Structural Characteristics of Effective Conservation Networks: Within Subgroup Cohesion, Across Subgroup Collaboration, Bridging Actors, and Peripheral Actors

Given the trade-offs between network characteristics outlined above, is there such a thing as an “ideal” network structure for effective conservation? Recent reviews (Vance-Borland and Holley 2011; Mills et al. 2014) suggest that polycentric networks in which multiple, heterogeneous subgroups are linked by bridging ties maintain the greatest diversity of response options. Each subgroup has high within-group cohesion so is characterized by dense linkages (high degree centrality, strong or bonding ties) among people sharing specific knowledge that work together productively—enhancing knowledge development (Bodin et al. 2006; Bodin and Crona 2009). Within the network as a whole, there are multiple subgroups, which differ in the knowledge areas and expertise (subgroup diversity— Newman and Dale 2007), developing the diversity of knowledge held by the network as a whole (Bodin et al. 2006; Ernstson et al. 2008; Bodin and Crona 2009; Sandström and Rova 2010). Such functional diversity enhances network adaptability and resilience (Newman and Dale 2007; Mills et al. 2014), cultivates creativity (Aslan et al. 2014) and obviates internal turf battles in large networks (Reuf et al. 2003). Critical to network success are bridging relationships (actors with high betweenness centrality) among the diverse subgroups to promote sharing of expert knowledge and counter tendencies toward subgroup homophily. Network sustainability and adaptability are further enhanced if there are connections to actors outside the network (peripheral actors) who hold specialized knowledge, skills, or resources. Put simply, we can identify four network characteristic indicative of success—within subgroup cohesion, across subgroup collaboration, availability of bridging actors, and inclusion of peripheral actors (Fig. 17.3e).

Network structure tends to evolve through time naturally as the goals of actors change, or the success of actors leads to greater engagement and linking. Structure and transitions can and often should also be managed more actively. For example, while diverse, polycentric networks may be a valid end-goal structure, centralized networks with a few highly motivated actors already connected to many others are good for the initial phase of forming groups (Olsson et al. 2004; Crona and Bodin 2006), and several of the bat networks began with a handful of wellconnected actors (ABS, BCT, SEABCRU, and RELCOM). Once the network is more established, managed transitions can increase modularity and long-term decentralization. Moreover, during periods of stability, actors should be provided with opportunities to develop new relational ties with others, which can then be drawn upon in times of change (Olsson et al. 2006). Ideally, rather than simply increasing connectivity among all network members, inspection of network maps and data can be used to implement “network weaving”—the strategic development of new relationships among actors for their mutual benefit and to enhance overall network agency or response to a specific challenge (e.g., a new threat to bats) (Vance-Borland and Holley 2011).

 
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