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Examining social networks alongside cultural frameworks and their effectiveness in creating and implementing policy change

Examining social networks alongside cultural frameworks and their effectiveness in creating and implementing policy change

October 5, 2020
"3D Social Networking" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (
"Mangroves and Wimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) in the Lamu area, Indian Ocean coast of Kenya" by GRIDArendal is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (
"Marine Protected Areas – Space to Recover" by boellstiftung is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (
"Fiji - Tokoriki Island" by La Lente Photography. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (


Ari, This is a great blog about social networks and networked governance. Your quote "Knowledge is only power if everyone has access to it and can make informed decisions to push for change." is a fantastic take-off of the "Knowledge is power" quote attributed to Francis Bacon and Thomas Jefferson. Someday, we will be referring to the Ari Sanjar quote instead of the Bacon/Jefferson quote.

I like the way you made the connection to marine protected areas (MPAs) in your blog. Ten years ago, our Integration and Application Network team worked with Conservation International's Science to Action team to co-produce a series of booklets on marine managed areas (MMAs)  (Conservation International preferred the term MMA instead of MPA). The importance of 'bottom-up' governance was made clear in our analyses of what made for successful MMAs. I will never forget hosting resource managers from Fiji, Brazil, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands in winter at Boston University. The Fijians ran outside when it began to snow to catch snowflakes on their tongues--it was the first snow they had ever experienced. In our workshops, we learned about the ecological reasons for MMAs, but also learned about the societal and cultural reasons for MMAs. The crucial importance of the social networks was paramount in the Fijian society, and it was clear that informal social networks were powerful, perhaps even more powerful, than the formal governmental hierarchy.

You make the point that there are global goals for marine protected areas, and this was a motivation for the Conservation International initiative. They point out that somewhere around 14% of the world's terrestrial area is under some sort of protection, but only a few percent of the world's marine area is protected. The effort is ramp up marine protection to approach the terrestrial percentages.

Thanks for capturing Maddie Brown's excellent discussion and the readings, and then bringing in additional concepts. Bill  


Well done on the blog post, Ari. I think that your focus on small island states could be extended in a direction that is *very* relevant to networked governance. You might consider exploring the "Alliance of Small Island States" (AOSIS)** as an operationalization of this concept on a multinational level. The leaders and people of these most vulnerable oceanic locations face existential threats from climate change due to sea-level rise, in addition to the sustainability challenges related to fisheries management that you mentioned. This has great urgency given current/recent and projected future trends.

** URL:

Great job on connecting the networked governance with the real-world marine protected area example in Fiji, Ari! While reading the example, I thought why even with its benefits to capture public interests and community incentives, bottom-up approach is hardly implemented as a stand-alone approach, and top-down approach is arguably more common in most protected area management. I wonder if it has anything to do with how these bottom-up approach can be assessed and evaluated to measure the effectiveness. In class, Maddie answered to my question on how comparable these networks. Even implemented for the same kinds of forest management systems, community networks are hard to compare because there are just two many variables- quantifiable ones (geographic differences) and unquantifiable ones (culture and values). And for any kind of management efforts, one crucial part of their implementations is the ability to evaluate the performance, and if they are proven successful, how applicable are they in other areas and systems? I just wonder if we come up with more consistent ways to measure the performance of these bottom-up approach, perhaps it would increase their utility? Just a thought! - Amber

Ari, this is a great blog that brings insight to different approaches to policy. I think you did a great job in explaining the approaches and bring in a great example in Fiji. I agree with you that their approach to combating issues and protecting waters in the area should be a top down and bottom up approach as it will need a lot of communication between the different stakeholders. These island communities are tightly knit and their cultural revolves around the water so that needs to be taken in account carefully and I think you describe that very well. -Lizzy

24kkelly's picture

Great stuff, Ari! I found your reference to Gaymer's work and the combined governance approach especially constructive. I agree with you that this problem-solving model has significant potential. Gaymer's study of water systems management in Fiji is an interesting piece of a larger puzzle of water access and management and apropos considering some of the details. For example, the boutique water giant, Fiji Water(1), owned by Californian power couple, Lynda and Stewart Resnick had been engaged in a dispute with the Fijian government in the mid-2000s over an increase in the water extraction tax they are required to pay to fill those blue square plastic bottles full of pure artesian spring water draw from an aquifer on the island and exported around the world. This water is major source of revenue and employment for the island. Ironically, many locals do not have access to clean drinking water, and correcting this issue has been on the forefront of the Fijian government's "to do" list, with the help of a network of stakeholders to support this initiative(2). Because it is not uncommon for local and/or indigenous populations to have limited or no access to natural resources exported from their territories, improving on this method of intervention will be key to meeting the SDG 2030 goals and protecting human life and the environment. --Katrina


1. “A Bottled-Water Drama In Fiji.” NPR, NPR, 1 Dec. 2010,


You had a hard task with this blog in summarizing complex readings on complicated topics and you did a great job! Like Amber, I really appreciate the connection to the community-based management example. It's great to see a relatively successful example of networked governance brought into the discussion, since the readings included only a failed example. As you point out, there is still a lot of work to be done to determine which culture frameworks and types of networks can be most effective, and it's situation-specific and not one size fits all. My own research focuses heavily on the sustainability of a community based management-program, and what social and ecological factors affect that at a household and neighborhood scale. This is on a much smaller scale than the example of Fiji's protected waters, but reminds me that there are so many different scales on which networked, community-based governance can be implemented. Where you set the bounds of a "community" can be highly situational and depend on the problem you are trying to address. Thanks for the great summary and bringing in new but highly relevant content and raising the question of fitting networked governance to different cultural frameworks at different scales.

I am very grateful to Ari for sharing his knowledge about networked management. The many information about Fiji resulted from the blog surprised me. I never thought that something like this would happen in Fiji. Besides, I also really like 'your famous aphorism' that 'Knowledge is only power if everyone has access to it and can make informed decisions to push for change'. I have the same view on ecosystem management as you. In order to change the government's decision, we still need to continue to pass on our goals, methods, and enthusiasm to the masses, seeking their support and trust, then environment will move in a human-friendly but also environmental friendly direction! - Haoyu