Public policy decisions are frequently made within complex interconnecting networks of many stakeholders. Decisions about environmental problems, for example, often involve an extensive array of different participants. In an effort to influence policy decisions, these individuals, groups, and organizations participate in networks to gain an understanding of the issues and to ensure their (sometimes competing) perspectives are heard. The importance of formal and informal networks is widely recognized, but the operations of networks are complex and are not yet fully understood. How information moves within networks, how stakeholders interact in these settings, and how connections are forged, maintained, or disrupted, are matters receiving increasing attention from researchers. Greater understanding of the functions of networks will contribute to improved decision-making processes, especially processes occurring in active, and often hotly contested, development and environmental aspects of coastal areas and the world’s oceans.
EIUI team members, Lee Wilson and Bertrum MacDonald, have published a paper in Ocean & Coastal Management that examines the role of “bridger” organizations in encouraging cross-sector communication in coastal resource management networks. This paper, based on Lee’s Master’s thesis, employed a mixed-methods approach of qualitative interviews, participatory mapping, and Social Network Analysis to study inter-organizational and cross-sectorial communication among organizations affected by tidal power developments in the Bay of Fundy region in Atlantic Canada. This paper identifies and characterizes the important function of bridger organizations, i.e., organizations whose role is to facilitate collaboration and information sharing among network actors, within this network.
This paper highlights the following key findings:
- Communication about tidal power subject is occurring across sectoral boundaries.
- Bridgers play diverse roles within natural resource management networks.
- Several bridgers can operate in a network and specialize within specific sectors.
- Organizations from the NGO, research, and government sectors bridge effectively.
- Characterization of bridging types provides guidance for supporting network building activities.
Abstract: Tidal power developments occurring in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia provide an informative case study of a natural resource management issue occurring in a coastal zone involving many stakeholders in several sectors. Research has shown that bridger organizations are important vehicles for forging connections and encouraging communication across sectoral boundaries in complex networks. Using a mixed-methods approach encompassing participatory mapping and social network analysis, this study examined stakeholder communication networks in the region, with a particular focus on identifying “bridger” organizations. The results show that communication within the tidal power network does cross sectors, and that bridger organizations are vital in connecting organizations across sectoral boundaries. Bridging activities are multifaceted with three distinct, yet complementary roles: coordinators, connectors, and information mediators. Numerous bridger organizations can co-exist within a network and they often specialize by working within specific sectors. Organizations from the NGO, research, and government sectors, in particular, feature prominently as bridgers within this network, in part because they are often seen as neutral brokers of information. By identifying the functions of bridgers and the sectors well-suited to perform these activities, this paper provides guidance to coastal and ocean managers, NGOs, government bodies, and research groups on where to deploy resources to support bridger organizations within natural resource development networks.
Wilson, L., & MacDonald, B. H. (2018). Characterizing bridger organizations and their roles in a coastal resource management network. Ocean & Coastal Management, 153, 59-69. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2017.11.012
Authors: Lee Wilson and Bertrum MacDonald