Development and testing a diagnostic capacity tool for improving socio-ecological system governance

Abstract

The capacity to sustainably govern complex socio-ecological systems (SES) has been identified as a necessary but daunting task by SES scholars, resource stewards and stakeholders. This research sought to inform the question: What are determinant capacities and functional linkages that can be incorporated into diagnostic tools for analysts seeking to improve sustainable socio-economic system SES governance? Literature was used to identify and translate determinant capacities and functional linkages into a quantifiable metric of governance quality. The tool was developed from ecological, business, governance and decision science literature. This tool recognizes the dynamic and systemic linkages between the resources and the social systems that use and govern them for improving systems thinking and SES outcomes. The tool was tested to determine its ability to capture perceived characteristics of governance quality and problem management using Michigan’s cleanup and redevelopment program. The results of this research indicated that the exploratory tool was reliable and valid. This research contributes to the evolving body of SES frameworks, specifically the study of individual and organizational capacities for improved SES outcomes. The implications of this research suggest participatory network-based governance with higher levels of resource exchange, in the form of interdependency, trust, diplomacy and reciprocity, aligns with practitioners’ perceptions of improved program performance. Further, while some capacities and related findings of this research may be context specific, concepts associated with the development and testing of this diagnostic tool, such as the use of systems thinking, participatory network-based governance, and related competencies, may have more universal application.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This paper equates institutions with organizations, a more commonly accepted term, to limit nomenclature confusion.

  2. 2.

    Sub-factors were literature-derived, and further developed through Cronbach’s Alpha reliability testing after the pretest.

  3. 3.

    The original approach and research into understanding how the State of Michigan could improve its SES governance was initiated in 2011. The quantifiable metric of governance quality was initiated in 2012. At that time, reliability and face validity were the focus of the research as was improved program outcomes. Since that time, considerable progress has been made in the development of SES systems thinking, governance and the sharing of SES frameworks. This post hoc factor analysis has been done to shed further light on the diagnostic tool following McGinnis and Ostrom’s (2014) framework.

  4. 4.

    Definitions: (1) capacity means the ability to hold, receive or absorb available knowledge and the ability to exploit existing knowledge for creative problem solving; (2) current means belonging to the present time and should be observed/actually present as opposed to a perceived potential; and (3) preferred—a preferred capacity is a desirable and achievable potential.

  5. 5.

    Note that the reliability testing (Cronbach’s Alpha) was weak for social and behavioral related measurement items in the pre-test and the respondents commented on the length of the survey (e.g., it being too long). The weak social and behavioral related measurement items and sentiments were not reflected in the actual test population, except for the drop in response rates. Open-ended question responses included in the questionnaire, but not addressed in this article, did not reflect respondent dissatisfaction with the length of the questionnaire. At least 77 respondents provided additional written responses. While not quantitatively analyzed, it appears that many respondents appreciated the opportunity to comment on the program and the questionnaire.

  6. 6.

    The questionnaire verified their assigned population through the collection of self-reported demographics.

  7. 7.

    Completed surveys in Qualtrics reflect surveys that can no longer be modified.

  8. 8.

    A subsequent assessment of the studied program has been conducted on a smaller scale. The preliminary findings are positive. Improved capacities are correlating with improved outcomes (cleanup and redevelopment actions that are reducing exposures). This reassessment was conducted in 2014.

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Correspondence to Patricia Ann McKay.

Additional information

This research was done in partial satisfaction of a Master of Science. Special thanks are provided to Dr. Patricia Norris and Dr. Laurie Thorp, thesis committee members, Michigan State University, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for their respective support in the development and testing of this diagnostic tool. Dr. Vogt was the thesis advisor, and Dr. Laura Schmitt Olabisi is Ms. McKay’s Ph.D. advisor.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Tables 10, 11, 12 and 13.

Table 10 Individual performance measures identified in the literature
Table 11 Organizational culture and structure measures identified in the literature
Table 12 Decision management measures identified in the literature
Table 13 Improved ENR outcome indicators identified in the literature

Appendix 2

See Tables 14, 15, 16 and 17.

Table 14 Factor loading for individual performance measures
Table 15 Factor loadings for organizational culture and structure
Table 16 Factor loadings for decision management measures, three factors extracteda relative rankingsb of competenciesc
Table 17 Improved ENR outcome indicators identified in the literature

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McKay, P.A., Vogt, C.A. & Olabisi, L.S. Development and testing a diagnostic capacity tool for improving socio-ecological system governance. Environ Syst Decis 37, 156–183 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10669-016-9611-8

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Keywords

  • Organizational governance
  • Practitioners
  • SES frameworks
  • Decision science