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Understanding the context of multifaceted collaborations for social-ecological sustainability: a methodology for cross-case analysis

Jessica Cockburn, Department of Environmental Science, Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa
Michael Schoon, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
Georgina Cundill, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Cathy Robinson, CSIRO Land and Water, Dutton Park, Australia
Jaime A Aburto, Millennium Nucleus for Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands (ESMOI), Departamento Biología Marina, Universidad Católica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile
Steven M. Alexander, Environmental Change and Governance Group, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Jacopo A. Baggio, School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA; Sustainable Coastal Systems Cluster, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA; National Center for Integrated Coastal Research, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA
Cecile Barnaud, DYNAFOR, Université de Toulouse, INPT, INRAE, Toulouse, France
Mollie Chapman, University of Zurich, Department of Geography and University Research Priority Program Global Change and Biodiversity, Zurich, Switzerland
Marina Garcia Llorente, Social-Ecological Systems Lab, Ecology Department, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain; FRACTAL Collective
Gustavo A. García-López, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal; Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Rosemary Hill, CSIRO Land and Water, Cairns, Australia; James Cook University Tropical Environments and Societies, Cairns, Australia
Chinwe Ifejika Speranza, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland
Jean Lee, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Chanda L. Meek, Department of Political Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
Eureta Rosenberg, Environmental Learning Research Centre, Department of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa
Lisen Schultz, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Gladman Thondhlana, Department of Environmental Science, Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa


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There are limited approaches available that enable researchers and practitioners to conduct multiple case study comparisons of complex cases of collaboration in natural resource management and conservation. The absence of such tools is felt despite the fact that over the past several years a great deal of literature has reviewed the state of the science regarding collaboration. Much of this work is based on case studies of collaboration and highlights the importance of contextual variables, further complicating efforts to compare outcomes across case-study areas and the likely failure of approaches based on one size fits all generalizations. We expand on the standard overview of the field by identifying some of the challenges associated with managing complex systems with multiple resources, multiple stakeholder groups with diverse knowledges/understandings, and multiple objectives across multiple scales, i.e., multifaceted collaborative initiatives. We then elucidate how a realist methodology, within a critical realist framing, can support efforts to compare multiple case studies of such multifaceted initiatives. The methodology we propose considers the importance and impact of context for the origins, purpose, and success of multifaceted collaborative natural resource management and conservation initiatives in social-ecological systems.

Key words

collaboration; complexity; conservation; context-mechanism-outcome; critical realist methodology; governance; natural resource management; realist evaluation; social-ecological systems

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