New webinar on quantitative analysis and vulnerability assessments

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by J.T. Erbaugh on quantitative analysis and vulnerability assessments in environmental social science.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title: Local vulnerability to climate change in Indonesia: Using hierarchical clustering to scale-up vulnerability profiles

Abstract: Climate vulnerability is comprised of a community’s exposure, sensitivity, and ability to adapt to future climate hazards. Measurements of climate vulnerability often collapse these distinct yet interrelated components into a single index. Though indices provide a method for comparing vulnerability, they often depend on arbitrary cut-off points, and they do not provide sufficient information to guide communities or governments in the design of local adaptation to climate change (LACC). In contrast, vulnerability profiles provide information on the magnitude and combination of climate exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. To date, vulnerability profiles have not been scalable, and thus cannot provide regional information required for coordinating local investment in climate-smart development or assisting policymakers in addressing specific climate vulnerabilities. In this research, use hierarchical agglomerative clustering to generate regional vulnerability profiles across 80,736 Indonesian villages. Within six sub-regions across Indonesia, we find 61 vulnerability clusters that identify regional vulnerability according to predicted climate, land-cover change, population trends, and village-level development variables. Our initial consultations with village-leaders have thus far validated cluster assignments. Understanding how villages and regions are vulnerable to climate change, rather than focusing solely on the level of vulnerability they face, promises to better direct climate funding and support local adaptations to climate change.

Bio: James (J.T.) Erbaugh is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at Dartmouth College. He draws upon political theory, political ecology, and methods in causal inference to conduct research on environmental policy and governance. He specializes in the study of decentralized forest management, forest restoration and its contribution to local livelihoods, and local adaptations to climate change. His research has been published in Nature Ecology & EvolutionEnvironmental Research LettersWorld Development, and Forest Policy and Economics, among other outlets. 

This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.

New webinar on qualitative meta-analyses in environmental social sciences

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Michael Cox and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas on qualitative meta-analyses in environmental social science.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title:  Meta-analyses and case studies in the social-environmental sciences


In the last 10 years, qualitative meta-analyses (QMA) have gained momentum in the environmental social sciences. These are motivated by the abundance of single case studies in the field, which by themselves don’t produce generalizable knowledge. This situation under-leverages the knowledge of individual researchers for collective learning, and hinders knowledge accumulation . QMA can fill this gap by coding important features of case studies to facilitate analytical comparisons between them. Conditions and resources to carry meta-analyses have notably improved in recent years due to increasing internet availability, open access publications, and big data management techniques. This presentation will cover the basic protocols for implementing a QMA, using examples from research on community-based natural resource management and socio-ecological systems. It will also discuss the connection between QMA and newly proposed protocols for conducting and reporting the case studies themselves.


Michael Cox is a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. He is an environmental social scientist who studies community-based natural resource management as well as path dependence and technological transitions. He has conducted empirical fieldwork-based analyses of irrigation systems in the Southwest United States, Peru and Kenya. His current empirical work is focused on community-based fisheries and rice farming systems in the Dominican Republic, as well as collaborative watershed management in South Africa. For the past several years he has led a synthetic project on social-ecological governance, the details of which can be found at More recently he has been developing the Environmental Social Science Network with Stefan Partelow, with the two co-hosting the Finding Sustainability Podcast ( along with Courtney Hammond-Wagner.

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas is currently Ramon y Cajal Research Fellow at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB), at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is also affiliated with the Ostrom´s Workshop (Indiana University) and the Berlin Workshop in Institutional Analysis of Socio-Ecological Systems (WINS).  His research areas are climate change adaptation, community-based natural resource management, and polycentric governance. Specific topics include adaptation to droughts and other disturbances in the irrigation sector, bottom-up management solutions to the water-energy-food nexus, transboundary river management, and the interaction of social movements and commons management. He has carried fieldwork research in Spain, Colombia, Mexico, and Germany with grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the Canadian Social Science Research Council (SSHRC), the Latin-American Association of Environmental Economists (LACEEP), the BiodivERsA/FACCE-JPI network and the Government of Balearic Islands, among others.

This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.

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:

New webinar on gender and power in collaborative environmental governance

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Florian Clement that builds on last month’s webinar on power and political ecology.  This webinar adds gender to power analysis in environmental governance.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title:  Politicising gender analysis and gendering power analysis in environmental social science

Abstract:  Until a few years ago, I did not consider gender as an analytical concept of major importance in environmental governance research. When I moved to South Asia, the gender inequalities made a deep impression on me, but it still took me a few years before understanding what a feminist perspective could bring to my own research, both from a scientific and praxis perspective. In this talk, I reflect on this personal and scientific route, drawing on my personal experience as a western female researcher and on the research I conducted on women’s empowerment and water development interventions in Nepal.

First, I consider how gender analysis has lost most of its political and critical feminist gist while being mainstreamed in environment and development policies and practices. Then I explain how a critical feminist perspective, rooted in feminist political ecology, has both furthered my own analysis of power in human-environment interactions and supported a better consideration of the social justice implications of my work. To conclude, I see politicising gender analysis and gendering power analysis in environmental social science as closely interlinked and mutually beneficial.

Bio:  Floriane Clement currently works at the research lab DYNAFOR, for the National Research Institute on Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE). Her research has focused on agricultural and environmental governance, with a particular interest in understanding what creates gaps between policy intentions and outcomes. She has been conducting multi-level analyses, drawing on institutional analysis, discourse analysis and feminist studies. Theoretically, she has been exploring spaces of dialogue and tensions among institutional analysis, commons studies and (feminist) political ecology.

Before joining DYNAFOR in 2018, she conducted research on forest and land policies in Vietnam, watershed policies in India and water and gender development programmes in Nepal. Her research currently focuses on the implementation of agroecological and agrienvironmental public policies. She mostly draws on qualitative methods but has also used mixed research methods in collaboration with economists and has engaged in participatory action research, combining participatory video with deliberative policy forums.

This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.

New Webinar on Collaboration and Political Ecology

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Gustavo Garcia-Lopez on collaboration, power, and political ecology.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title: Within, against and beyond the state: Political ecologies of collaborative governance of protected areas in Puerto Rico

Abstract:  In this presentation, I discuss some central elements of a political ecology of collaborative governance in the context of the Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico. I use the concept of “within against and beyond the state” to understand community initiatives as part of have positioned themselves in collaborative governance, as part of broader historical movements against colonial and neoliberal patterns of development, and in the attempt to create grassroots alternatives that integrate conservation, eco-development and social justice.

Bio: Gustavo is an engaged scholar from Puerto Rico with a transdisciplinary social-environmental sciences training, building on institutional analysis, environmental policy and planning, and political ecology approaches. His research and practice centers on issues related to grassroots collective action initiatives that seek to advance transformations towards more just and sustainable worlds. His work has been geographically focused in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and most recently in Portugal and Spain, though he also engages in global and transnational comparative analyses. He is currently Assistant Researcher at the Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra (funded by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation- FCT under the Individual Scientific Stimulus Program). He also holds the 2019-2021 Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. Between 2015-2019, he was Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Planning at the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras (currently on leave). Previous to that, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow (Experienced Researcher) in the European Network of Political Ecology, a European Commission-funded Marie Curie International Training Network (MSCA-ITN). He holds a PhD in Public Policy and Political Science from Indiana University-Bloomington (with concentrations in Environmental Policy and Institutional Analysis), a Masters in Environmental Policy from Cambridge University (UK), and a Bachelor in Environmental Sciences and Geography from the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras. He is engaged in various collaborative research-action networks and civil society initiatives related to community-based initiatives for sustainability and environmental justice. He is a member of the Climate Justice Network (, an international collaboration between US and Global South scholars, practitioners and activists on climate justice research and education; and of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society’s (PECS) Collaborative Governance Working Group (, which developed comparative research with the aim of understanding and strengthening collaborative ecosystem governance. He is a member of the governing board of JunteGente (, a space of encounters of grassroots movements against disaster capitalism and for another Puerto Rico possible in the aftermath of hurricane Maria; and of Emerge Puerto Rico, an initiative of community-based climate change education for youth-led adaptability and action. And he is co-founding member of the editorial collective of the Undisciplined Environments political ecology blog (


This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.

New Publication on Variables in Social-Ecological Systems

First, a word of warning.  This post will not be referring or commenting on COVID, BLM, the economic crisis, Donald Trump, climate change or any of the other enormous challenges confronting both the USA and the globe at present.  It’s just an update on a research publication.

The publication is entitled “From concepts to comparisons: a resource for diagnosis and measurement in social-ecological systems”, and the full reference and link to the DOI can be found at the end of this post.

Building on years of work on a meta-analysis of social-ecological systems (through the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database known as SESMAD), this paper elucidates on the findings of this research and looks at the importance of consistency in assessing and analyzing pertinent variables in social-ecological systems.

As an example of how important this is, an example that I often use with my students is about policing.  Damn…I’m getting into one of the topics above.  If the variable of concern is how do we assess good policing, what should we measure?  Crime rates?  Well, those are influenced by many things, including level of economic growth, but the police don’t control that.  What about arrest rates?  Does a high arrest rate mean that the police are doing a good job (getting all the bad guys) or a bad job (harassing many people for trivial reasons)?  We can envision all types of ways that we can influence these numbers without any real measure of the effectiveness of the police force.  I thought about this every time I drove through some of the small towns near where I grew up.  If it was the end of the month, the town cop would be out to catch people speeding to make sure he met his monthly quota.  I’m not sure that has anything to do with good policing.  What about response rates and times?  What about levels of trust in their communities and neighborhoods?  And the list goes on and on.  I’m not a criminal justice scholar, so I don’t want to comment more than this.  Rather, we can all think through this example as to the importance of being very clear about what and how we are measuring concepts that we find important in our research.

Our paper and the research program, more broadly, identifies key variables for understanding social-ecological systems by drawing on several of the core theories in the field and identifying how variables are connected in these theories.  This paper then sets out to provide clear, repeatable mechanisms for measuring and comparing these variables across cases.  Enjoy!


Cox, Michael, Natalie Ban, Graham Epstein, Louisa Evans, Forrest Fleischman, Mateja Nenadovic, Gustavo García-López, Frank van Laerhoven, Chanda Meek, Irene Perez Ibarra, Michael Schoon, and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas. 2020. “From concepts to comparisons: a resource for diagnosis and measurement in social-ecological systems”, Environmental Science and Policy 107: 211-216. DOI:

Webinar on Collaboration and Transformative Conservation

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Bimo Nkhata on transformative conservation and the commons in Zambia.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title:  Transformative Conservation as an Emerging Imperative for the Local Commons in Africa:  Insights from the Kafue River Floodplain, Zambia

Abstract:  This presentation will share insights into how the concept of transformative conservation can be applied to explore the role of transformative change in efforts to sustain the local commons in Africa. Using a case study of the Kafue River Floodplain in Zambia, the presentation will illustrate why efforts to build climate resilient local commons such as floodplains require long-term transformative conservation interventions. The presentation will argue that a transformative conservation approach, which is generative of change, is needed to deal with the many maladaptation challenges experienced by such local commons. It will show how climate change has adversely affected the Kafue River Floodplain and the ecosystem services it provides. Climate change has made weather patterns more variable, extreme, and unpredictable, and weather patterns have in turn shifted to more intense and frequent events with dire consequences for the local commons. Droughts in particular have become a major feature of the climate, socio-economics and politics of the local commons. These complex emergent issues related to climate change, floodplain management and the conservation of the local commons raise significant questions about the analytic linkages between adaptation and transformation. Can African local commons adapt to climate change with business as usual? Does climate resilience require more fundamental change and the subsequent emergence of a new state of the local commons? These and other provocative questions will be used to make a case for why the future prospects of the local commons in Africa will be defined by the capacity to transform rather than to adapt to these emergent conditions. Such capacity will require deliberate attention to governance processes that constrain and/or promote collective action among the users of the local commons.

Bio:  Bimo Nkhata provides strategic leadership of the IIE Water Research Centre located at the IIE MSA campus (formerly Monash University South Africa) of the Independent Institute of Education in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Centre conducts applied research into water and other environmental related issues including climate change, forestry, wildlife, agriculture and energy. Nkhata is an internationally recognized researcher in the fields of water and environmental science. Over the years, he has worked closely as a researcher on several international initiatives with various research and academic institutions. He has published widely on common pool resources management, policy and governance. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of the Commons. Nkhata is a member of the Commission on Ecosystem Management of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) that provides global expert guidance on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. He is a founding member of a new global academic initiative -“Transforming Tomorrow: From Climate Emergency to Prosperity” – led by the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London. He is also the head of the secretariat of and a researcher in the INSAKA Research Consortium involving six (6) international universities across two continents. He has devoted much of his working life researching into the resilience of African ecosystems and their relationships with society. He has studied, lived and worked in Kenya, South Africa, USA and Zambia over extended periods dealing with various environmental issues of concern to Africa.

This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.

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:


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):



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.


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.


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.