Non-Governmental Organizations and Local Government Collaborations in Urban Forest Programming across Canada
Urban forests – defined as the trees and associated vegetation in cities – are being threatened by rapid urbanization, biodiversity crises, and climate variability. In response, governments are increasingly collaborating with the public for solutions to these challenges. Scholars have noted this shift towards more open and fulsome forums for decision-making rather than the traditional closed management process. These collaborations strive to mobilize and allocate the knowledge and resources towards environmental efforts. Collaborations among non-civic actors are particularly significant as they increase transparency, ground solutions in community-based natural resource management, and create a less isolated decision-making process. Collaborations among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and municipal governments can further local political agendas because of a broader stakeholder base legitimizing urban greening policy and initiatives. However, there is a lack of attention directed to the forms and intensity of non-governmental relationships and the range of collaborative activities.
This study focuses on addressing the gaps in NGO collaborations by drawing on a variety of public-civic relationships across Canada. We collected data using semi-structured interviews with three groups: leaders of NGOs, municipal government officials in urban forest, parks, or public works departments, and experts who have observed the parties interact. The participants represent 32 individuals in nine Canadian cities. The data underwent thematic analysis to recognize convergences or commonalities among the participants experiences. These methods will fulfil two objectives. Firstly, the study intends to characterize the structure of local government-NGO relationships in the delivery of urban forest management and policy-setting – including elements such as resource exchange, power dynamics, and network ties. Further, it will elicit the opportunities, risks, and challenges associated with varying degrees of NGO participation.
Identifying the components of these governance proceedings will allow us to assess collaborative performances and pinpoint vulnerabilities or inefficiencies in the process. Moreover, this research will offer metrics of successful public-civic collaborations in urban forest management that can be applied to future studies of co-governance. Understanding the nuances of environmental relationships can illuminate lessons that can be applied to a wider array of external actors beyond NGOs. Thus, this research has the capacity to arm all governance actors with the tools and knowledge to navigate these collaborative actions and streamline urban greening efforts.