Archive for February, 2013

Collaboration in Environmental Management and Scale

Just a few quick thoughts…

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the recent push by US Federal agencies for increasing stakeholder engagement and collaborative management.  Most of the discussions within the agencies as well as in the academic literature (in collaborative management, collaborative governance, co-management, etc) have been about collaboration and the social benefits – increasing legitimacy and buy-in, building social capital, gaining access to local knowledge, improving monitoring and enforcement of rules, and so on.  It appears that only occasionally is reference made to the literature that comes from corridor ecology and conservation biology about the gains from changing the scale of management.  The bioregionalism movement focuses on shifting scales and the transboundary conservation work acknowledges this as well.  However, it’s mostly missing from the “collaboration” literature.

The environmental challenges of today are occurring at ever-increasing scales as we approach planetary boundaries in the Anthropocene.  The impacts of increasing populations, affluence, and the globalization of trade, communications, and energy markets have led to a host of problems that span beyond borders.  The real benefits of collaboration, particularly when we look at collaborative governance beyond the most local of scales, seem to accrue from scale expansion, not social benefits.  But I guess this remains to be tested empirically.

– Thoughts from a sleep-deprived new dad

Mini Discussion on Sustainability in Africa

Over the holidays, I had a chance to give a talk to the Mastercard-sponsored Scholars group of ASU students from sub-Saharan Africa.  This helped to launch a class on sustainability in Africa.  It got me thinking about what to cover, given a broad range of topics.  If we agree that sustainability isn’t an “environmental” problem, but a more broadly defined societal problem, then we have a host of issues to choose from – disease, natural resource management, human rights, and so on.

Given my personal predilections, I tend to see poor governance as the common thread through all of these.  My own work and experience in Africa is clearly limited, and the undergrads that I spoke with came from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya.  I’ve only been to a few of these countries and have only spent more than a couple weeks in Moz, so I can hardly claim to be an expert.  But as we started talking about sustainability and the need to foster more resilient social-ecological relations, as a group we found that we had a lot to share, to teach, and to discover.  My own work is about collaboration across some kind of boundary (international, public-private, between individuals or tribes, between states or municipalities) for the collective governance of natural resources.  My African work focused on transboundary protected areas.  In the discussion with the Mastercard Scholars, we kept returning to the same questions:

  • Where can we or should we collaborate?
  • When does it make more sense for groups to “go it alone”?
  • How can we overcome the transaction costs of collaboration to reap collective benefits?
  • How can we make collaborations work better?

There are no silver bullets in response to these questions.  My hope is that my ongoing research can help to guide policymakers and practitioners in their quest for a more sustainable future.