We focus on a large and sustained stakeholder process for river restoration related to hydropower production that failed to reach any significant natural resource management outcomes. We explore to what extent the stakeholder process can be characterized as a learning-based intervention as well as the reasons for the lack of outcomes. The analysis draws on insights from existing literature of procedural and institutional factors identified to foster and hinder social learning in stakeholder processes. The analysis finds that the stakeholder process featured virtually all fostering procedural factors as well as various fostering institutional factors identified in the literature. The main hindering institutional element consisted of strong pre-existing water rights, granted by the legislation governing hydropower production and river restoration in Sweden. Existing legislation provided a key stakeholder with the power to successfully reach its objective through the unilateral action of exiting the stakeholder process. Our results demonstrate that various learning outcomes, including knowledge acquisition, trust building, and the creation of networks are possible in stakeholder processes that feature power imbalances. The results also suggest that, ultimately, the power imbalance limited the process from reaching significant natural resource management outcomes, both in the short and longer terms. Based on comparison with international cases, the results reveal the need to focus attention on the national scale to remediate power imbalances in stakeholder processes that arise from a share of stakeholders possessing strong prior rights to the use of natural resources. In such cases, sustainable management of natural resources could be better served by efforts to modify existing legislation, rather than investments in resource-intensive learning-based interventions.
- learning-based intervention
- river restoration