Social learning in a policy-mandated collaboration: Community wildfire protection planning in the eastern United States

Rachel F. Brummel, Kristen C. Nelson, Stephanie Grayzeck Souter, Pamela J. Jakes, Daniel R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Policies such as the US Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) mandate collaboration in planning to create benefits such as social learning and shared understanding among partners. However, some question the ability of top-down policy to foster successful local collaboration. Through in-depth interviews and document analysis, this paper investigates social learning and transformative learning in three case studies of Community Wildfire Protection Planning (CWPP), a policy-mandated collaboration under HFRA. Not all CWPP groups engaged in social learning. Those that did learned most about organisational priorities and values through communicative learning. Few participants gained new skills or knowledge through instrumental learning. CWPP groups had to commit to learning, but the design of the collaborative-mandate influenced the type of learning that was most likely to occur. This research suggests a potential role for top-down policy in setting the structural context for learning at the local level, but also confirms the importance of collaborative context and process in fostering social learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)681-699
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded through the Joint Fire Science Program, Project # 04-5-01, as well as the Forest Resources Department at the University of Minnesota. Additional support came from the University of Minnesota Graduate School Fellowship, the University of Minnesota Conservation Biology Program, and the Mark and Judy Yudof Fellowship. The authors wish to thank the JFSP CWPP research team, including Alex Bujak, Sam Burns, Tony Cheng, Emily Saeli Staychock and Victoria Sturtevant for their assistance and insight. We are also grateful to Allison Brummel and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts. Finally, we wish to thank all CWPP participants and interviewees from Lake County, MN, Barnes-Drummond, WI and Taylor, FL for their sharing their time and experiences.


  • Collaborative planning
  • Mandated collaboration
  • Social learning
  • Wildfire planning
  • Wildfire policy


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