Linking stakeholder network mapping to frameworks for adaptive capacity

Submitted by Daniel Morchain | published 19th Mar 2012 | last updated 13th Jan 2020

Stakeholder network mapping can be a valuable pre-cursor to utilising frameworks for building adaptive capacity.

Working co-operatively and collaboratively within a network of organisations appears to offer, in a majority of cases, the most effective way of breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’, beyond which it is difficult for a single organisation to increase its level of adaptive capacity in isolation.

Fundamentally, and especially where the smallest organisations are concerned, cross-organisational work is a pre-requisite to the ability to devise and execute the higher-level actions needed to build a high level of resilience to a changing climate. 

A typical sector where such an approach is essential to capacity-building is the UK agriculture industry. Despite the presence of a large number of major agri-businesses, the sector is still characterised to a large extent by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including family farms. To successfully address climate risks, these will require cross-organisational networks that can help overcome SMEs’ inherent limitations in terms of financial resources, managerial resources, know-how and understanding. In some cases, it may be possible for small organisations to invest co-operatively in, for instance, the adaptive management measures, equipment and infrastructure (e.g. water storage systems and major irrigation schemes) necessary to deal with impacts such as lower summer rainfall that are expected to result from a changing climate. Crucially, these cross-organisational networks should not only consist of the farmers themselves. They also need to draw heavily on support from, and in some cases perhaps even incorporate, advisers, customers, suppliers and a range of other organisations. 

Going into more depth regarding how institutional network mapping can add value to an analysis of organisational  adaptive capacity requires further analysis of the characteristics of the adaptation decision-making process to find parallels. Relevant characteristics of this process are elaborated below:

  • Time horizons

Losing ‘windows of opportunity’ for making decisions is a common impediment to effective and strategic adaptation planning. Sufficient preparations must be made so that one is able to take advantage of a window of opportunity when it becomes available, and this can often be non-climatic (Moser & Ekstrom 2010). 

Different problem framings can also dominate within a given sub-group within a network, becoming a barrier for groups to work collectively under a common vision or decision space. This can be problematic if the time horizon within which different actors view the issue at hand is significantly different.

  • Exploiting flows 

Assessing the position of the actor in the network and the number and strength of the relationships or ties it has (i.e. its ‘centrality’) reveals how actors can use their structural position to influence other actors for the management of natural resources (Bodin and Crona 2009). The centrality of an actor not only allows analysis of its level of influence, but also the role it can play in the network as a bridge that connects actors that would otherwise not be linked. An actor that connects many actors has high ‘between-ness centrality’ and hence, the ability to influence the flows between actors. Identifying these actors is a useful way to understand dominant decision framings, how these framings are used and the effect on the collective action and management outcomes. In this regard, central actors located in strategic positions can be considered as potential ‘agents of change’ in the network or ‘adaptation champions’. It is important to bear in mind that positions of influence in a network can also be occupied by actors that possess formal authority but who are not necessarily playing a central role (see King 2000).

  • Inter-agency coordination

As stated by Moser and Ekstrom (2010), the respective adaptation options that will be identified by different parts of the governance system often have to do with who has control over the process, different missions, jurisdiction, political interests, funding etc (Renn, 2008 in Moser and Ekstrom, 2010). If the breadth of the system of concern covers many jurisdictions, the issue requires cross-coordination and cross-collaboration to implement adaptation options (Moser & Ekstrom 2010). As well as the locus of control, the issue of temporal as well as spatial scales is significant since the differential time horizon for planning and the decision lifetimes amongst actors can also act as a barrier. Moser and Ekstrom (2010) have defined the landscape shown in Figure 1 to illustrate where different actors sit on temporal and spatial scales as a way to identify synergies and conflicts.

  • Avoiding lock-in

Low density networks with few or weak connections between actors or sub-groups or with strong hierarchies are associated with lower potential adaptability because of the divergence and competition of views, absence of a common understanding and common problem definition, as well as common decision space for the management of natural resources. On the contrary, denser networks or decentralized and less hierarchical networks can facilitate bridges between disparate views and help formulate shared understandings and framings of the problem leading to a more sound management strategy based on collective action. This can be important over time where it is key to remain flexible and adaptive to new information as it arises instead of becoming ‘locked in’ to a particular pathway because of previous investments of resources.

  • Joined-up thinking

Generally speaking, empirical studies of natural resource management networks, to date, support the hypothesis that the higher the network density (i.e. the number of existing ties divided by the number of possible ties), the more potential for collective action due to increased opportunities for communication, and over time, reciprocity and trust (Bodin and Crona, 2009). This support can facilitate ‘joined-up’ and integrated thinking. If the network is responsive and flexible, this density is also an important aspect of ‘adaptive management’ as it allows the development of knowledge though the exposure to both an increased amount of information and new knowledge through boundary spanning actors who act as vehicles for knowledge transfer. In the absence of these actors, they can be areas for intervention, either by new groups coming together, a new actor linked to the other, or the creation of other ‘platforms for communication’ such as online portals or formal ‘networks’.

In summary, a key benefit of the visual mapping of social networks is that it can support the identification of barriers and guide the allocation of resources to further explore how to overcome them.

This text is the summary of a deliverable of the FP7 Mediation project.