Archive for May, 2020

New publication on Collaboration along the Verde River

With a couple of my former graduate students, Anna Bettis and Gabrielle Blanchette, we have just published a case study on governance and management along the Verde River, through a collaboration of stakeholders known as the Verde Front.  Published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, the manuscript is entitled Enabling Regional Collaborative Governance for Sustainable Recreation on Public Lands:  The Verde Front and will be accessible online here shortly.

Here’s a map of the Verde River of Central Arizona:

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This project has taken a long time.  As many of you know, publishing case studies is often difficult, as the reviewers often question the generalizability of the study and want to know what’s the big deal.  Here, our focus was on how commonly studied factors for successful collaborations from past studies at local levels scale up to  the regional level. The Verde Front is a collection of groups and projects along the Verde River that partner together to better accomplish their collective goals at a regional level. Among the differences between this regional study and past local studies was the interesting hierarchical structure that the group developed.  Of course, hierarchy is a common approach to increasing scale and complexity and the group needed a facilitative leadership approach that built trust and legitimacy through power brokers within the sub-groups that was encouraged by their experienced facilitators.  The facilitators also spent much of their time on holding dispersed stakeholders accountable.  Through the hierarchical structure, the high levels of accountability, the effort to build social capital and trust, and the expert facilitation, the collective was able to think regionally, beyond the scale of each of their individual projects.

And here’s a photo showing the beauty of this river (courtesy of The Verde Independent):

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New Publication on Resilience and Engineering

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune of having a new publication, “Toward General Principles for Resilience Engineering” published in the journal Risk Analysis.  A copy of the article can be found here. This was a lot of fun, working on an interdisciplinary team, primarily comprised of several engineers and led by one of CBIE’s former doctoral students, David Yu, now at Purdue University in their Civil Engineering group.

In this article, we compared the enabling conditions or principles of building resilience from the resilience engineering literature with principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems that were identified in a book that I co-edited and co-authored with some friends from the Resilience Alliance for Cambridge University Press a few years ago.  We wanted to take a broader perspective of resilience for infrastructure-dependent systems that took a more nuanced approach than generally offered in the resilient engineering literature.  Here, when we refer to infrastructure-dependent systems, we simply mean the built infrastructure and how it is used by society.  As an example, think about a dam.  It’s for water storage and power generation.  But it also has tremendous impacts on the ecosystem, provides a number of recreational opportunities, and is dependent on natural systems like the water cycle.  Its functions are resilient to a number of shocks and less resilient to others.  Here’s a photo of Hoover dam to anchor these ideas.

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Long ago, when I was being trained as an engineer, we were taught that good design trumped everything else.  But we all know the stories about poor designs winning over better products for a number of reasons – ease of use with less functionality, superior marketing, poor understanding of the problem being solved.  In sustainability, we see this regularly.  For instance, one of my former master’s students, Ryan Delaney, started a company, Carbon Roots, to help improve soil quality in Haiti.  They took a design to make charcoal from crop waste that could then be injected into the ground to improve soil nutrient levels.  In turn, this would improve crop yields.  This was the engineered design.  However, in application, people found that they could make the charcoal and then sell it for cooking fuel – a far more pressing need.  Hence, when we talk about resilience in engineering, we want to talk about the technology and its use – our infrastructure-dependent system.

In our article, we identified the following first principles for infrastructure-dependent systems:

  1. Recognize the importance of system contexts
  2. Foster social capital
  3. Maintain diversity
  4. Manage connectivity
  5. Encourage learning-by-doing
  6. Embrace polycentric control
  7. Address the problem of fit
  8. Manage for complexity

While I don’t have space to go into detailed explanations of these, here is a figure that we use in the manuscript to show the interrelationships between these concepts and how they influence resilience.

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A Semi-Charmed Life

I want to describe today how Ecuador has reacted in response to the corona virus and how that has affected us as a family.  The response to covid-19 in Ecuador has been very aggressive and quick-reacting.  When the first cases hit Guayaquil in early March, the government responded promptly.  While there have been many failures and shortcomings, the efforts of this relatively impoverished country have been laudable.  But this essay isn’t about the government response.  Instead, I want to talk about the effects of their response and the mindset of quarantine here, as it seems quite different to what our friends and family are describing in the US, Europe, and many other places.

We have been in quarantine since March 13th, and our kids’ last day of school was the 12th.  Quarantine here has meant that we have curfew from 2 PM – 5 AM, that we can only drive 1 day a week based on our license plate number (with no one driving on Sundays), that all outdoor activity is off limits other than trips for food or other essentials, and that these trips are done by only 1 member of the family.  Trips out require a mask and gloves.  As a result, my kids have been in our apartment for 57 straight days (and counting).

Last weekend, I had a wonderful zoom happy hour with several friends that I grew up with.  Friends were surprised by the rough experience that we confront here in Ecuador.  However, the thing is – it’s not so bad.  I’m not viewing this with rose-tinted glasses.  It isn’t always easy.  We’ve all – parents and kids – had our share of melt-downs and frustrations.  But it’s really not that bad.  Our kids (10 and 7) have zoom class calls most of their weekday mornings and have activities around the apartment to keep them busy and content most of the time.  Lyrna is busy with her photography, and I’m occupied with my work.  And Lyrna and I are both running around trying to keep up with the kids’ school work.  We are blessed that our work continues without any interruption.  We are blessed that we are financially secure.  We are blessed that we are healthy.

With apologies to old 90s alt rock, I labeled this a semi-charmed life.  We are living in a comfortable apartment, but we don’t have a yard.  This wouldn’t be our dream vacation spot (being inside, under quarantine).  And clearly, it’s more restrictive than our friends and family back in the US.  But life is mostly good.  The family has time (loads of it) together.  We have time to read and reflect, watching movies together, and teach the kids how to cook.  We have played games together, made artwork and created crafts (OK – those did not involve me at all), and made all kinds of mini adventures for ourselves.  Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s not that bad.  And I’m also not trying to humble brag about the family, or that anything less means that someone else is failing.

So after the happy hour call with friends, I guess what surprised me most was the complaints and angst (not from my friends on the call) that I see in the news and social media coming out of the US with restrictions far more lenient than here.  Suffering is losing your employment, your business, or your home.  Suffering is struggling with life in ICU.  Suffering is losing a loved one.  I lost a dear uncle this week, though not to covid.  Suffering is NOT from having to wear a mask outside, having to maintain physical distance, or not being able to eat in a restaurant.  Seriously, we often talk about sacrificing for our freedom and for our country, but we’re not willing to make these sacrifices for our neighbors and our community.

I guess to close, I would just say that I’m grateful for what we have, especially our health, meaningful employment, and security.  I hope the same for you and yours.