Engaging the Public in Management: Voluntary Practice, Citizen Complaints, and Deliberating Oil and Gas Risk
Scott, Ryan Patrick
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Management of emerging technological risks is challenged by scientific uncertainty about relevant impacts and frequent gaps between expert and lay perceptions of risk. Engaging in deliberation can help to foster learning about interests, values and concerns among diverse stakeholders, resulting in policies that reflect not only scientific knowledge but stakeholder values and concern. Where policy arrangements are flexible, the benefits of deliberation may be most evident. My dissertation project demonstrates that engagement between firms, citizens, and governments can be used in managing emerging risks, but that government managers play an important role in structuring deliberation and ensuring firms respond to resident concerns. I evaluate oil and gas management policies in the State of Colorado as a case of using engagement and deliberation to manage emerging risks. It studies two engagement processes in detail. Specifically, I first study the voluntary adoption of engagement by individual operating firms as a management practice. I then study the filing of citizen complaints with the State oil and gas regulatory agency as a citizen-led engagement mechanism. In the first chapter, I evaluate whether firm voluntarily adoption of engagement and deliberation strategies alters the odds of citizens filing complaints. Using a spatial case control model, I demonstrate that engagement and deliberation have the potential to mitigate the increased risks of complaints. At wellsites where companies adopt more restrictive practices, use of engagement and deliberation is associated with relative reductions in complaint behavior. Additionally, I find that larger companies are most likely to adopt engagement practices.In the second chapter I test firm motivations for adopting voluntary management practices including engagement. I explicitly focus on how firms might learn from complaints and choose to adapt practices. I make novel use of text similarity methods to evaluate firm level change in practices in relation to motivations and potential feedback sources. The results demonstrate that using information from complaints, fines, warnings, towards practice changes requires firms to be motivated to do so. Potential motivations identified as critical include coercive pressure from regulatory agencies and pressures from other firms. Relying on the first project for case selection, in the third chapter of the dissertation I evaluate the psychological and contextual foundations of complaint behavior. The paper is hypothesis generating, and suggest five hypotheses about how complaints are driven by contexts and perceptions of oil and gas development. Based on 17 semi-structured interviews with citizen complainants, I find that while complaints are behavioral response to observed threats, they are not necessarily a strong reflection of violations of official rules. Instead, citizens file may file complaints in order to convey perceptions and concerns to regulators and firms. This finding provides an indication that engagement may increase compliant behavior as engagement with firms can make evidence recorded via complaining useful within deliberations. In the conduct of research, I found that complaints, themselves, fostered direct discussion between citizens and firms. The fourth chapter builds on Chapter Three to propose hypotheses about what enables complaining to foster deliberation and learning. I find that institutions play a critical role in motivating deliberation between residents and firms. However, science-based evidence may detract from the development of deliberation as it provides yes/no conclusions on regulatory standards. This suggests that government actors play a key role even in motivating voluntary engagement by structuring rules and motivations for industry outreach.
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