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How does Diversity Matter? The Case of Brazilian River Basin Councils

Andrew Reid Bell, The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Nathan Lee Engle, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
Maria Carmen Lemos, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

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Abstract

Diversity as a concept has often been perceived as a positive system attribute to pursue and protect. However, in some social settings, the way different kinds of diversity shape outcomes can vary significantly. Diversity of ideas and individuals sometimes can lead to disagreement and conflict, which in turn can lead to both positive and negative outcomes. In this study, we examine identity diversity, i.e., age, income, education, worldviews, etc., within the context of Brazilian water governance. We find that within the basins studied in this project, first, the more diversity in organizations and the sectors represented on the council, the more council members participate in council activities, perceive decision making to be democratic, and perceive technical information to facilitate decision making. Second, diversity in what members perceive to be the most pressing problems facing the basin and also diversity in worldviews often correlate negatively with some measures of participation and the perceived importance of technical knowledge. Third, diversity in the level of experience with water issues negatively correlates with some measures of participation and perceived democratic decision making. Fourth, diversity in the perception of the most important problem facing the basin leads to poorer outcomes in the council. Our work provides an argument for supporting broad sectoral representation of interests within deliberative decision making bodies; however, it also illustrates that it is critical for these bodies to explore ways to resolve basic disagreements about the most important problems that need to be addressed and where their collective efforts should be focused.

Key words

Brazil; identity diversity; integrated water resources management
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087