Management of natural resources involves extensive engagement with decision-makers across institutional scales, from grassroots organizations to regional and global stakeholders. Such parties hold diverse cognitive assumptions, experiences, goals, and levels of representation, which must be elucidated to achieve robust collective action. Participatory group modelling, where researchers engage with various agents to elicit causality and systems-thinking, has become commonplace within the sustainability sciences. Such exercises often result in an improved understanding of the complexity of the system and aid prioritization of services amidst limited resources. However, barriers embedded within the system may obscure, or constrain, effective collaboration toward optimal interventions. This presentation describes and explores several statistical indices from graph theory to reveal tacit frames of perception among diverse agents. Specifically, conventional group modelling is extended to analyze the decision-makers themselves by representing group connectivity through network nodes and linkages. Qualitative insights regarding power dynamics, hierarchy, complexity, and centrality are discussed and compared to empirical findings from the network analysis. A case study in Houston, TX demonstrates the structure of a governance network by linking human agents with various implementation strategies for nature-based solutions. The study reveals useful insights regarding group power symmetries, emergent and formalized roles, multi-dimensional thinking, and knowledge gaps according to the stakeholder-defined system and the efficiency of various decision-making pathways. This presentation highlights the need to better understand physical solutions and human agency as a linked system, which is facilitated here by leveraging a deeper exploration of network theory within sustainable management.
Dr. Cyndi Vail Castro is an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, studying human-hydrological systems across scales. She obtained a B.S. from Texas A&M University, M.S. from University of Texas at Austin, and Ph.D. from University of Houston. Castro also has nearly a decade of experience in engineering consulting and municipal governance, having worked at AECOM (locally and internationally) and the City of Houston (public works and climate resilience), using these experiences to integrate multi-disciplinary methods and views toward better hydrological decision-making.