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The Inner-Workings of Collaboration in Environmental Management and Governance: A Systematic Mapping Review


Collaboration has taken centre stage in addressing complex environmental issues and yet several voids are evident in our understanding of it. A systematic mapping review was conducted to synthesize knowledge about the inner workings of collaboration (qualities, outcomes, and their relationship(s)) in environmental management and governance scholarship. Eighty-five scholarly works were included in the review and the analysis revealed 27 qualities, 20 outcomes, and 104 relationships. The frequency and magnitude of each were established through multiple rounds of coding, surfacing their relative prominence in the literature. Collaborative qualities with the greatest prominence included trust building, social learning, dialogue, and active involvement; the most prominent outcomes included social learning and social capital. Descriptive analyses illuminated myriad relationships among collaborative qualities to achieve outcomes, and emphasized the role of collaborative qualities of lesser scholarly attention on achieving outcomes. Findings offer insight for individuals engaging in collaboration and for future work aiming to further explore collaboration.

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Data are included in Online Resources 1 and 2.


  1. Social capital was defined in this study (both as a quality and outcome) as: relationships of trust, norms of reciprocity, and networks among individuals that can be drawn upon for an individual or a collective benefit (Putnam 1993). See Online Resource 1 for this definition and others related to it.

  2. Social learning was defined in this study (both as a quality and outcome) as: a change in understanding that goes beyond the individual to become situated within wider units or communities of practice though social interactions between actors (see Reed et al. 2010 in Cundill and Rodela 2012). Through the process, mutual, or shared learning occurs (Muñoz-Erickson et al. 2010). See Online Resource 1 for definition and others related to it.


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This research was made possible by the generous support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. AF additionally gratefully acknowledges support received through the Ontario Graduate Scholarship.


This study was supported by the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) as well as supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

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Correspondence to Alison Feist.

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Feist, A., Plummer, R. & Baird, J. The Inner-Workings of Collaboration in Environmental Management and Governance: A Systematic Mapping Review. Environmental Management 66, 801–815 (2020).

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  • Collaboration
  • Collaborative governance
  • Collaborative management
  • Collaborative decision-making
  • Environmental governance
  • Environmental management