New Publication on Collaboration to Improve Environmental Outcomes

The PECS working group on Collaborative Governance has a new publication out that explores how to study the effects of context on collaboration (link here and citation at bottom of post).  Working with researchers from a dozen countries around the globe, we have been analyzing how commonly outlined “success factors” to achieve improved outcomes to environmental dilemmas are mediated by context.

We wanted to see the differences between:

  • grassroots (bottom-up) and government mandated (top-down) collaborations,
  • well-funded projects and those boot-strapping it,
  • projects in a developing context in contrast to a more developed locale,
  • and many others.

We developed a straightforward Context-Mechanism-Outcome (CMO) framework as shown below with an example:


Figure 1 in the published manuscript

Our manuscript came from struggling with shortcomings in the research that, in aggregate, often focused on mechanisms and outcomes without discussing the importance of context.  Meta-analyses and other studies often assess Ostrom’s Design Principles and their effects on environmental outcomes or the importance of social learning or leadership (or…) on collaborative goals.  However, many neglect to discuss the importance of context.  Or rather, they mention the importance of context and then ignore it in the analyses.  In the same way that neoclassical macroeconomic analyses often outline a series of unrealistic assumptions (rational actors, perfect information, etc) and then proceed with the analysis and findings without returning to these assumptions to see the actual validity of the findings, we find many of these studies to be interesting but not satiating.  Similarly, we see the importance of context often showing up in case studies of collaboration with little effort to generalize or broaden the findings beyond the idiosyncratic situation of case under study.

This paper is only a first step in our research program.  We have another paper under review that builds on this framework to conduct comparative case analyses across four cases. Another in the works uses a recently completed codebook based upon the framework in this paper to use Qualitative Comparative Analysis across a dozen cases to further elucidate the mediation of contextual variables in collaborative environmental governance.  We hope that as we learn more and study a wider variety of cases, we can contribute to our understanding of collaborations and improve them in practice.

Cockburn, J., M. Schoon, G. Cundill, C. Robinson, J. A. Aburto, S. M. Alexander, J. A. Baggio, C. Barnaud, M. Chapman, M. Garcia Llorente, G. A. García-López, R. Hill, C. Ifejika Speranza, J. Lee, C. L. Meek, E. Rosenberg, L. Schultz and G. Thondhlana. 2020. Understanding the context of multifaceted collaborations for social-ecological sustainability: a methodology for cross-case analysis. Ecology and Society 25 (3):7. [online] URL:

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