Knowledge governance and learning: Examining challenges and opportunities in the Colorado River basin

Andrea K. Gerlak, Surabhi Karambelkar, Daniel B. Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Knowledge is widely considered a key ingredient for effective and sustainable water governance. In the Colorado River basin, collaborative programs have been established over the past 50 years to inform decision-making in the basin on a range of concerns from water quality to endangered species recovery and ecosystem restoration. We embrace a knowledge governance perspective to examine the institutional arrangements underpinning the production and use of knowledge in the basin's collaborative programs. Through a review of programmatic documents and targeted interviews with program participants, we find a recurrent emphasis on science-based decision-making to address specific resource challenges across the programs. Our unpacking of the institutional design of the knowledge governance processes highlights two key challenges: (1) the institutional design has created a federal agency–advisory committee–technical committee triad structure that limits the saliency and legitimacy of diverse interests, as well as credibility of diverse ways of knowing and formalized learning processes and (2) a focus on the river in discrete, fragmented units that hinders a broader view of the river as a system and neglects cross-programmatic learning. These findings question if certain institutional design elements may serve to limit the ability of these programs to address new challenges facing the basin. We outline some potential steps to address these challenges with the aim of building more impactful, collaborative knowledge systems that leverage learning to not only lend saliency, credibility, and legitimacy to broad, inclusive, and diverse ways of knowing but also promote adaptiveness in a rapidly evolving socio-environmental system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Collaboration
  • Colorado River
  • Science
  • Water governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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