Networks of Collaboration

Over the past few months, there have been a number of great research projects on collaboration networks.  In the coming weeks, I’ll highlight some of the work of Mark Lubell (UC-Davis), Ramiro Berardo (Ohio State), Orjan Bodin (Stockholm Resilience Centre), and many others.  For now, I’d just like to share some of my humble efforts.  Drawing on fieldwork that Abby York and I conducted a few years back (ages ago as measured by the number of children we’ve had since then), we put together some simple network metrics to see how networks of collaborating organizations change over time.  The paper is available electronically at:  Open Article (for those without institutional library access, please see my website for proofs).

The main takeaways that I’d like to focus on here are: 1) the power of even some very simple network analyses to gain insight into collaborative endeavors, 2) how organizations can act as policy entrepreneurs and work across multiple cohorts and collaborations to accomplish their broader goals, and 3) how collaborations can be used to share risk.

For now, I’d like to focus on the second of these takeaways.  In southern Arizona, where this research took place, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) played a central role in establishing and coordinating many of these collaborations.  What’s interesting is how an organization’s strategy emerges in the social network.  Here TNC was able to leverage their land ownership and active management into a leadership role in multiple overlapping collaborative networks.  They served as an archetype of a boundary organization, linking science and policy, and brought NGOs, researchers, and government agencies into partnership.

Let me close with a photo from the region and one of the prominent collaborations in the area – the Malpai Borderlands Group – a collaboration of ranchers, federal and state agencies, and TNC, among others.


(with credit to TNC, of course)

Collaboration and Wild Horses

I’ve been remiss in posting about some of the interesting work over the past several months, so I hope to start catching up on wild horse management in Arizona, on green growth in China, on rhino conservation in southern Africa, and a host of other projects that I’ve been working on lately.  For now, let me start with one of the most fun and interesting projects that I’ve had an opportunity to work on lately.

In December, I started working with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and Southwest Decision Resources, a skilled group of environmental facilitation, conflict mediation and collaboration professionals.  I was asked to convene a collaborative group to develop a management strategy for the Heber Wild Horse Territory in the Black Mesa Ranger District.  See the map of the Territory from the Forest Service below.


The Territory is roughly 19,700 acres and is home to many (numbers currently being assessed) horses.  Our goal is to develop a management plan through a collaborative process to look for sustainable outcomes that balance the well-being of the horses with multiple uses including cattle ranching (there are two grazing allottments that overlap with the Territory), wildlife, and ecosystem health.  It’s a tall order, but we are excited to get started.

The collaborative working group meets for the first time next week.  We look forward to it.  For anyone interested, we have a public website that discusses what we are doing, provides more information about the horses and the governance/management, and gives a detailed overview.  See

And below are some photos of the horses!

Learn a bit about Social-Ecological Resilience

For those that missed the webinar on resilience a couple weeks ago, here is a link to it:

We had a wonderful session with nearly 300 people listening and following it live.  Please let me know what you think and if I can explain anything that is unclear.  Thanks!!

Webinar on Resilience tomorrow

On Wednesday, March 2nd, with my good friends Jacopo Baggio and Jenny Hodbod, we will be presenting a webinar in conjunction with the Security and Sustainability Forum.  We have been asked to present on our book “Principles for Building Resilience”, which we published last year with Cambridge University Press.  This was an initiative by the Resilience Alliance Young Scholars.

Our goal in the webinar is to introduce the increasingly popular concept of resilience as it applies to social-ecological systems.  We will introduce 7 principles seen to build general system resilience. If you have interest in following the webinar, it can be seen live tomorrow from 1:15 – 2:45 EST.  Sign up at the link below if you’d like to watch it live.  Please note that this is audio with presentation slides.  No chance to watch me in a live studio audience.  For that you need to sign up for my online classes here at ASU!

If you can’t attend the webinar during the live presentation, it will also be archived shortly afterwards and viewed at anytime on the Security and Sustainability forum website archive, with links from the homepage.

I look forward to seeing your questions on Wednesday!

Cool new video on Seven Principles for Building Resilience

The Stockholm Resilience Centre recently created a video on how to apply resilience thinking and based on the seven principles that we address in the book “Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems” from Cambridge University Press.  The video is available at: Resilience Video.  Very nice, short, understandable intro to the topic.

Four Quick Takeaways from the Pope’s Encyclic on Climate Change

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m not a climate change expert.  However, I am a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability, so I hear and see a fair amount of the latest research.  I was quite interested in the Papal announcement and am equally interested to see the commentary on it in the coming days.  As editorials are not yet out, I’m interested in a number of topics related to this and look forward to how this will play out in the news and social media.  For those new to the discussion, the Pope announced today that the global citizens need to take steps to protect the world from climate change (see this Reuters news link for early press on it).  He clearly articulates the world as a social-ecological system in which human action impacts the global environment and the state of the environment affects people directly and indirectly.

My Four Quick Takeaways:

  1. It will be curious how the Republicans respond to this.  As of now, only Jeb Bush’s has commented, saying something to the effect that he doesn’t go to church for policy advice.  However, this may be an opportunity that many Republicans have been waiting for – an opportunity to engage with the climate debate with a bit of support from conservative Christian groups.  I’ve always wondered why the climate debate has focused on the science, which has bordered on the ridiculous, when there are plenty of other threads for political debate regarding how to respond.  I’d be delighted to see a shift in the dialogue toward one of when, where, and how to respond rather than argue about whether climate change is reality and whether humans are the cause.  This is a great opportunity.  Let’s not waste it.
  2. The Pope framed this not as a scientific debate (the science is clear) or a political debate but as a moral argument.  He notes that climate change is human-induced and will affect everyone.  However, it will disproportionately affect those already the poorest and most vulnerable.  As people, we have a moral obligation to do something about this. Again, see the post above, this is an opportunity for leaders of people – religious, political, business – to engage in meaningful, ethical ways.
  3. Following from the previous point, making a difference will require individual action.  This may be the area that this announcement has the most importance.  Many of the changes required to effect change require modifying lifestyles – less fossil fuel consumption, eating lower on the food chain, reducing conspicuous (and other) consumption, and so on (not sure how the Pope would respond on population demographics!).  These changes mostly are not happening because these are unpleasant changes, even for those that can afford to change.  But if religion is good for anything, it is in making people sacrifice in the present for rewards in the future.  This is what makes this announcement so incredibly important.
  4. Clearly the timing is also important – just before the next round climate talks to take place in Paris this fall.  It will be interesting to see if this moves the needle at all.  After 20 UN annual climate change conferences (we’re about to have COP 21) which have made virtually no difference, it will be curious to see if this provides any momentum or will to change.  I’m an optimist at heart, but my head tells me that this is a stretch.

What do Prius drivers and drunk drivers have in common?

OK.  Let me start by saying I fully support fuel-efficient driving and I do not condone driving under the influence.  Let me also confess that I drive a Prius.  After buying the car, I noticed that all of its indicators on energy efficiency were causing me to alter my driving habits.  See the photos below:

consumption prius toyota-prius-display

These displays are great, and they succeed in their objective of making additional data readily at hand for the driver.  They also encourage drivers to act in ways that are more fuel efficient, and this is a great thing.  Yet like all positive change, this one comes with a few drawbacks.  The first is that all of the display work tends to draw the driver’s eyes from the road to the display.  This was the initial change that led me to think about how Prius drivers’ driving habits may be quite different than those of many other vehicles.  Of course, I can think of plenty of other activities that alter driving habits (texting, selecting music on usb connections, etc), so let’s not dwell on this too much.  It was an anecdotal observation and nothing more.  And we can think of technological solutions to this problem, like projecting onto the windshield, as many luxury cars do already.

However as I drove more, I started to see other issues – both good and bad – with driving based on this new information.  I began to display tendencies toward hypermiling behavior.  Hypermiling is adjusting your driving habits to achieve greater fuel economy.  We all do this to an extent, yet I am struck by the driving habits of hard-core hypermilers and how much some of these habits/tendencies resemble those of driving under the influence.  To see a great list of ways to increase your fuel efficiency through hypermiling, see

As you can see from this list, there are a number of habits that could lead to “irrational” driving or displays of driving resembling that of driving under the influence. From that list, I’ll make just a few comparisons.  First, the hypermilers talk about “target driving” or driving at a constant (low) level of fuel consumption.  This leads to slowing down and speeding up as you go up and down hills.  Such variable speed driving is a common symptom of a driver not “paying attention”.  Second, hypermilers often try to drive the minimum speed limit, rather than the maximum (or more), something problematic on many of our highways.  Third, the hypermilers suggest coasting to slow down and minimizing the use of brakes.  They also suggest when braking is needed, you should brake hard and later than normal.  All of these habits can lead to improving fuel economy.  However, they (and many other techniques) also resemble the sporadic driving behaviors of impaired drivers.

A few caveats… First, I see a great need to learn how to drive more fuel efficiently, and many of these techniques work and can make tremendous differences in fuel consumption.  Second, the website I refer to above also emphasizes safety and following traffic regulations, noting the trade-offs of safety inherent in some of their suggestions.  Third, there is a middle road between unsafe driving and being more conscientious of our driving decisions.  I’ve learned a lot about my own driving through experimenting with these techniques.  They are quite different from the racing and muscle car mentality that I grew up with.  In a future post, I’d like to look into automotive engineering breakthroughs.  I think that the true engineering breakthroughs are now coming on the efficiency front rather than on the speed/acceleration front.  But I’ll leave that alone for the moment.

Any thoughts from police and whether they see this phenomena as well?