Towards social-ecological resilience in natural resource governance: issues of power, diversity and scale

Weiss, Kristen Cheri (2011) Towards social-ecological resilience in natural resource governance: issues of power, diversity and scale. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Adaptive co-management of natural resources is generally thought to confer greater resilience on social-ecological systems by developing aspects of good governance. However, many co-management attempts have proven unsuccessful due to a number of problems including power imbalances and co-option, exclusion of various stakeholder groups, and lack of accountability or transparency. In the case of mobile resources, such as migratory megafauna, developing collaborative management approaches across several management jurisdictions is especially challenging. Examining the impact of structural characteristics and the patterns of relational ties among network actors in comanagement systems is crucial to understanding stakeholder interactions and resource flows, and is an important step in determining how to improve co-management arrangements to achieve more sustainable conservation outcomes.

My study is one of the first to consider network dynamics of a geographically extensive migratory species management system. I developed an in-depth case study of dugong and marine turtle management in Northern Australia using qualitative and quantitative social science methods, with the overarching goal of determining the capacity of this governance system to manage social-ecological resilience.

As coastal marine species governance in Australia involves a significant Indigenous component, I first explored the ways that Indigenous and non-Indigenous marine managers utilize 'scientific' and 'traditional ecological' knowledge to manage turtles and dugongs. While the value of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into natural resource management is generally acknowledged by the Australian government, large gaps in cross-cultural understanding and trust have limited successful knowledge integration to date. I explored Australian management documents and interviewed stakeholders in marine turtle and dugong management to determine how Indigenous and western scientific knowledge are perceived and utilized in various contexts and cultural settings. I found that understanding and engagement of these knowledge systems is often limited to 6 narrow contexts driven by political/power struggles, while the cultural underpinnings of each type of knowledge are oftentimes ignored, misunderstood, or rejected.

To explore relationships among stakeholders in marine turtle and dugong management more thoroughly, I used social network analysis to depict the various network linkages and institutional structures that link these stakeholders to each other. First I focused on power relations by comparing flows of knowledge and policy influence through the management network. My findings suggested that information exchange in the network is dense and decentralized, while policy power is concentrated in state and national government agencies, creating disconnect between knowledge and decision-making.

Next I looked at patterns of homophily (bonding ties) and heterogeneity (bridging ties) among stakeholders. Resilient social-ecological systems are thought to require a balance between bonding ties, which facilitate trust and solidify shared goals by linking likeminded stakeholders, and bridging ties, which encourage adaptive learning and innovation by linking diverse stakeholders. I compared patterns of knowledge exchange, policy influence, and collaborative linkages within versus among stakeholder groups involved in marine turtle and dugong management. Groups were differentiated based on their main organizational mandate, and were categorized either as conservation, industry, Indigenous, or research oriented groups. I found that network interactions occur more often between actors within the same interest group than between those in different groups, suggesting a lack of linkage heterogeneity in the network. While within-group communication may be sufficient, collaboration among diverse stakeholders is limited, potentially reducing adaptive capacity and resilience within the network.

Finally, I assessed the influence of scale on stakeholder interactions and institutional structure by dividing stakeholders by management level to compare within level versus across level linkages. Migratory species management is particularly susceptible to scale mismatch and related issues, yet the impacts of cross-scale network relations on the capacity to manage for social-ecological resilience are often ill understood. I attempted to fill this important knowledge gap by dividing stakeholders into local/community, regional non-government, regional government, and national levels and use social network analysis to determine the extent of cross-scale interactions. I found that crossscale collaborations are limited, especially at lower management levels, such as among local and regional organizations. Cross-scale knowledge transfer occurs more often but is limited to specific pathways. Policy influence, on the other had, extends from the national level to all lower levels, representing a classic political hierarchy. These results suggest a lack of bottom-up engagement capacity that limits equitable decision-making and sustainable cross-scale collaboration.

Based on the combined results of this PhD study, the ability of the turtle and dugong governance system to manage social-ecological resilience hinges on the development of improved knowledge and communication pathways through the network to encourage greater social learning, cross-cultural trust building, and more transparent and equitable governance processes. Such processes could be achieved in part by enhancing the bridging functions of regional organizations that connect knowledge producers, such as researchers, with policy makers. Greater investment in forums for capacity building and policy deliberation at multiple scales will similarly provide opportunities to strengthen network relations and improve social-ecological resilience in the system. I conclude this study by discussing some specific strategies to increase resilience in the governance system, and suggesting future research directions that will provide additional insight on the role of social networks and institutional structures on natural resource governance.

Item ID: 29239
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: natural resource management; wildlife management; socioecological resilience; adaptation; network interaction analysis; migratory species management; natural resource governance; communication networks
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 4: Weiss, Kristen, Hamann, Mark, and Marsh, Helene (2013) Bridging knowledges: understanding and applying indigenous and western scientific knowledge for marine wildlife management. Society and Natural Resources, 26 (3). pp. 285-302.

Chapter 5: Weiss, Kristen, Hamann, Mark, Kinney, Michael, and Marsh, Helene (2012) Knowledge exchange and policy influence in a marine resource governance network. Global Environmental Change, 22 (1). pp. 178-188.

Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2013 23:32
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 34%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 33%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 33%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960604 Environmental Management Systems @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 50%
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