Environmental Management

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 321–334 | Cite as

From Experiential Knowledge to Public Participation: Social Learning at the Community Fisheries Action Roundtable

  • Jennifer F. BrewerEmail author


Extensive research demonstrates that public participation in environmental decision making can increase understanding of diverse worldviews and knowledge bases, public faith in governance institutions, and compliance with resulting rules. Concerns linger around costs, possibilities of polarization and decreased legitimacy in cases of poorly executed processes, and the ability of newly empowered groups to gain political leverage over others. If participants in public processes can bracket their personal experience to better assess other viewpoints, establishing mutual respect and understanding through deliberative exchange, they increase the likelihood of maximizing participatory benefits and minimizing risks. Such reflexivity indicates double-loop social learning, change undertaken through collective discussion and interaction. A capacity-building workshop program aims to foster such learning within the Maine fishing industry. Case material draws primarily on participant observation and interview data, using a grounded theory approach to qualitative analysis. Evidence indicates that in social contexts removed from the norms of daily life and the frustrations of past fishery management confrontations, harvesters acquire knowledge and skills that facilitate more strategic and productive behavior in formal and informal marine resource decision venues. Suspensions of longstanding spatio-temporal assumptions around the prosecution and management of fisheries comprise key learning moments, and yield corresponding changes in industry attitudes and actions. With heightened appreciation for a diversity of experiences and management priorities, harvesters can better mobilize a broad spectrum of local knowledge to develop viable regulatory proposals and collaborative decision processes.


Governance Co-management Civics education LEK New England 



I wish to thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful attention to this manuscript. The research would not have been possible without the trust and cooperation of Penobscot East Resource Center staff and CFAR participants. It also relied on generous contributions of time and information from fishing community members and public servants over the course of a decade. I am grateful for travel funds provided by Maine Sea Grant program development Grant No. DV-09-13, and for a course release from East Carolina University. I consulted with Penobscot East staff about research design, submitted the proposal to Maine Sea Grant as a Penobscot East visiting researcher, and received a small amount of administrative support from Penobscot East. Data collection and analysis were conducted by myself alone, and I received no remuneration for my work on this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Institute for Coastal Science and Policy, Brewster A230East Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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