More thoughts on Collaboration in Environmental Management

In my last (sleep-deprived) post, I commented on the disciplinary divide between social and natural scientists in their views of collaboration.  I noted that the social scientists often focus on building social capital, reducing transaction costs, etc while the natural scientists often focus more on scale.  Clearly, I oversimplified and under-thought (thunk?) these ideas.  The clearest examples of oversight come from any of the literature on watershed management, corridor conservation, or firescape management where both aspects of collaboration are routinely discussed.  But these two different (although not necessarily always discrete) types of collaboration still stumped me.

However, last week I had the good fortune of discussing some planned laboratory experiments on collaboration with Diego Galafassi.  In these experiments, Diego, along with Marco Janssen, Jacopo Baggio, and the esteemed Orjan Bodin, are comparing social-ecological systems in which the ecosystems are connected but different groups of actors have access to different patches.  In each treatment, there are two groups of players each drawing from only one of the ecosystems.  Because the ecosystems are linked, the behavior of each actor affects the other parties.  In one treatment, no one can talk to anyone else.  In another the members harvesting from the same ecosystem can communicate with others also harvesting from the same ecosystem but not to the other parties using the adjoining ecosystem or habitat patch.  In a third treatment, the groups from each ecosystem can talk with each other.  Stay tuned for more about these experiments as we start to run them.

While this is an overly brief synopsis of these experiments, discussing these with Diego sparked a few ideas.  First, the divide in collaboration that I was discussing wasn’t a disciplinary one at all.  Rather, it was about two distinct types of collaboration.  In these experiments, the “within group” treatments is really about collaboration with peers on a given site.  It’s about building social capital, etc (the naively-denoted social science view mentioned previously).  The links with other groups on connected (but separately managed) ecosystems is about scale-expanding.  When I consider case studies from my own research, I started thinking about the work at Agua Fria National Monument.  Here, the Nature Conservancy has facilitated collaborations between the BLM, Forest Service, and Arizona Game and Fish regarding grazing allotments and Collaborative Adaptive Management plans across adjacent BLM/USFS land.  This aspect of the collaboration fits with this view of collaboration as being about scale-expansion.  However, the Collaborative Adaptive Management process that the agencies are going through goes far beyond this.  On the National Monument alone over 50 stakeholder groups have participated in workshops and planning meetings or been invited into the process.  Few of these groups is a land owner in the sense that their collaboration expands the scale of the project in any meaningful sense.  However, it does increase the knowledge base, build legitimacy in the management process, add social capital, and so on.  The two aspects of this case mirror the two separate forms/purposes of collaboration.

Again, these thoughts are still being written in a quick fashion by an author with chronic sleep deficit.  But this framing may help us to better understand collaborations in the field and in the lab.  I’m hopeful that we can explore these ideas in the upcoming research.

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