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A critical reflexive audit of qualitative water governance research in the lower Hudson Valley, New York

Michael H. Finewood
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA; mfinewood@pace.edu

Gretchen Sneegas
Texas A&M University Department of Geography, College Station, Texas, USA; gsneegas@tamu.edu

Chana Friedenberg
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA; cf06945w@pace.edu

Loraine Guevarez
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA; lguevarez@pace.edu

ABSTRACT: This paper presents a critically reflexive audit of research we conducted to explore perceptions of water resource governance and conditions. In 2018/19, we administered stakeholder perception surveys to people who were working in, or had contributed to, watershed governance in the Lower Hudson Valley, New York. Through an initial analysis we determined that participation was not representative of regional diversity. As a result, we took steps to address this disparity in participation by developing a mid-course correction and instituting a series of focused interviews with people from communities 'missed' in the surveys. We also conducted an audit of our methods to better understand where we went wrong. Here we discuss our research methods and experiences as well as how our positionalities and a 'colourblind' methodology introduced and maintained barriers to participation. We draw specifically on literature from watershed governance, participation, intersectionality, and critical race theory. We also draw on the responses of interview participants, which identified racialised barriers and lack of representation as key reasons for broader disengagement within the water governance community that we surveyed. We argue that our methods reproduced existing institutional modes of networking and reinforced existing barriers to participation, particularly for under-represented communities.

KEYWORDS: Watershed governance, methods, barriers to participation, critical reflexive audit, Hudson Valley, USA