This summer, I have had the unique opportunity to learn with social scientists in the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Directorate Fellow. The project team I am part of focuses on elevating the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) partnership with social science. This project uses social network analysis, a research approach in the social science toolbox, to map out who is involved in conservation and stewardship in the Southeast.
Conservation at a landscape scale requires people and organizations working together across geographies and at multiple scales. Networks that span boundaries are our best chance at achieving the SECAS vision of a connected network of lands and waters that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people. For SECAS to successfully play a broader coordinating and convening role, its leadership needs to understand the organizations and partnerships involved in conservation action in the Southeast. Social network analysis is a particularly effective research approach to explore that question because it can lead to more strategic activation of collaborative conservation across the SECAS geography. This project will highlight which landscape-scale issues are being addressed, where conservation efforts are happening, and how these efforts might connect to one another.
This social network analysis is one of the recommendations from the SECAS Futures Project. For a refresher course on SECAS Futures, check out this blog from Mallory Martin back in 2021 explaining the details and key findings of that project. In March of 2021, the SECAS Futures Report was released, detailing some recommendations for the SECAS Steering Committee. This primary recommendation leading to this project was:
- To play a broader coordinating and convening role: Recommend conducting a social network analysis to better understand existing relationships and connections among partners.
The social network analysis team includes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service social scientists, SECAS leadership, and national experts in partnership- and network-based governance who developed the survey for the social network analysis. We first distributed the survey to a list of known landscape conservation and stewardship initiatives in the Southeast region. Using a snowball sampling approach, we asked participants to identify other partnerships and forums they engage with in their conservation work. From these referrals, we identified additional potential participants and asked them to participate in the survey. This snowball methodology grows our understanding of who is partnering on conservation issues within the SECAS geography more effectively than traditional methods.
Landscape-scale conservation is not the responsibility of any one entity. The large, complex issues we face today require coordination beyond what can be accomplished through individual efforts. The SECAS social network analysis is now underway with findings and recommendations expected by January 2024. The results of this project will inform several products and recommendations to advance the roles of SECAS as a regional forum for collaboration and as a decision-support hub. These include a final technical report with application recommendations and an interactive visualization of the connections within the partnership. SECAS will use these results to inform the engagement of new and existing partners, identify shared goals and ignite cross-boundary connectivity. Stay tuned for an update on the findings from the project team once the final report is completed! In the meantime, reflect on this:
What does collaboration mean to you? How could your work look different through a collaboration-first lens?