MGS Alum Edie Mas, PhD
PhD in Public Policy, 2004
- President, Tannery Wildlife Refuge
- Health Policy Consultant, University of Massachusetts Medical School
- Commissioner, Marlboro Planning Commission (MA)
"The faculty in the Public Policy program is un-categorically outstanding. Without their key help, advice, and encouragement all along the way, I never would have completed my dissertation." - Edie Mas, PhD
According to Edie Mas, an alumna of the PhD Program in Public Policy, "As federal environmental policy moves increasingly toward relying on local communities to implement its mandates, it becomes important to study how well public policies work where implementation depends on local citizen collective action."
In 2004, Edie Mas defended her dissertation titled, "Why Act" The Roots and Potential of Precautionary Environmental Action in Three Vermont Watersheds." Dissertation chair, Professor David Levy, praised her work as "a great example of qualitative research, especially in capturing the identity of Vermont citizens in wanting to protect their local watersheds." He also said that "the study also addresses a fundamental question in social and economic policy, "why act?' and helps advance our understanding of theories of collective action."
Mas' qualitative study utilized a critical case study design to understand what motivated individuals in three watershed communities to participate in a process of collective action named precautionary environmental action (PEA). She learned that collective action can take many forms, and has been studied most commonly to understand large social movements. However, some theorists, most notably the sociologist Alberto Melucci, feel that contemporary collective actions may follow a different, individualized and symbolic pattern that stems from challenging codes that are deep-seated in our post-industrial society (Melucci, 1996). A conceptual framework focusing on eight key conditions was developed from Melucci's model.
This conceptual model was tested in the three cases, through an analysis based on individual interviews, focus groups, and survey methodologies. The model was upheld by all three cases. Results showed that concerned citizens representing groups from year-round residents to recreational hunters and fisherman signed petitions to protect Vermont's watersheds in order to challenge development plans by large ski corporations, condominium planners, logging companies, and the like.
Mas' research has numerous policy implications. Among them, the model shows that there is an interaction of factors that need to come together in order for PEA to be effective. Also, if the model can be shown to be useful beyond the limited scope of this dissertation study, it could become an effective way to identify barriers to the implementation of a citizen-led, community initiative and define what conditions are needed to have in place. Finally, there is an interplay in the related factors of science, rules, risks, and citizen action due to the social construction of science. Added to the importance placed on local culture and bio-regional values, these cases present a strong argument for validating the power of an environmental policy approach based on the precautionary principle.