Using community to conserve natural resources

Josh Hartman / Sun Star

Brooke McDavid, a Master’s of science candidate in natural resource management at UAF, completed research using Social Network Analysis, a systematic way of studying relationships, to find out ways to conserve natural resources for communities in the Bua Province of Fiji.

Social Network Analysis is a method that uses the connections that people, called “actors,” in the community have with each other to study how the community operates. Using this information, problems within the community can, theoretically, be solved by doing “interventions” within the community, according to McDavid.

The less “healthy” that the network is, the more interventions may be necessary to improve the network. Healthy networks are characterized by a dense group of actors which are connected to many people, diverse members and connections between separate groups of people.

Healthy networks lead to effective communication, innovation and collaboration, according to McDavid. 

McDavid went to Fiji with the Peace Corps, where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) requested that McDavid do research with Social Network Analysis.

The district of Bua has four villages and is the fifth smallest district in Fiji.

Indigenous Fijians own 90 percent of the land in Fiji, so conservation based on the natural communities would be most effective, according to McDavid.

To study the social network, McDavid and her colleagues developed a questionnaire. The questions were focused around finding out who individuals go to, for conservation, farming and fishing advice. There were also questions about who makes decisions about resource management and personal questions about the position of the individual in their community.

McDavid’s group interviewed 284 people who reported 2,367 connections between each other. There were an additional 336 people who they did not have time to interview.

The research showed that many of the networks in Bua had “hub and spokes” structures, which means that many people are connected to a single individual but not to each other. There are also many components which are small groups that are not connected to the main network.

After conducting the research, McDavid’s group analyzed the networks with people from the village. They also had the people from the village come up with the strengths and weaknesses of their network.

Some of the interventions that were suggested were governance and leadership training for traditional leaders, to share information during social gatherings and to provide conflict and mediation training.

“In total, I made 19 recommendations on capacity building based on the data,” McDavid said.

Currently, there are no long term studies that show if using Social Network Analysis to improve social networks is effective.

“When I did my peer review, only four other studies used Social Network Analysis for natural resource management,” McDavid said.

The community will make the decisions on how to best manage their resources based on their needs and abilities, according to McDavid.

The WCS hopes that McDavid and others’ research will show the effectiveness of the interventions, according to McDavid.

McDavid gave a presentation on her thesis on Monday, Nov. 9 in the Vera Alexander Learning Center of the O’Neill building in front of a host of other academics in the natural resources management field.

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