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Mapping Social Landscapes: A Guide to Identifying the Networks, Priorities, and Values of Restoration Actors

The guidebook takes a new approach to environmental governance by focusing on identifying the social capital of actors within the landscapes. It centers on two main approaches: 1) mapping actors’ resource flows and 2) mapping actors’ priorities and values. Co-written by WRI international offices, this methodology has been tested in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Rwanda. The guidebook focuses primarily on restoration, but the same methodologies can be adapted to broader analysis of natural resource governance. By using this guidebook, environmental practitioners can be more efficient with resources, collaboration, and outreach, and better anticipate potential conflicts and bottlenecks.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Traditionally, forest and landscape restoration has been concerned with mapping the biophysical opportunity to plant trees and shrubs. But, it is not just about the trees. This guidebook introduces a new focus for mapping: the people who live, work, and depend on the landscapes. By translating methodologies frequently used in the crisis fields of health and national security, the guide offers actionable, environmental-related strategies to build a movement around restoration.

Why Map Social Landscapes?

Understanding the social landscape, or how people organize themselves on the land, is essential in creating a larger social movement and bringing about the large-scale change needed to achieve a restoration movement (Rowson et al. 2010). By emphasizing early understanding of the social landscape and measuring progress, restoration practitioners can be more efficient with resources, improve collaboration and outreach, and anticipate conflicts and bottlenecks.

This publication brings together different approaches to social network analysis and priorities and values mapping to understand forest and landscape restoration governance. The guide supplements the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) through its focus on social aspects—such as landscape governance—not covered in the road-test version of ROAM (IUCN and WRI 2014). The guide is designed to support policymakers, researchers, and those involved in restoration decision-making and implementation by offering a social landscapes assessment methodology for use in restoration efforts.

This guide focuses on actors, specifically the way their connectivity, priorities, and values influence the social landscape. When social relationships and knowledge flows are visualized, they can be evaluated. The guide encourages practitioners to ask the question “How do people act in their landscape?”

How Do You Map Social Landscapes?

The publication offers two different approaches to understanding social landscapes. The first, Mapping Connectivity, is used to understand network connectivity, or the degree to which individuals and organizations are connected. The second, Mapping Priorities and Values, is used to reveal the attitudes and cultural systems behind social networks. The guide highlights two methods for each of these approaches.

Mapping Connectivity helps identify community needs and the actors who are best placed to contribute to favorable outcomes. This guide explains how to map connectivity through participatory social network analysis using Net-Map—a participatory process to map social networks developed by Eva Schiffer—and a social network analysis questionnaire. Social network analysis is a formal theory to analyze the relationships among individuals or organizations by focusing on the positions of the actors (Paletto 2016). This type of analysis has frequently been used to inform natural resource management decisions (Bodin and Prell 2011), as well as to design strategic networks and prioritize actions (Hauck et al. 2015). The analysis can highlight the actors who influence policy, initiate actions, and facilitate knowledge transfer (Paletto et al. 2016). For example, mapping networks allows decisionmakers to invest in social infrastructure—that is, to help engage communities, unions, cooperatives, and organizations to unlock the potential capacity of communities and their resources (Gorriz-Mifsud et al. 2016).

Mapping Priorities and Values helps identify common goals and improve land-use and restoration planning (Dominguez and Hollstein 2014). This guide explains how to map priorities and values through a priorities questionnaire and a values questionnaire. The priorities questionnaire focuses on a community’s restoration goals, intervention types, and activities. Understanding priorities can help shape partnerships and funding proposals by isolating gaps in knowledge and identifying common goals across organizations. The values questionnaire focuses on preferences and experiences. It can help improve restoration land-use planning among different stakeholder groups because the mapping of landscape values reveals suitable land uses and their social impact (Weber and Brown 2014). Actors with different environmental, economic, and social interests may not share land-management preferences (Brown et al. 2014). With this method, values can be determined geographically and applied to different settings at multiple scales. Understanding the priorities and values of actors provides deeper insights into how actors relate to each other within the network and how actors can work across global and local scales.

Understanding network connectivity in combination with priorities and values builds a detailed picture of the social landscape. This analysis can inform strategies for change that draw on the strengths of the existing social landscape and support an effective and mobilized restoration network.

How Do You Analyze Social Landscapes?

After mapping the social landscape, the guide focuses on analyzing three aspects of the network: centrality, shape, and attributes. Each aspect of network analysis is determined by a number of measures, and each measure answers a target question. For example, degree centrality—one of the most common measures—looks at who has the most connections in the network. These “Connecters” could be relied upon to set a unified message and encourage greater collaboration at all scales. The guide summarizes the three aspects of network centrality and their measures. In addition, the section on network analysis offers the definitions, advantages, and disadvantages of each measure.

Measuring network centrality can help us identify the network’s powerful and important actors by looking at how many connections the actor has and whether the actor is connected to other powerful actors. Social network analysis visualization software can automatically calculate the centrality measures. To make them more intuitive, the four central roles are described as Connectors, Spreaders, Gatekeepers, and Change Champions, along with the social network analysis terminology of degree centrality, closeness centrality, betweenness centrality, and eigenvector centrality.

The second aspect of a network that should be analyzed is the network shape. Many of the shape measures can be seen visually once the map has been input into the appropriate software. The five measures—size, density, core, periphery, and clusters—provide an overview of the network shape. When conducting the network shape analysis, users should consider what is the most efficient network structure for reaching the intended goals (Valente 2010). The third aspect of analysis, network attributes, refers to the characteristics of those within the network. The term “inclusion” offers a broad template for recognizing difference along generational, gender, race, religious, nationality, or any other ground. Understanding whether the network shows inclusion allows for a more sophisticated understanding of social forces driving development outcomes. In addition, the personal backgrounds of stakeholders involved in the social landscape process will affect the results. Attributes of participants and organizations should be recorded and then the level of inclusion should be analyzed based on the network’s diversity and its ability to disseminate resources.

How Do You Create A Strategy For Change?

In the concluding section of the guidebook, a strategy for change is proposed for three restoration resource networks: seedlings, information, and finance. These networks all rely on a diverse, reliable, and resilient supply. They also need access to information and communications technology (ICT), resources, and markets. The proposed strategies for change each offer supply-focused questions related to all individual actors in the supply chain. Actors in any position can ask these questions to understand their supply of and access to resources. The strategies should be applied to the intended recipients of these services, who, in the case of restoration, are often farmers or community organizations.

For example, the following questions are appropriate to a finance network:

  1. Is there a variety of financial options? (DIVERSE)

  2. Are there reliable sources of finance? (RELIABLE)

  3. If the main funding source were cut off, are there alternatives? (RESILIENT)

How Do We Use Social Landscape Mapping?

International case studies used these approaches to social landscape mapping to reveal important local insights into the social challenges affecting restoration.

In Brazil, a participatory social network analysis workshop with a small rural community in the Amazon helped identify that access to the Internet, and specifically to the weather forecast, would allow the community to more safely and efficiently develop plant nurseries. In addition, information access varied between genders, highlighting the need for more equitable access.

In India, participatory social network analysis workshops in the Sidhi district showed a lack of diversity of actors working on restoration, pointing to the need to encourage nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to operate in the district and dedicate time to gaining the trust of the local community.

In Indonesia, participatory social network analysis workshops on the management of Lake Toba revealed the need for better intergovernmental collaboration and highlighted the role of local community organizations as agents of change.

In Kenya, a participatory social network analysis workshop in the Mount Elgon ecosystem showed the limited role that farmers play in environmental decision-making and underscored the ongoing conflict between government agencies and indigenous communities.

In Mexico, priority mapping confirmed that actors working on urban development in the Carmen municipality also needed to focus on programs to prevent social violence to be successful in their local development plan. Recognizing this shared priority provided avenues for greater funding and collaboration through knowledge of shared values. A social network analysis questionnaire underscored the strong collaboration between government agencies and the need to continue strengthening connections among government institutions and between government and nongovernmental actors.

In Rwanda, a full social landscapes analysis highlighted the challenges of working between the community, district, and national levels. It recommended that key governmental organizations increase their communication and collaboration with a focus on the community farmer.

Ready To Map Your Social Landscape?

When considering whether a social landscape analysis can create the desired impact, see if you can answer questions on social impact for your network. Asking these types of questions allows practitioners to better use their own networks and scale up individual efforts to a larger, more unified movement.

After reading this guidebook, you should feel inspired to map your social landscape. These four steps provide an easy way to get started:

  1. Make a commitment to map your social landscapes around a specific goal or activity.

  2. Analyze the social landscape maps to determine what works and what could be improved.

  3. Work with groups within the social landscape to identify, agree upon, and implement changes.

  4. Repeat, or make a commitment to evaluate changes in the social landscape periodically.

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