Fostering collaboration through IT tools: an experimental study of public deliberation on water sustainability
Most of challenges facing today's government cannot be resolved without collaborative efforts from multiple non-state stakeholders, organizations, and active participation from citizens. Collaborative governance has become an important form of management practice. Yet the success of this inclusive management approach depends on whether government agencies and all other involved parties can collectively deliberate and work toward the shared goals. This dissertation examines whether information technology (IT) tools and prior cooperative interactions can be used to facilitate the collaboration process, and how IT tools and prior cooperative interactions can, if at all, get citizens and communities more engaged in collaborative governance. It focuses on the individual and small groups engaged in deliberating on a local community problem, which is water sustainability in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Experiments were conducted to compare how people deliberate and interact with each other under different IT-facilitated deliberation environments and with different prehistory of interactions. The unique experimental site for this research is a designed deliberation space that can seat up to 25 participants surrounded by the immersive 260-degree seven-screen communal display. In total, 126 students from Arizona State University participated in the experiment. The experiment results show that the deliberation spaces can influence participants' engagement in the collaborative efforts toward collective goals. This dissertation demonstrates the great potential of well-designed IT-facilitated deliberation spaces for supporting policy deliberation and advancing collaborative governance. This dissertation provides practical suggestions for public managers and community leaders on how to design and develop the desired features of IT-facilitated interaction environments for face-to-face and computer-mediated online public deliberation activities. This dissertation also discusses lessons and strategies on how to build a stronger sense of community for promoting community-based efforts to achieve collective goals.