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Stakeholders and social influence in a shadow network: implications for transitions toward urban water sustainability in the Colorado River basin

Amber Wutich, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Christine DeMyers, The Water Institute of the Gulf, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Julia C. Bausch, Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA
Dave D. White, Decision Center for a Desert City; School of Community Resources and Development, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Abigail Sullivan, Environmental Resilience Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA


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Shadow networks can play an important role in facilitating transitions toward more sustainable and resilient social-ecological systems. Yet, few studies have explored the microdynamics of shadow networks to understand what makes them more or less effective in sustainability transitions. This article examines stakeholder roles and social influence in support of radical innovations over time in a shadow network focused on urban water sustainability in the Colorado River basin. Using qualitative analysis of meeting transcripts and social network analysis, we analyzed the roles of stakeholders from market, government, and scientific sectors in advocating for and influencing other shadow-network members to consider incremental and radical innovations over a 5-year period. The results show that, in our case, stakeholders from the market sector suggested most of the radical innovations. Government-aligned stakeholders mostly supported others’ suggestions and facilitated support for niche innovations to become more widespread. Science stakeholders were supportive of others’ proposals but were never the source of new ideas for radical innovations; they focused more on interrogating the evidence for and efficacy of others’ proposals. These results illustrate how shadow networks can nurture support for radical innovations over time, even when most network members are aligned with the current regime. This research yields new insights about shadow networks in sustainability transitions, and points to the need for more focused analysis of stakeholder roles and social influences within shadow networks to help understand how radical innovations gain support and become better institutionalized.

Key words

Colorado River basin; radical innovation; shadow networks; stakeholder analysis; sustainability transition; water management

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087