New ESRC research examines environmental governance

Experience, process and both social and ecological outcomes are at the heart of new research out of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) on effective environmental governance.

The study, funded by the Swedish Research Council, looked at individuals involved with environmental governance in two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Canada and two in Sweden.

The subjects came from different backgrounds including government and non-government organizations, private businesses and landowners, but all were active within their local Biosphere Reserve.

“We found the experiences that individuals have when they engage in stewardship matter,” says researcher Julia Baird, Assistant Professor in ESRC and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair on Water Resilience.

“There’s an important relationship between how engaged they are, their perceptions of the social processes that occur when they participate in stewardship activities and to what extent they believe outcomes — both ecological and social or well-being — are being realized.”

By assessing participation, learning and collaboration as factors in how these individual stakeholders viewed the results of their stewardship efforts, the study provides statistical evidence of their importance — something which, as the study authors point out, is “often presumed, but rarely proven.”

Co-author Ryan Plummer, Professor and Director of the ESRC, says the study gives rise to several new questions related to both theory and practice of advancing environmental stewardship and resilience.

Baird agrees.

“We are actively pursuing several research questions as a result of our findings, including transferability to other contexts, the psychological questions around engagement in stewardship, and closer and more nuanced understandings of the key variables that we are interested in,” she says.

Transferability to other contexts could have future implications in many different environmental governance contexts, including here at Brock.

As Plummer points out, “Brock University is uniquely positioned in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Our research may inform the approach to management and governance of our very own Biosphere Reserve.”

Plummer, Baird and Brock post-doctoral fellow Angela Dzyundzyak worked with researchers from Stockholm University and the University of Waterloo to complete the study.

Several graduate students associated with the Sustainability Science and Society program, including Alison Feist, Brooke Kapeller, Katrina Krievins and Angela Mallette, were also actively involved throughout the project in data collection, analysis, and reporting.

A paper detailing the study, “How do environmental governance processes shape evaluation of outcomes by stakeholders? A causal pathways approach,” appeared in the jounral PLOS ONE earlier this fall.

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