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Tom Koontz, Ph.D.

Professor of Environmental Policy
Phone Number
Campus Mailbox



Public Policy
Indiana University
Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management
Indiana University: School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Business Administration
University of Puget Sound


I grew up in Kitsap county and completed my bachelor's degree at the University of Puget Sound, before heading east to pursue graduate work at Indiana University in Public Policy. My interdisciplinary graduate studies focused on environmental policy as it relates to human systems including institutions, stakeholder participation and community-based natural resource management, as well as natural systems such as forests, watersheds and the global climate. As a research assistant with the International Forestry Resources and Institutions program, I collaborated with international scholars examining the ecological and sociopolitical aspects of community-based natural resource management and coupled human and natural systems.

In 1998 I joined the faculty at Ohio State University in the interdisciplinary School of Environment and Natural Resources. Working with colleagues and students, I conducted research on collaborative environmental management, forest policy, watershed management and related environmental and natural resources policy topics. As one of the few social scientists in an environmental science program, I enjoyed helping students to integrate across disciplines and see the critical role of social science in solving environmental challenges.

In 2011 I spent a half-year sabbatical at Leuphana University in Germany, where I taught and researched in the sustainability program. This provided an opportunity to compare collaboration and water policy between the European Union and the U.S. In 2014 I returned to my home state of Washington to join UW Tacoma in its environmental science, environmental studies, and sustainability efforts.     

Current Research

I view environmental social sciences as comprising interdisciplinary fields focusing on human institutions, decisions and behaviors that affect and are affected by the environment. Understanding the human dimensions allows better use of science in decision making about complex phenomena such as global climate change, multi-level watersheds and ecosystem management to promote sustainability. My research program focuses on two primary areas: (1) collaborative environmental governance, and (2) the science-policy interface.

Collaborative environmental governance engages policy makers and managers across multiple levels of government, along with citizens, scientists, land owners, non-governmental organizations and industry, to address complex problems that neither could solve alone. By fostering learning and diffusion of ideas and promoting adaptation, collaborative environmental governance can enhance the sustainability of social and ecological systems. My research examines the integration of science, politics and management that shapes how humans affect and are affected by environment and natural resources policy. Much of this work has centered on watershed management in places like the Puget Sound, Ohio, Germany, and New Zealand. This includes questions of multi-level governance across scales, policy learning, and polycentricity.

While science for the sake of understanding is an important endeavor, science should also be enlisted to inform public policy.  While scientific specialities and jargon often challenge scientists communicating with each other, there is an even bigger challenge in generating science that is comprehensible and usable for policy design.  Features of scientific products and processes can affect the uptake of science and how it interacts with different ways of knowing to generate social learning. My research examines these products and processes across areas of expertise and scales.

I draw on a range of social science research methods, especially comparative case study (interviews, documents, observation) and survey (telephone, mail, web-based) methods. Recently I have expanded my methodological toolkit as a member of the advisory board for two German projects on participation in environmental decisions, one using case survey / meta-analysis methods and the other conducting field experiments. My most recent NSF research project includes interview and survey methods in the Puget Sound region.

I have a special interest in the research-teaching nexus. In addition to teaching courses about social science research methods, I use a “research learning” approach. This allows me to engage students as partners in collaborative research studies. As in service learning, the students not only perform research tasks, they also reflect on their experiences and link them to course content.


Teaching was my motivation for choosing a career in academia, and I have enjoyed opportunities to develop and teach many different courses to facilitate student learning. Moreover, I have contributed guest lectures and discussion facilitation in a wide range of courses to integrate environmental politics and policy concepts across the natural and social sciences. In 2007, while at Ohio State University, I was honored to receive the Plimpton Outstanding Teaching award, my College’s top teaching recognition, as well as the Price Advising Award, my College’s top advising recognition.

I have experimented with a variety of teaching strategies to facilitate active student learning. In addition, an important teaching role for me entails mentoring students outside the classroom. I enjoy collaborating with students conducting research for their honors and thesis projects. These student-faculty partnerships have lea to jointly authored papers and conference presentations.

Through extensive feedback from students, colleagues, and pedagogical experts, I have come to see that there is no single “best” teaching approach for all contexts, and that student learning modes vary across individuals as well as within individuals at different stages of their learning. Over time, I have developed a repertoire of teaching tools to facilitate student learning, including questioning techniques, classroom discussion, reflective writing, application of material to student-relevant experiences, service learning, and playing games in the classroom.

At UW Tacoma I regularly teach TESC 201 The Science of Sustainability, TESC 345 Pollution and Public Policy, TEST 337 Natural Resources Policy: America's Public Forests and Parks, TEST 200 Fundamentals of Environmental Studies and Sustainability, and TGH303 Global Challenges: Tragedy of the Commons. In these courses, we explore policy making, human behavior, institutions and the relationship between science and decision making.


  • American Political Science Association: Science, Technology and Environmental Politics section
  • Western Political Science Association
  • International Association for the Study of the Commons

Academic Service

  • Coordinating Committee Co-chair, Elinor Ostrom Award on Collective Governance of the Commons, 2020-2023, International Association for the Study of the Commons.
  • Committee member, Emerging Young Scholar Award, APSA Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Section, 2023.
  • Editorial Board member, Policy Studies Journal, 2010-present.
  • Editorial Board member, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2009-present
  • Member, Social Sciences Advisory Committee, Puget Sound Partnership Science Committee, 2014-present
  • Member, External Advisory Board, National Science Foundation National Research Traineeship, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2017-2022.
  • Co-chair, SIAS Faculty Advancement Task Force, 2019-2020.
  • Associate Editor, Society & Natural Resources, 2015-2019.
  • Member, Faculty Council Task Force on Graduate Faculty Status, 2017-2018.
  • Campus Fellow, Teaching Evaluation Working Group, University of Washington Tacoma, 2014-2016.
  • Coordinator, Environmental Sustainability major, University of Washington Tacoma, 2014-present.
  • Member, Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies Advisory Committee, 2014-2020.
  • Editor, STEP Ahead, Newsletter of the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Section of the American Political Science Association (bi-monthly), 2011-2015.

Honors and Awards

Distinguished Teaching Award Nominee, University of Washington Tacoma, 2022.

SESYNC Distinguished Scholar, Postdoctoral Immersion Program, Annapolis MD, October 2017

Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2017 Virtual Issue on Alternative and Nonregulatory Approaches to Environmental Governance, Nikolic and Koontz (2008) article included as one of 9 articles making important contributions to the field over the past 16 years.

Public Administration Review, 2016 Virtual Issue on Environmental Policy, Regulation, and Governance, Koontz and Thomas (2006) article included as one of 14 articles making important contributions to the field over the past 53 years.

Outstanding Faculty Award nominee, Outstanding Student Ceremony for Awards and Recognition (OS3s), University of Washington Tacoma 2016.

Newig, Jens, and Tomas M. Koontz. 2015. “Multi-level Governance, Policy Implementation, and Participation: The EU’s Mandated Participatory Planning Approach to Implementing Environmental Policy.” Selected for inclusion in Bache, Ian, and Matthew Flinders, Multi-level Governance: Essential Readings, Edward Elgar Publishing 2015.

Plimpton Outstanding Teaching Award, 2007, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University.

Price Advising Award, 2007, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University.

Pomerene Teaching Award recipient, 2002. College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University

CV / Resume
Selected Publications

Koontz, Tomas M. 2022. “Incorporating Evidence into Collaborative Ecosystem Restoration: A Content Analysis of Bibliographic References and their Use in Salmon Recovery Plans.” Environmental Management. Online Dec 15. DOI 10.1007/s00267-022-01766-w

Kochskamper, Elisa, Tomas M. Koontz, and Jens Newig. 2021. “Systematic Learning in Water Governance: Insights from Five Local Adaptive Management Projects for Water Quality Innovation,” Ecology and Society. 26(1):22.

Mudliar, Pranietha and Tomas M. Koontz. 2021. “Locating Power in Ostrom’s Design Principles: Watershed Management in India and the United States.” Society and Natural Resources 34(5): 639-658 and online 

Bonnell, Joseph, and Tomas M. Koontz. 2021. “A cross-cultural comparison of government influence on collaborative watershed institutions in Ohio (USA) and the Dominican Republic and implications for decentralization of resource management.” Society and Natural Resources 34(10) Jul 14 online. 

Koontz, Tomas M. 2021. “Science and scale mismatch: Horizontal and vertical information sharing in the Puget Sound polycentric governance system.” Journal of Environmental Management. 290:112600. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112600. Epub 2021 May 6. PMID: 33965689

Ranjan, Pranay, and Tomas M. Koontz. 2021. “Dilemmas of public goods provisioning: Institutional mechanisms for agricultural drainage management in Ohio, USA,” Journal of Environmental Panning and Management. 

Koontz, Tomas M., Nicolas Jager, and Jens Newig. 2020. “Assessing Collaborative Conservation: A Case Survey of Output, Outcome, and Impact Measures used in the Empirical Literature. “ Society and Natural Resources. 33(4): 442-461. DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2019.1583397

Gupta, Divya and Tomas M. Koontz. 2019. “Working Together? Synergies in Government and NGO Roles for Community Forestry in the Indian Himalayas.” World Development 114:326-340.

Koontz, Tomas M. 2019. “The Science-Policy Nexus in Collaborative Governance: Knowledge Use in Ecosystem Recovery Efforts.” Review of Policy Research 36(6): 708-735. 10.1111/ropr.12362.

Koontz, Tomas M., and Craig Thomas. 2018. “Use of Science in Collaborative Environmental Management: Evidence from Local Watershed Partnerships in the Puget Sound,” Environmental Science and Policy 88:17-23.

Ranjan, Pranay, and Tomas M. Koontz 2018 (accepted). “Resource asymmetry and property-rights in agricultural drainage systems: implications for collective action.” International Journal of the Commons.

Koontz, Tomas M. 2016. “Back to the Future? Collaborative Environmental Governance Theory and Practice,” In Margerum, Richard, and Cathy Robinson (eds.) The Challenges of Collaboration in Environmental Governance: Barriers and Responses , Edward Elgar Publishing.

Heeren, Alexander, Ajay Singh, Kristina Slagle, Adam Zwickle, Anna McCreery, and Tomas Koontz. 2016. “Is sustainability knowledge half the battle? An examination of sustainability knowledge, attitudes, norms, and efficacy to understand sustainable behaviours.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 17(3).

Koontz, Tomas M., Divya Gupta, Pranietha Mudliar, and Pranay Ranjan. 2015. “Adaptive Institutions in Social-Ecological Systems Governance: A Synthesis Framework.” Environmental Science and Policy 53:139-151.

Biddle, Jennifer C. and Tomas M. Koontz 2014. “Goal Specificity: A Proxy Measure for Improvements in Environmental Outcomes in Collaborative Governance”. Journal of Environmental Management 145:268-276.

Koontz, Tomas M. and Jens Newig. 2014. “Cross-level Information and Influence in Mandated Participatory Planning: Alternative Pathways to Sustainable Water Management in Germany’s Implementation of the E.U. Water Framework Directive.” Land Use Policy 38:594-604.

Koontz, Tomas M. 2014. “Social learning in collaborative watershed planning: The Importance of Process Control and Efficacy” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 57(10): 1572-1593. DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2013.820658

Koontz, Tomas M., and Jens Newig. 2014. “From Planning to Implementation: Top Down and Bottom Up Approaches for Collaborative Watershed Management.” Policy Studies Journal 42(3):416-442.

Carlton, J.S., J.R. Angel, S. Fei, M. Huber, T. Koontz, B.J. MacGowan, N.D. Mullendore, N.L. Babin, and L.S. Prokopy. 2014. “District Foresters’ attitudes toward using climate and weather information when advising forest landowners.” Journal of Forestry 112(1): 9-14. .

Zwickle, Adam, Tomas M. Koontz, Kristina Slagle, and Jeremy T. Bruskotter. 2014. “Assessing Sustainability Knowledge of an Undergraduate Student Population Developing a Tool to Measure Knowledge in the Environmental, Economic, and Social Domains.’ International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 15(4): 375-389.

Newig, Jens, and Tomas M. Koontz. 2014. “Multi-level Governance, Policy Implementation, and Participation: The EU’s Mandated Participatory Planning Approach to Implementing Environmental Policy.” Journal of European Public Policy 21(2): 248-267 DOI:10.1080/13501763.2013.834070 published Oct. 2013 online.

Koontz, Tomas M. and Sen, Sucharita. 2013. “Community Responses to Government Defunding of Watershed Projects: A Comparative Study in India and the USA.” Environmental Management 51(3): 571-585.

Hauser, Bradley K., Tomas M. Koontz, and Jeremy T. Bruskotter. 2012.“Volunteer Participation in Collaborative Watershed Partnerships: Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior.” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 55(1):77-94

Koontz, Tomas M. and Kathryn M. Plank. 2011. “Can Reading Questions Foster Active Learning? A Study of Six College Courses.” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 22(3):23-46.