for assessing legitimacy based on three types of legitimacy
including input, output and throughput legitimacy that are applicable to explore the
MRLF’s effectiveness. In corresponding to these legitimacy types, the legitimacy
assessment framework is designed with three dimensional factors including
participatory quality, policy effectiveness and collaborative process with their own
indicators and criteria.
Results of analysing published data indicate that the MRLF is basically legitimated as a
fundamental commencement for collaboration as participations by different
stakeholders are active and collective decisions have been implemented. However,
interviews with MRLF’s key stakeholders demonstrate different perspectives on
legitimacy through an existing conflict. Through the three dimensional factors,
governmental stakeholders perceive high legitimacy, while most non-governmental
stakeholders perceive low legitimacy. This study suggests ways to look conflict as a
collaborative learning, rather than fighting, to bridge a synergy between collaboration
and conflict. Although collaboration aims to resolve conflicts, collaboration should be
learnt as one aspect of conflict management through controversial policy settings.