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Developing case study frameworks for collaborative conservation projects

By Ch’aska

As our associate director Kim Skyelander mentioned in a blog last month, the CCC is interested in collecting information on collaborative projects conducted by our fellows in a systematic way in order to identify key variables, emergent patterns, and lessons learned. We are in the process of drafting a case study template that could be used to make meaningful comparisons across cases but that also accommodates the unique complexity of each case in context. This process is being informed by our own research and experiences, and we will be drawing on input from our fellows as well, but we would like to open the discussion to our broader community of interest. How might we devise such a framework?
Before diving in, it’s important to consider that the term ‘collaborative conservation’ as we use it is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of arrangements involving a participatory process, including co-management, community-based management, and so forth. So do we create typologies first and assemble different analyses for each type, or do we build into the framework variables that will allow different arrangements to emerge on their own. I find this latter idea more appealing because it’s more flexible and broadens the number of comparable cases.
To get the ball rolling, I have taken a first swipe at a framework. I provide an overview here, an evolving list of ideas for variables can be found on the discussion board and is there for you to comment on and add to.  It makes sense to me to consider 4 categories of variables: socio-economic, ecological, institutional, and process.  As a fifth category, or maybe woven into the previous categories, we want to describe the contextual details of each case, the information that tells the story of the situation. This information, though not generalizable, could prevent us from drawing the wrong conclusions from the comparative data—and from the perspective of the person doing the research, this is probably some of the most important stuff!
A few other considerations: it would be important to account for differences in spatial and temporal scale within and across these groups of variables, but I haven’t worked that part out yet. It also makes sense to me to consider what theory could be drawn on to inform the framework design, so I include that here as well, but I know some people don’t give a hoot about theory! So take it with a grain of salt.
Context specific components lay the foundation for the case, and there is probably a lot of redundancy between this ‘category’ and the others—it could be merged. But the important thing is to identify possible drivers linked to the historical trajectory of the place. Examples might include history of trauma or war, political dynamics, proximity to the resource or proximity to an urban center, and so forth.
Socio-economic components to consider might include indicators of community cohesion, economic and livelihoods information, important cultural characteristics, value orientations and perceptions of the resource and of quality of life.
Helpful literature: economic theories of natural and social capital, community development, human dimensions of resource management…?
Example socio-economic questions
Who are the stakeholders? (individuals, tribes, resource user groups, NGOs, agencies, etc)
Does the community have a history of cooperation or cohesiveness?
What are important characteristics of the local economy?
Are there particular livelihoods at stake?
What services do stakeholders perceive as being provided by the resource(s) in question?
Costs/benefits of participatory management as borne by the community
Are there vocal dissenters of the process/project? Who and why?
Are there distinct cultural groups within the community, and are they represented?
Are there groups that hold markedly different perspectives or ways of understanding the environment?
The ecological dimension could be simplified to focus on the structure and function of ecosystems within given boundaries of the project and the linkages between them, and could include variables getting at environmental robustness and health, presence of protected species or areas, specific vulnerabilities or threats, and physical environmental characteristics of interest.
Theories of use: ecosystem management, ecological resilience…?
Example ecological questions
What are broad characteristics of the ecosystems within the boundaries of the project?
How are those system connected?
What resources are at the center of the project?
What are the species or resources of particular interest, either to local livelihoods, mandated protection, or community identity?
How is the health of the ecosystem being monitored? (this also belongs with institutional and possibly social variables)
The institutional category would focus on linkages between the social and ecological parts of the system. In this sense, institutions would refer to formal and informal norms, rules and laws that determine how people interact with the land, and important characteristics of governance (at multiple scales) that affect autonomy and cooperation among stakeholders. It would be here where we might look at how boundaries are placed on the system of interest, how resources are managed, how power is shared or withheld, and the extent to which citizens have agency in the decision making process. Also of interest would be the composition of property rights in the area.
Possible theories to draw on: common pool resource management and game theory, democratic theory, structuration…?
Example institutional elements
Where are the boundaries drawn for this process/project? Are they clear or fuzzy?
What are the property arrangements within these boundaries? (private and public lands, common property if applicable)
What are the characteristics of current resource management practices? Who manages the resource(s) in question and how? What is the degree of centralization?
What tensions exist between groups of stakeholders? Are there clear power imbalances beyond the confines of the collaborative initiative?
While process variables are similar to the previous category, it might be helpful to separate out those elements directly related to the collaborative initiative or project forming the focus of the case study. Here is where we should ask important questions like who gets to participate in the collaboration process, why, and how? How is information shared? Is there clear leadership, is the process facilitated, who initiated the process in the first place…etc. This would be where a typology of process would emerge, so variables might reflect the known differences between different approaches to participatory resource governance.
Good places to look for existing frameworks: alternative dispute and conflict resolution, public deliberation, collaborative learning theory…?
Example process questions
Who is at the table in the collaboration process?
What roles do participants play?
Who initiated the process/project? Did it emerge from the community, or from the outside?
What is the process for inclusion in collaboration?
How is power distributed across collaborators? Is there a locus of power?
Is there clear leadership? How is it expressed?
How is information shared?
How are decisions made, acted upon, and/or enforced?
How are disputes handled? Is there outside facilitation?
Please join the discussion thread to comment and contribute to this evolving framework!