New Working Paper on Collaboration

Building on a workshop last November in Oaxaca, my lab group in the Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment at ASU has recently published a working paper on success factors for effective environmental management.  This work builds on several great papers published over the last decade as well as field work by my students and collaborators to substantiate this research.

We put this together as a practitioner’s brief that could be used by people in the field working to build or strengthen collaborations.  There is no fancy work here, just a collection of findings that we hope can help people achieve better outcomes and accomplish their goals.

This is the first part of our work towards understanding how these factors change under varying contexts.  We are building a database and examining multiple cases from around the world with a goal to improve how groups of people work together across borders and boundaries.

New article on Governance and Sustainability

With my good friend, Michael Cox, we have just published the introduction editorial to a special issue of the journal “Sustainability”.  The editorial can be found here. Entitled “Collaboration, Adaptation and Scaling: Perspectives on Environmental Governance for Sustainability”, we target these three issues as the critical ingredients for governance in the complex and dynamic world that we live in.

While I hope that you read this article, it’s really just an entry point into what we see as a stellar special issue that can be found here.  With articles from Fikret Berkes, Kate Brown, Kai Chan, Jesse Ribot, Oran Young and many more, the special issue covers governance and sustainability from a range of angles.  It hits multiple scales from local to international, targets subject matters from fisheries to international agreements to urban dynamics, and draws on a wide range of disciplines.

We very much look forward to your thoughts and ideas!

Sustainability Education in Elementary School

Beginning in the spring of 2017, I have had the good fortune of working with some amazing ASU Sustainability students.  Building on some pilot sessions last spring, these students have developed a year-long sustainability curriculum for third, fourth and fifth grade students at the International School of Arizona. I want to personally thank the ASU students – Julia Colbert, Kiriah Slagel, Hannah Lira, Haley Penny, and Megan Warner.  They have been industrious, inventive, and inspiring.  On the ISA side, the US curriculum instructors (Cristina Celaya,Deb Kahalewai, Kari Nehlsen, and Marlena Sypel) have created an atmosphere conducive for learning and students primed for this content.  It’s exciting to watch.  My role has been mainly to get out of the way.

These amazing students (both the ASU instructors and ISA pupils) started with the fundamentals of sustainability – the economic, environmental, and social pillars – and then took a deep dive into each.  They used student garden plots to demonstrate ecological principles and to link our individual and group behaviors between the social and ecological realms.

It seems that the concepts make intuitive sense to the students in ways that don’t always resonate quite so readily with adults.  Perhaps this is why books such as All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten continue to be so popular.  We know a great deal, but as we get busier and busier with our careers, our families, and our constant racing, we tend to forget some of the basics.

I look forward to continuing to learn from the children at ISA and my wonderful students at ASU.

Pictures to follow….

New Research on Social Tipping Points

Earlier this week, a group of scholars (including myself) published a review paper on social tipping points.  The article will be open access, and the article has now been made available online at

This paper originated in a workshop at the Complex Systems Society conference in Arizona in 2015.  An assessment of preliminary results occurred at a workshop in Oaxaca in 2017 with a group of researchers (including several of the paper’s authors) and practitioners.

In our article, we analyze how the term has morphed over time as its application has grown from natural systems to social and social-ecological systems.  We also note how the definitions and characteristics assigned to the term have proliferated.  This has led to a lack of clarity in the use of tipping points, particularly in social systems.  We identify 23 distinct features of tipping point definitions.  Using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, we propose definitions for social tipping points that draw upon the most frequent features and logical consistency.  The field is clearly in its infancy, and we welcome insights and comments on the paper.

Is a Zero Waste Super Bowl Possible?

Over the years, I’ve had the great pleasure to work with a number of amazing, motivated, brilliant students dedicated to transforming society through their work in Greenlight Solutions student sustainability solutions group.  They work with local organizations to solve sustainability challenges confronting these groups.

One of these wonderful students and Greenlight alum and board member, Nate Gassman, has been working with Jack Groh to make major sporting events zero waste.  Nate’s position at Pepsico has enabled him to continue this work at next week’s Super Bowl.  This work has been featured in an article in Fortune Magazine. There is also a wonderful video with Jack and Nate that can be seen in this Business Insider Article.  For more details (and a silly video of Hines Ward dancing in support of recycling), see this website.

Some of my current students in my undergrad class on governance are engaged in a similar project with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to make the Arizona State Fair a Zero Waste event as well.  I’ll report back in a few months on their efforts.  I look forward to seeing what they do!

Notes from Oaxaca, Mexico

A few weeks ago, November 8-12th, I had the opportunity to go to the lovely city of Oaxaca, Mexico for a conference with the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS).

monte alban oax 2017

On the 11th, with my wonderful friend and colleague Georgina Cundill, we led a workshop on collaboration.  Our goal was to work towards a typology of how the critical components of successful collaborations changes across diverse contexts.  There have been a number of excellent review articles on what makes for a successful collaboration (see references at the bottom for a smattering of citations).  However, we were interested in how the success factors noted in the literature change under diverse conditions.

We spent some time going over the aggregated list of success factors which will come out soon as a practitioners’ brief.  The brief will elaborate on this blog post to provide guidance for practitioners trying to build collaborative projects in the field. We then tried to identify how context-dependent these factors are.  We are currently exploring cases to look at how different collaboration is whether top-down or bottom-up in origination, whether well-funded or on shoestring budgets, whether legally mandated or organically formed, and other similar contexts.

In the near future, we will have the practitioners’ brief available online.  The workshop benefitted from having a number of practitioners in attendance to provide real world expertise.  We will follow this with more detailed academic findings.  Stay tuned!

References (among many others):

Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2008). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of public administration research and theory, 18(4), 543-571.

Armitage, D. R., Plummer, R., Berkes, F., Arthur, R. I., Charles, A. T., Davidson-Hunt, I. J., … & Wollenberg, E. K. (2009). Adaptive co-management for social-ecological complexity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(2), 95-102.

Folke, C., T. Hahn, P. Olsson, and J. Norberg. (2005). Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30, 441-473.

Plummer, R., Crona, B., Armitage, D. R., Olsson, P., Tengö, M., & Yudina, O. (2012). Adaptive comanagement: a systematic review and analysis. Ecology and Society, 17(3), 11.

Seven Insights from Resilience 2017

Having been back on campus for a couple weeks with time to reflect, I wanted to jot down a list of a few insights and takeaways from the Resilience 2017 conference ( in Stockholm.  I would be delighted to hear and share the insights of others as well.  My list:

  1. A noticeably stronger connection of science with art and the humanities which flowed through the entire conference – the plenaries, the extra events, and the sessions.
  2. Fewer studies and presentations with a clear, consistent grounding in the mathematics of resilience and more qualitative studies
  3. Fewer ecological studies
  4. A great deal more discussion on transformation of social-ecological systems, which was interesting given the Transformations conference the following week in Scotland (
  5. A diverse and broad geographic representation of attendees and presenters
  6. A rapidly growing community of resilience scholars (great news!) and a broadening of the concepts of resilience thinking (mixed blessings)
  7. An uptick in the number of governance scholars engaging in polycentricity and collaboration that seem to be engaging with this community more than traditional venues.

Of course, these are just my insights from the sessions that I was able to attend.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.