Using social‐network research to improve outcomes in natural resource management

Julie E. Groce, Megan A. Farrelly, Bradley S. Jorgensen, Carly N. Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The conservation and management of natural resources operates within social‐ecological systems, in which resource users are embedded in social and environmental contexts that influence their management decisions. Characterizing social networks of resource users has received growing interest as an approach for understanding social influences on decision‐making, and social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a useful technique to explore these relationships. In this review, we synthesize how SNA has been used in studies of natural resource management. To present our findings, we developed a theory of change which outlines the influence between social networks and social processes (e.g., interactions between individuals), which in turn influence social outcomes (e.g., decisions or actions) that impact environmental outcomes (e.g., improved condition). Our review of 85 studies demonstrate frequent use of descriptive methods to characterize social processes, yet few studies considered social outcomes or examined network structure relative to environmental outcomes. Only 4 studies assessed network interventions intended to impact relevant processes or outcomes. The heterogeneity in case studies, methods, and analyses preclude general lessons. Thus, we offer a typology of appropriate measures for each stage of our theory of change, to structure and progress our learning about the role of social networks in achieving environmental outcomes. In addition, we suggest shifts in research foci towards intervention studies, to aid in understanding causality and inform the design of conservation initiatives. We also identify the need for developing clearer justification and guidance around the proliferation of network measures. The use of SNA in natural resource management is expanding rapidly, thus now is the ideal time for the conservation community to build a more rigorous evidence base to demonstrate the extent to which social networks can play a role in achieving desired social and environmental outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-65
Number of pages13
JournalConservation Biology
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • environmental outcome
  • biodiversity conservation
  • intervention
  • social network analysis
  • network metrics
  • social process
  • theory of change
  • social outcome

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