A preliminary assessment into the utility of social networks for engageing local communities in climate adaptation policy

Rebecca Cunningham, Chris Cvitanovic, Thomas Measham, Brent Jacobs, Anne-Maree Dowd, Ben Harman

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    There has been a growing recognition regarding the use of social networks to engage thecommunity in government actions. However, despite increasing awareness about thepotential importance of social networks, there is very limited evidence for their applicationin relation to climate policy. This study addresses this gap by assessing the potential ofsocial networks for engaging local communities in climate adaptation policy, drawing on acase study of the Shoalhaven region in Australia Participants from key representativegroups were recruited using a purposive snowball sampling technique (N = 24). Bymapping the knowledge networks (both in terms of knowledge acquisition and diffusion) inrelation to climate adaption at the local scale, this study identified key nodes within thenetworks where information was shared.Findings demonstrate that that although climate adaptation information was acquired froma diverse range of sources, the sharing knowledge networks were far more dispersed.Furthermore, although 165 knowledge sources were identified through surveys, only threenodes had coverage cross the entire network, and as such acted as boundary spannerswithin the sharing network.One of the key findings of the study is the limited pathways for disseminating climatechange information, which provides useful insights for policy but raises as a newchallenge as to how to respond to these limited pathways within a policy context. Thischallenge will be a key focus for subsequent phases of the project, however it is possibleto draw out some initial insights from existing literature on this topic. The more social tiesthe greater possibility for joint action and collaboration. A high degree of trust within anetwork also facilitates interaction and collaboration which is important for bothinformation transmission and deliberation. Increased levels of collective action can alsopromote development of knowledge and understanding through exposure to new ideasand increased levels of information.This research demonstrated the utility of social network analysis (SNA) to reveal theunderlying knowledge networks and structures which influence community engagementpathways, and in doing so outlined the key implications in relation to engaging localcommunities in climate policy and action. The findings demonstrate there is potential toastutely engage the existing networks for community engagement tasks for which they arealready well suited, namely, relatively simple information about specific hazards andresponses to those hazards. When it comes to more complex issues, it may be moreappropriate to foster new avenues, rather than rely on the existing social network system.As the acceptance and uptake of strategies are contingent upon local communities, thisapproach of mapping knowledge networks using SNA provides much needed insight intothis process.The degree to which these findings are unique to the Shoalhaven region or representativeof the style of social networks that exist in other rural and regional communitiesthroughout NSW, and Australia more broadly, should be the focus of future case studyresearch and analysis
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherUniversity of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures
    Number of pages22
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2014


    • climate adaptation
    • social network anlaysis
    • policy


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