Study examines identifies characteristics needed of a network for accomplishing ecosystem-based management. Photo: P. Turander/Azote

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Collaborating your way to ecosystem-based management

How to develop and manage networks to solve complex social issues, in particular how to develop holistic approaches to environmental management

Story highlights

  • Holistic and collaborative approaches to environmental governance are on the rise
  • But just bringing a set of diverse actors together is not enough to solve complex problems
  • A trusted and competent coordinator can speed up the process and stimulate ties between participating actors

That collaboration, networks and stakeholder involvement is important for working towards a common goal seems obvious. The sum is known to be greater than its parts after all. But just bringing a group of different experts and stakeholders into a room is no guarantee for solving complex problems. Sometimes you need to get by with a little help from a trusted project leader.

That is the essence of a new study recently co-authored by centre researchers Örjan Bodin and Beatrice Crona. They have looked at whether approaches to governance based on networks facilitate holistic Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM). Collaboration has long been emphasized in EBM as a necessary means to handle many of the environmental challenges we face today, but less is known about how collaboration among different stakeholders can be made more or less, or not at all, effective in delivering management solutions.

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“We argue that it is a good strategy for a manager to install a trusted and competent coordinator early in the process, especially if time is limited and the ties between the participants are sparse.”

Bodin and Crona

Analysing Ecosystem-based management
In their study, which was published in Policy Studies Journal, Bodin and Crona have analysed whether multi-stakeholder collaboration can provide for more holistic management approaches to environmental problems. To do so, they use a comparative case study of five coastal regions in Sweden that were working towards EBM.

The question is if, and in what ways, collaboration provides more holistic solutions to complex social-ecological challenges.

“Establishing collaboration among various actors rarely guarantees an all-encompassing solution to challenges that often include complex social and ecological aspects,” says Örjan Bodin.

To add to the complexity, there is no blueprint on how to run a collaborative network effectively but two distinct characteristics can be identified. They found that networks based on many direct social ties between actors from different domains (public authorities, NGOs etc) and/or the presence of a trusted central coordinator connecting the actors helps.

The role of a trusted coordinator
However, different actors also mean expressions of different opinions, approaches and expectations. Bridging these differences is crucial for success, but is often compromised by limited time and engagement from the various parties. Enter the trusted coordinator.

Bodin and Crona believe a centrally located coordinator or project leader can facilitate trust building processes and compensate for limited time to engage between the actors.

“We argue that it is a good strategy for a manager to install a trusted and competent coordinator early in the process, especially if time is limited and the ties between the participants are sparse.”

From this, the coordinator should stimulate the development of many direct ties between the actors in order to boost trust and collaboration.

Never forget the context
Although coordinated collaboration seems to be a feasible strategy when time is limited, “weaving” a well-functioning network is a complicated process and the specific context needs to be taken into account, the authors conclude.

“From the perspective of a manager with limited resources trying to accomplish effective multi-actor collaboration, strategically navigating individuals in the network and their connections is a way as to enhance EBM outcomes. However, you need to consider the specific tasks at hand, the set of involved actors, or actors who should be involved, local contexts, and which management phase a collaborative process is assumed to be in.”

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Published: 2016-08-03

Related info

Bodin, Ö., Sandström, A. and Crona, B. 2016. Collaborative Networks for Effective Ecosystem-Based Management: A Set of Working Hypotheses. Policy Studies Journal. doi: 10.1111/psj.12146

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About the centre authors:

Örjan Bodin's main focus is to develop better understanding of SES through quantitative modeling and analyses of empirical data drawn from case studies and, more recently, behavioral experiments.

Beatrice Crona is an assistant professor at the centre. Her work focuses on resource governance issues with particular focus on marine related topics.


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