Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 281–289 | Cite as

Managing the science-policy boundary: implications for river restoration

  • Eileen S. JohnsonEmail author
  • Kathleen P. Bell
  • Jessica E. Leahy


Collaborations between researchers and stakeholders can facilitate novel and effective approaches to addressing water resource management challenges, such as restoring river systems. Managing the boundary between researchers and stakeholders is key to ensuring the credibility (produced by scientific inquiry), salience (value to stakeholders), and legitimacy (reflecting differing stakeholder perspective) of knowledge produced that informs restoration processes. Boundary organizations provide an institutionalized approach for stabilizing researcher-stakeholder collaborations. Using qualitative methods, we contrasted the science-policy boundary within two watersheds pursuing river restoration, focusing our research on factors contributing to the potential roles and emergence of boundary organizations. We found that perception of restoration state influenced the identified roles of boundary organizations. Stakeholders noted their value in shifting public perception and measuring restoration progress in more impaired systems, while also noting their importance in leveraging restoration gains into community benefits in more restored systems. Our research highlights the importance of flexibility in managing the science-policy boundary. As restoration gains are achieved, the role boundary organizations play may need to be reevaluated to leverage these gains. Researchers and stakeholders described time and resources as key barriers to transitioning informal researcher-stakeholder collaborations into new boundary organizations. Existing collaborative mechanisms can facilitate such transitions. We identified a potential role for students as boundary emissaries in managing the science-policy boundary. Our findings suggest students and student learning are important for fostering collaborations and stabilizing researcher-stakeholder partnerships that contribute to achieving river restoration gains.


Boundary organizations River restoration Water resource management Stakeholders Students 



The authors would like to thank the many stakeholders who participated in this study, Michele Kaufman for her assistance, and the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


Funding for this research was supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Sustainability Solutions Initiative at the University of Maine; the Neumann Graduate Fellowship, School of Economics, University of Maine; and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, project numbers ME0-L-7-00524-13 and ME0-M-7-00500-12. This is Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station Publication Number 3558.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Studies ProgramBowdoin CollegeBrunswickUSA
  2. 2.School of EconomicsUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  3. 3.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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