The following is the established format for referencing this article:Snorek, J. L., J. R. Loos, M. Cox, T. Shata, A. Q. Bowman, J. C. Kramer, J. Snodgrass, V. Iniguez, R. Finger-Higgens, and F. Krivak-Tetley. 2022. Care-based leadership in a core-periphery network: a South African case study in collaborative watershed governance. Ecology and Society 27(4):34.
Considering increasing water insecurities related to climate change, there is a growing need for effective collaboration across core-periphery boundaries to restore and regenerate watershed vitality. It has been demonstrated that collaborative watershed governance is effective when there is a core group engaging in boundary acting, fostering interpersonal relationships, exchanging information, and sharing activities amongst stakeholders across a social network. To better understand how the core supports and collaborates with peripheral actors, we analyzed a case study of the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP), located in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Through qualitative and social network analysis, we identify relational links as participation in quarterly meetings, self-described close connections, and shared projects or activities. Members collaborate in this voluntary network based upon perceptions of the derived benefits, shared vision, and leadership style. The characteristics of care-based leadership expressed by a core group enhance the collaborative interactions across the social network by nurturing relationality from the core to the periphery.
In complex social-ecological systems (SES), human relationships shape how common-pool resources are imagined, negotiated, and governed (Ostrom 1999, 2007). As the size and heterogeneity of a system increases, such as a watershed, the diversity of resources and human interactions enhance complexities and conflicts from the core to the periphery of that system (Horning et al. 2016, Sayles and Baggio 2017, Cockburn et al. 2019a). It has been shown that relationality, charismatic leadership, and strong social networks are essential to produce collaborative watershed outcomes (Armitage and Plummer 2010, Gupta et al. 2010, Arias-Arévalo et al. 2017). Yet, the type of leadership that builds collaboration across social boundaries has not been sufficiently explored (Floress 2008, Spiller et al. 2020). Given that care ethics are relevant to processes of social transformation (Simola et al. 2010, 2012) and sustainability (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019), our aim in this article is to explore how care-based leadership supports collaboration and bridges social divides in a South African watershed.
Although humans possess a unique capacity for collaboration (Bowles and Gintis 2011), which has been demonstrated in the governance of large-scale common-pool resources such as watersheds (Lubell 2004, Emerson et al. 2012), such collaboration is often “messy” (Alessa et al. 2009) and presents multiple challenges (Ostrom 1990, Ostrom 1999, 2007, Rustagi et al. 2010, Vollan and Ostrom 2010). Watersheds function at a landscape scale and encompass human settlements, multiple social organizations, and diverse technologies. A key governance dilemma lies in finding alignment among the design of governance structures and the scale of watershed processes and social-ecological problems (Folke et al. 2007, Wohl et al. 2015, Sayles and Baggio 2017, Mancilla García et al. 2019). Governance structures exist along a gradient from highly centralized to decentralized; for each, there are varying implications for governance and management outcomes (Lankford and Hepworth 2010).
Centralized watershed governance structures are often organized around one or a few sources of authority and tend to rely on basin-wide rules and science-based standards for guiding the use and maintenance of watershed resources (Lankford and Hepworth 2010). Centralized structures are efficient at collecting and mobilizing information or resources among central agencies and peripheral organizations and are well-suited to respond to specific types of problems (Bodin 2017). Such systems, however, may run into challenges in achieving appropriate fit among resource systems, users, and institutions defined as the formal and informal rules and norms that govern human activity (Folke et al. 2007, Epstein et al. 2015). Core-periphery problems may also emerge where the interests of local users become geographically or politically distanced from central agencies or poorly represented within central authority decisions, leading to inaccessible governance processes and non-compliance (Isaac et al. 2007, Ernstson and Sörlin 2009).
Collaborative watershed governance is theorized to be more effective where social-ecological systems are large, understood by multiple epistemologies, and managed by local users (Leach and Pelky 2001, Lubell 2004, Sabatier et al. 2005, Lankford and Hepworth 2010). Collaborative governance of these large systems is predicated on multiple, polycentric decision-making hubs connected across subunits of a watershed landscape. These rely on formal and informal social networks. The hub is relational in that it serves as a site or source where new interpersonal relationships are developed amongst stakeholders to enhance collaboration and enable stewardship practice (Cockburn et al. 2019b).
The importance of relationships has recently been highlighted in collaborative environmental governance scholarship (Chan et al. 2016, West et al. 2018, Stenseke 2018, Cockburn et al. 2019a, 2019b, 2020a). Locally embedded relationships more effectively imbue norms of cooperation and reciprocity to engender trust amongst actors in a social network (Lankford and Hepworth 2010, Merrey and Cook 2012, Koontz and Newig 2014). Collaborative governance processes are founded upon these relationships, which in turn enables governance actors to better understand local resource challenges and correctly align management objectives and interventions (Emerson et al. 2012, Wier 2017, Cockburn et al. 2020b). In the context of natural resource governance, relationships in social networks are defined through formal partnerships as well as formal and informal interactions amongst individuals and institutions (Bodin and Crona 2009, Cockburn et al. 2019b).
A relational values framework reveals the material and nonmaterial relations between different actors and their environment (Stenseke 2018) and combines contextual, institutional, social-relational, individual, and political-historical factors to better understand collaborative governance goals (Cockburn et al. 2019a). Relationality is especially important when contestation and multifunctionality characterize a management regime because it reveals the enabling and inhibiting factors to collaborative governance at multiple scales from the institutional to the individual (Cockburn et al. 2020a). Social relational practices such as belonging while differing, regularity of interaction, and learning and adapting together with humility and empathy have been shown to support more effective and meaningful multi-actor collaborations (Cockburn et al. 2020a).
Social network structure has been shown to influence how knowledge is generated and shared, how relationships and trust are built, and how actors in a social network act collectively to solve simple or complex problems in the face of environmental change (Bodin and Crona 2009, Berardo and Scholz 2010). The more densely connected the actors are within a network, the more that network is able to facilitate collaborative governance (Schneider et al. 2003), natural resource management outcomes (Rathwell and Peterson 2012), and norms of trust and reciprocity (Ulibarri and Scott 2017). High network density, however, is not always associated with high collaborative outcomes; the density of linked individuals is important to collaboration primarily when connecting key actors, particularly where they exist amid a larger network of less densely connected actors (Ulibarri and Scott 2017). Heterogeneity across social-ecological landscapes may produce less densely connected social networks that create barriers to watershed governance (Rathwell and Peterson 2012, Cockburn et al. 2019b) as well as core-periphery dynamics (Horning et al. 2016, Sayles and Baggio 2017).
Social network analysis is increasingly used in social-ecological systems research to understand collaborative forms of natural resource management (Cloke et al. 2005, Bodin and Crona 2009, Bodin et al. 2014). Core-periphery network models have been widely studied to understand how a subset of nodes with high centrality and connectivity influence overall network dynamics (Borgatti and Everett 2000). The core-periphery model is used to interpret network data that depicts a richly connected set of core nodes amid a larger subset of nodes with fewer links. Highly connected core nodes are often the focus of analysis because they hold a high degree of influence over the entire network’s function and responses (Ma and Mondragón 2015). Whereas peripheral nodes are theorized to have greater functional plasticity, core nodes change slowly and tend to conserve network function over time (Csermely et al. 2013). The stability and relative cooperativeness of core node clusters are key to facilitating coordinated network responses through multiple pathways (Csermely et al. 2013).
The isolation of periphery actors in watershed governance is sometimes overcome through boundary acting in a social network (Kowalski and Jenkins 2015, Horning et al. 2016, Cockburn et al. 2019b). Boundary actors serve as a bridge between disparate actors across a watershed. They provide social learning opportunities across social boundaries (Friedman and Podolny 1992, Perrault 2003, Olsson et al. 2004, Pahl-Wostl 2009, Long et al. 2013) and support the navigation of intercultural or cognitive barriers between heterogeneous groups (Burt 1992, Cohen and Davidson 2011, Long et al. 2013, Snorek and Bolger 2022). By bridging central organizations to other actors across networks, a relational hub can enable the continuity of watershed governance (Cockburn et al. 2019b). Isaac et al. (2007), for example, found that agroforestry advisory networks in rural Ghana resembled core-periphery structures where central (boundary) actors serve in bridging roles to acquire and disseminate new information across a network of periphery villages. In an urban landscape, Ernstson and Sörlin (2009) find that a broad network of organizations interested in conserving public green spaces was arranged around a core set of organizations with close ties to governing agencies. The relational hub, in turn helps to negotiate the balance between agricultural uses of natural resources and a steward’s responsibility to protect and manage the wider ecosystem (Cockburn et al. 2019a).
Boundary actors, however, are not a panacea for collective action problems and may also introduce challenges by creating dependencies that lead to bottlenecks in their absence (Cummings and Cross 2003). These core actors used their central position to frame the network’s discourse and channel the influence of all periphery organizations toward common governance objectives. By serving as liaison, translators, and negotiators between disparate groups, boundary actors may face conflicts as well as ostracization (Caldwell and O’Reilly 1982, Dubinsky et al. 1992, Singh et al. 1996, Balkundi et al. 2009, Long et al. 2013). Yet the importance of the periphery to the proper functioning of the center is evident, given especially that peripheral organizations can be more astute communicators of social-ecological change to the larger network (Ernstson and Sörlin 2009).
Often, boundary acting linking the center to the periphery is carried out by informal leaders (Andersson et al. 2020). Dominant and hierarchical models of leadership are not conducive to human cooperation and relationality (Pennington 2008, Bowles and Gintis 2011). Informal leaders can enhance communication, build trust, and establish relations amongst diverse actors and groups, often in the absence of formal institutions (Andersson et al. 2020). These leaders hold key structural positions in social networks, affording opportunities and/or constraints to others in the network (Williams 2002, Kimble et al. 2010, Long et al. 2013). Leadership is assumed to be important within the governance of large-scale commons, such as watersheds, where many users are involved, uncertainty is high, competing framings of problems and solutions exist, and formal resource governance institutions are weak or lacking (Ahlquist and Levi 2011, Andersson et al. 2020). Interpersonal relationships in a network are directly influenced by the style of leadership and can enable stakeholders to translate the ethos of stewardship more easily into action (Miller 2008, Long et al. 2013, Cockburn et al. 2019a, 2020b). How leaders translate this in ways that bridge the center and periphery with sensitivity and reflexivity is less understood (Cunliffe and Eriksen 2011).
Care ethics, a transformational feminist praxis (Gilligan 1982, Albrecht and Brewer 1990), is rooted in relationality, collective well-being, and subjective, situated types of knowledge and materialities (Nicholson and Kurucz 2019). Through care ethics, individuals express their solicitude and respect for other humans and non-humans (Thayer-Bacon 2003, Cunliffe and Erikson 2011, Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Noddings 2015). Leaders who practice care ethics reason from relational morality and are embedded in a complex system wherein they are accountable to and successful through relationships (Crippen 2004, Gouws and van Zyl 2015). They challenge dualistic modes of thinking that seek one singular right answer to a problem (Robinson 2011, Engster 2015) and are not adverse to emotion and vulnerability (Simola et al. 2012). Normative care ethics builds dignity through an emphasis on collective well-being (Robinson 2011, Engster 2015, Edmiston 2019), reflecting the South African ethic of ubuntu or “I am because we are” (Ciulla 2009, Metz 2011, 2012).
Care ethics in relational leadership (Nicholson and Kurucz 2019) or care-based leadership (Table 1) in a collaborative watershed emphasizes co-production and reflexivity as the means to express care for others (Myers 2013, Edmiston 2019, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019). In care-based leadership, worthiness is measured not in the Kantian manner—based on one’s ability to be autonomous—but, rather, through the magnitude to which one enhances other people’s sense of self-worth, dignity, and capacities (Ciulla 2009, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019). Unlike servant leaders, a care-based leader encourages others’ personal growth, freedom, and physical and mental health (Crippen 2004, Ngunjiri 2010) while not deliberately subjugating their own personal needs (Branicki 2020). They see value in collaboration, especially with peripheral “others” in order to achieve collective goals (Crippen 2004, Eicher-Catt 2005, Miller 2008, Ngunjiri 2010, Reynolds 2016) and normatively express care ethics in their actions (West 2014, Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Noddings 2015). Care-based leadership (Table 1) is relevant to sustainability (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019) and self-governing social networks (Andersson et al. 2020).
To understand how core-periphery dynamics relate to care-based leadership, we examine a case of watershed governance in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Collaborative watershed governance in South Africa is challenged socially and geographically by the core-periphery remaining in the post-apartheid period. Through a research partnership with one of six relational hubs (Cockburn et al. 2019b), the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP), we utilized a guided theory approach to qualitative and quantitatively examine collaboration in the catchment. Our inquiry was prompted by observations of compassion-forward leadership and collaboration that inspired the following research questions: (1) What types of voluntary collaboration are evident within the UCP? (2) Which partners are connected in the social network and through what types of linkages? (3) How do leaders foster connection and collaboration amongst individuals across the network? Utilizing social network analysis and qualitative research methods, we analyzed how core-periphery dynamics were influenced by the catchment’s relational hub and examined the ways in which care-based leadership supports collaboration across a large and complex watershed. This study has implications for other catchment management programs in South Africa and beyond.
Case study context
Rainfall in South Africa expresses one of the highest regional variabilities in the world (Quinn et al. 2011). Intermittent and variable rainfall exacerbates patterns of soil and land degradation and leaves surface and underground water sources depleted (Quinn et al. 2011, du Plessis 2019). Despite innovative water policy regimes, historical patterns of inequality impact how government assistance and infrastructure are delivered to mitigate water stress in South Africa (Kemerink et al. 2011, Förster et al. 2017). Communal and private householders engage in a diversity of agricultural practices, yet smallholders on rangelands often are blamed for the degraded and compacted soils (Vetter 2013). Because of land degradation, runoff transports topsoil as well as fresh water to the sea (Podwojewski et al. 2011, Palmer and Bennett 2013). A diversity of stakeholders in South Africa are seeking to restore ecological infrastructure, especially rivers, grasslands, and forests (Sigwela et al. 2017).
The governance of water is shaped by inequitable societal structures that have persisted since the 1948–1994 apartheid era (Ntsebeza 2004, 2007, Chitonge and Ntsebeza 2012, Förster et al. 2017). Black South Africans were displaced from more fertile or productive land to communal lands or “homelands” under the apartheid Bantustan regime. On the newly vacated lands, White agricultural practices, including large irrigation schemes, were protected and buffered by regulation that supported agri-business developments (du Toit 2004). In 1994, the post-apartheid South African government sought to implement collaborative watershed governance, calling on diverse groups of stakeholders to negotiate and design management plans across the entire hydrological cycle (Swatuk 2005, Ballweber 2006). This resulted in a series of water-related legislation (see Appendix 1). Despite the government’s attempts to redeem an unequal water system, these plans are criticized for a failure to collaborate with and respond to the needs of Black communities (Förster et al. 2017). Infrastructure investment is perceived to be racialized as pipes, dams, and sewage services are prioritized for wealthier municipalities where White populations predominate (Goldin 2010). This contributes to distrust of the post-apartheid regime to equitably manage the water sector (Goldin 2010). Moreover, in practice, collaborative watershed governance has not been so collaborative, but has maintained top-down information sharing without integrating local stakeholders into discussions about water management (Förster et al. 2017). These challenges have contributed to a gap between policy formulation and practical implementation (Goldin 2010).
The uMzimvubu River catchment is situated at the base of the Drakensberg mountain range in the Eastern Cape province (Fig. 1). The uMzimvubu catchment contains the third largest river in South Africa and comprises 435,000 hectares of grasslands, mistbelt forest, and wetlands. The catchment supports 250,000 people living on communal lands and more than 70 vulnerable and endangered plant and animal species (Nel et al. 2011). Individuals living in the catchment rely predominantly on livestock rearing. Rural livelihoods are increasingly supported by a complex combination of income and resources from sources such as social grants, intermittent employment, remittances, and small scale agricultural activities like home garden cultivation and small-scale cropping (UCPP 2012, Muller and Shackleton 2014, Shackleton and Luckert 2015). Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), a high-water-consuming alien invasive tree, has spread uncontrolled throughout the upper catchment, threatening the local water supply (Moyo et al. 2009, Oelofse et al. 2016). As climate change intensifies, more variable rainfall and higher temperatures present conditions favoring the spread of invasive species while further exacerbating water insecurities (Quinn et al. 2011, Derner et al. 2018).
Within the upper catchment, six traditional, indigenous authorities representing the communities near Matatiele have been promoting watershed restoration through community education, rangeland management, and alien invasive species removal. Since 2013, the UCP, a voluntary alliance of diverse stakeholders including governmental bodies, parastatal organizations (state owned corporations), private entities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs: organizations directly connected to or consisting of members of rural communities), and research organizations has been collaborating with communities and traditional authorities to enhance the social-ecological resilience of the catchment. The UCP “aims to conserve the full extent of the Umzimvubu River system (from source to sea) through the sustainable restoration and maintenance of the catchment area in a manner that supports economic development and job creation for local people and enhances flow of benefits from ecosystem goods and services to people and nature” (UCP website, https://umzimvubu.org/about/).
The UCP is unique in having a Secretariat that performs administrative and coordination roles to maintain communication between its members, host meetings, and plan activities to support the social-ecological health of the catchment. The Secretariat coordinates the UCP and is located in the town of Matatiele, situated at the base of the Drakensberg range. Of the two NGOs that co-founded and serve as the UCP’s Secretariat, Conservation South Africa (CSA) and Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS), the latter receives minimal financial support from a parastatal organization and WWF’s Nedbank Green Trust to convene events. Events range from learning exchanges to general partner liaison to quarterly meetings (QMs) in Matatiele. Largely through the efforts of its Secretariat, the UCP has established a diverse network based on transparency in correspondence and interactions, and trustworthiness amongst actors (Cockburn et al. 2019a).
Research design and data collection
The research design was based upon a grounded theory approach as developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967). This is an inductive approach whereby the researcher does not formulate hypotheses prior to engaging in the inquiry, but allows the generation of theory through comparative analysis before, during, and after the data collection (Glaser and Strauss 1967, Boeije 2002).
As participant-observers, we began attending quarterly meetings in 2017. QMs serve as a forum for all members and much of the information-sharing and convening of the UCP takes place at quarterly meetings. The QMs are always held in Matatiele, the administrative center of the UCP. QM attendance sheets, agendas, presentations, etc. are publicly available on the UCP website. All may attend QMs, and the content is arranged by the Secretariat and provided by UCP members. QMs address challenges of collaborative watershed management (Ashton et al. 2006, Weaver 2020) and build collaboration amongst members.
Based on our initial participant observation, we asked the question “why do individuals voluntarily collaborate in the UCP?” To respond to this, we examined how the UCP functioned as a social network. Social network analysis provides a way to visualize and analyze relationships and how they facilitate (or inhibit) processes of adaptive management (Bodin and Crona 2009, Bodin 2017, Sayles and Baggio 2017). We also examined members’ perceptions of the UCP, and the role that leaders played in collaboration. Questions included: What do you see that unites the various organizations in the UCP? Who is a leader and what makes them so? What projects are you engaged in through your involvement in the UCP? Who are your top five collaborators? What motivates you as an individual to participate in the UCP (see also Appendix 4)?
Data was collected in four phases over the course of 2018 and 2019: (1) We conducted a literature review to understand the relevant legislation and local context. (2) To identify the social network based on UCP participation, we analyzed UCP historical quarterly meeting sign-in sheets from June 2013 through January 2020. Seeking to identify only individuals and organizations that demonstrate a significant collaboration as defined by the Secretariat, we chose only those who had attended more than four meetings over the seven-year period as “consistent collaborators.” (3) We contacted via email 40 individuals on the consistent collaborators list. Twenty-six people belonging to a diverse range of organizations responded and were interviewed in person at a neutral location convenient to the participant or by phone during the months of March, April, and October in 2019 (Table 2). Following each interview, the research team used a constant analysis approach to relate the daily findings to our aim and overall research questions (Boeije 2002). The interviewees consisted of 63% male and 37% female participants. More NGOs were represented than other organizations, which is consistent with the larger pool of meeting attendees. The informal, conversation interviews (see Appendix 4) lasted approximately 45 minutes, with at least one researcher from our team taking notes, supplemented by recordings if permission to record was granted. (4) We compiled edge lists of the five mentioned organizations as well as mentioned partners engaging in similar activities and cross-checked these lists with several convenience-sampled interviewees.
Data analysis included quantitative analysis of QM attendance from phase 2 of the data collection, qualitative analysis of interview transcripts from phase 3, and social network analysis of data collected during phases 2 and 4. For each type of analysis, we refer to those interviewed as “actors” and the organizations to which they belong as “actor groups.” These are described in detail below.
QM attendance was summarized over seven years (June 2013–January 2020) to analyze the number of meetings attended by a given organization type. Time series data was normalized by binary presence/absence of an organization (1 = at least one member of partner organization attending, 0 = no member attendance) in R v3.5.2, and organizations represented at four meetings or more were included in the analysis. To translate QM data toward social network analysis, an adjacency list (2-column matrix representing pairs of actors both present at a meeting) was derived from organizations attending the same meeting, with weights derived based on the number of jointly attended meetings per each link. Additionally, we tested for an effect of an organization’s distance from Matatiele on meeting attendance through simple linear regression. This reinforced our decision to evaluate the core-periphery nature of the UCP by illustrating its geographical dimensions.
Using Atlas.Ti (v8.4.4), we coded quotations of interview transcripts based on themes that described what contributed to collaboration in the UCP (Stuckey 2015). These included governance arrangements, main collaborators for activities and projects, perceptions about UCP, and reasons for engagement. Three of the coauthors carried out multiple, consecutive iterations of coding using a deductive coding process, using only a small portion of predetermined codes. In group coding sessions, we deliberated about emerging themes and related these to our objectives and questions, deriving codes from both anomalous and repetitive responses. For codes related to governance, we created analytical sub-codes related to key dimensions of care ethics (Table 1): relational, subjective/embedded/situated, transformational, and collective well-being. Finally, we analyzed stated collaborations between partners, connecting these using AtlasTi’s link function. For example, if CSA (actor 1) stated that they collaborate with the Meat Naturally Program (actor 2) on livestock auctions (activity A), the project code was linked to the actor group code in AtlasTi. These links were exported as an adjacency list for the social network analysis.
Social network analysis
Using adjacency lists derived from the quantitative (one dataset - quarterly meeting [QM] attendance) and qualitative (two datasets - actor group and actor-activity) analyses, we carried out a social network analysis in Gephi (v 0.9.2) and Microsoft Excel. We looked at three types of connections that we determined could demonstrate collaboration in the UCP network: (1) attendance at the same QM to determine who might see whom most frequently, (2) top five stated collaborators to see how individuals identified those they most worked with, and (3) stated interaction within the same UCP activity. We can infer that actors with shared attendance at an event or mutual affiliation with a project or group are connected with each other (Breiger 1974). With the QM dataset, links were weighted by the number of meetings jointly attended by two nodes (actors). For the networks based on qualitative data, analysis was based on unweighted links.
To evaluate the extent to which the QM network fits the core-periphery model, we examined the distribution of the weighted degree centrality to determine which organizations represent the core. We also examined the non-weighted degree distributions for the other two nextworks (see Appendix 3), as well as the distribution of betweenness centrality (measure of geodesic paths between different nodes in a graph; see Freeman 1978-1979, Scott 2000, Knoke and Yang 2008) for the actor group (collaboration) network. Those with higher betweenness centrality (Bc) have been found in past studies to broker information and relationships, negotiate access for less powerful actor groups, and facilitate cross-scale and cross-sector engagement or boundary organizations (Himelboim et al. 2014, Paletto et al. 2015, Mulawa et al. 2018). This supports an inference that actors with the highest betweenness are best equipped to communicate across the network and link otherwise unconnected nodes (Freeman 1978-1979). Results for closeness centrality—another common centrality measure that measures the average geodesic distance or number of intermediaries that would be required to pass through to all the other members in the network (Freeman 1978-1979)—are included in Appendix 3.
Type and structure of collaboration
Quarterly meetings (QMs)
UCP members stated that QMs are an effective way to convene, learn about what others are doing, meet new partners, and discuss how to overcome challenges related to catchment management. They also share information about funding opportunities, new and ongoing activities, and develop interpersonal relationships during meetings, which contributes to the relationality between core and periphery groups in the network. One individual stated that it helps to attend the UCP meetings because organizations may share what they are doing and get the word out. Such sharing often leads to co-production, starting new initiatives and sense-making between diverse actors. The meetings serve to provide space for collaboration across boundaries. “We are enabling all the voices to be heard ... making sure all relevant stakeholders are finding space and platforms” (#3).
Of the 218 individuals representing 64 unique organizations attending more than four meetings (Appendix 2), the amount and types of partners attending QMs fluctuated across the seven-year period of analysis (2013 to 2020, Fig. 2). The types of partners that most fluctuated in attendance were research partners and community-based organizations. There are several reasons for this fluctuation, but the most frequently stated reasons were transportation and funding constraints (Fig. 3). Across actor groups, meeting attendance decreased by 0.4 for each 100 kilometers of travel required to reach Matatiele (Fig. 3). As described by one interviewee, “financial constraints are the biggest concern ... those who have to travel far, it’s a cost you have to bear. If you don’t have funds, you can’t participate” (#15). Some organizations must drive multiple hours to the meetings, making participation expensive in time and resources. Other reasons contributing to low attendance at QMs include lack of resources or personnel and interpersonal struggles within the partnership. CBOs located in or around Matatiele did not attend frequently, even in areas close to Matatiele because rural transportation services are limited. This geographic pattern reinforces the core-periphery interpretation of the UCP: actors that are less connected in the meetings network are also farther away geographically. This also broadly corroborates with Lubell et al. (2014) referred to as the “geographic constraint hypothesis.” Despite these constraints, the Secretariat stated that Matatiele is considered by its members to be the most preferred and central access venue.
Figure 4 shows the social network of organizations attending greater than four quarterly meetings (see also Table A3.1 in Appendix 3). Three partners are significantly more central here (see distribution of weighted degree centrality in Figure A3.1) and have attended more than 19 meetings together. Thus, their frequent QM attendance increases the possibility of greater connectivity to the other nodes and enhances opportunities for collaboration. This core group is ERS or Environment and Rural Solutions, a small, local conservation and development NGO; CSA is Conservation South Africa, the local branch of a national branch of Conservation International; DEDEAT, the government’s Department of Economic Development, Environment Affairs and Tourism. All three have offices in Matatiele; ERS serves as the Secretariat for the UCP; ERS and CSA are the co-founders of the UCP. This core group holds significant influence and responsibility for building relationships across the network and has attended nearly all the quarterly meetings together. While not in the core, nine actor groups, linked by blue lines in Figure 4, attended 9 to 11 meetings together and all have the highest weighted degree (≥97, see also Table A3.1). These included three parastatal partners (SANBI, MDTP, ECPTA), three NGO partners (LIMA, EWT, SA), one research partner (WSU), and two other government partners (DWAS and ANDM). We have highlighted these because of their presence in other forms of collaboration: collaboration and activity/program-oriented.
Several organizations of the UCP tend to facilitate opportunities for collective action by directly connecting actors within and without the UCP to members in ways that build the network and fulfill mission activities. These organizations have high betweenness centralities (Bc), with the five highest being ERS (Bc = 0.22), CSA (0.13), EWT (0.07), LIMA (0.06), and ECPTA (0.06); all but one are non-governmental organizations, reinforcing a general understanding that NGOs often play the role of boundary actors (Fig. 5; see also Table A3.2 and Fig. A3.2 in the Appendices). One private organization AV has a Bc of 0.08, indicating that it also may support boundary acting. Most of the partners possessed high levels of closeness centrality (the reciprocal of the sum of the length of the shortest paths between the node and all other nodes in the network, Table A3.2), representing an inclusive partnership.
It is notable that government actors, while present at quarterly meetings (as shown by high degree centrality in Fig. 4 and Table A3.1), and existing at the center of traditional forms of water policy and management, were not often identified in interviews as being close collaborators (see high betweenness centrality nodes in Fig. 5). Nevertheless, their continued presence throughout the other networks dominated by NGOs (Fig. 5 and 6) implies that they understand the legitimacy of the activities of the UCP. Statements from government actors emphasized the importance of the UCP to catchment management, as well as their appreciation for the fluidity and flexibility of the UCP structure, compared to the constraints on spending and planning faced within the government. Likewise, statements from those closest to communities, CBOs, pointed to the ways in which the UCP provided greater legitimacy to their interactions with government and NGO actors. “This is a network that links organizations and provides access to communities that people otherwise would not have had” (#8). Such links are especially pertinent given the slow dissolution of core-periphery dynamics from the post-apartheid period.
Actor groups on the periphery of the networks (Figs. 4, 5, and 6, see also Appendices A3.1 and A3.2) participate intermittently, experience fewer benefits, and often express that their expectations are not being met by the partnership. For instance, respondents mentioned that CBOs were involved in the past, but that meeting attendance dwindled; one respondent hypothesized that this may be a result of CBOs not finding financial support through the partnership. According to the Secretariat, this experience may relate to members’ requests for proposal-writing or business plan preparation, which they perceived to be beyond the scope of the UCP. Moreover, the partnership faces challenges in building a diverse base of active partners, which can lead to the development of factions within the UCP, and silos of work and working groups without a lot of cross-project engagement or collaboration. “Some activities are related to similar areas, some fall beyond radar and are not included in UCP projects. That indirectly leads people to work in silos—not enough collaboration amongst members of UCP” (#12). The CBOs are the most peripheral actors but are arguably the most important to the objectives of the UCP, since it is their livelihoods and the quality of their environment that the UCP has established as its mission. Although it was beyond the scope of this research to examine in greater detail the reasons behind CBOs withdrawals, this is a potential subject for further research.
Activities and programs
Twelve informal activities and formal programs support the UCP’s vision to restore watershed function via the enhancement of local scale stewardship capacities (Table 3). Unlike quarterly meetings, relatively few partners (26 out of the 63 identified during the study) collaborate through what actors have defined as UCP activities or programs. This core group of collaborators includes three NGOs: ERS (11 activities), CSA (11), EWT (10); a government actor: DEDEAT (7); and a CBO: TKT (7) with high program engagement (Fig. 6, see also Appendix 3, Table A3.3 and Fig. A3.3). Qualitative interaction across and between partners, in turn, demonstrates how partners collaborate to overcome and share challenges and benefits across the catchment. We illustrate this by presenting qualitative data of collaboration on three activities/programs: (1) Working for Water or WfW, (2) rangeland management and livestock auctions, and (3) monitoring, evaluation, and learning efforts.
Established in 1995 by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Working for Water (WfW) is a nationally funded program designed to reduce the density of established, terrestrial, invasive alien plants to regenerate hydrological cycles and support recharge of groundwater through the establishment of regional management plans. Possessing the highest number of UCP collaborating partners (18, Table 3), the program is lauded by both UCP partners and its government founders as both an invasive species removal program and as a job creation mechanism that actively recruits rural, and sometimes disempowered, women, youth and men through short-term contracts as a means to gain professional skills in the environmental services sector. Although WfW is not expected to completely eradicate wattle invasions in the area, the program targets wattle removal in priority areas and serves as a unique venue for atypical collaboration amongst UCP members (e.g., between economic development and conservation organizations). For the uMzimvubu watershed, WfW primarily focuses on the mechanical and chemical removal of black and silver wattle because this is an aggressive and problematic plant across much of the catchment (Gwate et al. 2016). However, it should be noted that because WfW is a national program, there are also several contractors across the uMzimvubu landscape that do not subscribe to the UCP and operate quite differently from the UCP members.
Because of the program’s reliance on erratic government funding as well as the bureaucratic restrictions associated with it, those engaged in the WfW stated that the sustainability of the program is uncertain. In response to these constraints, UCP members collaborate in creative ways to manage invasive wattle while overcoming funding and administrative challenges. For example, collective learning at UCP engagements, including in-field learning exchanges and discussions at quarterly meetings have led to a charcoal enterprise business that harvests wattle while avoiding heavy administrative overheads required by state funded projects. To avoid the competitive arena that tends to evolve from single-source project funding, several partners have sought funds outside of the WfW framework to support the continuation of alien vegetation management.
These types of creative partnerships have been demonstrated also through rangeland management, which has been bolstered by a market-based program founded by two UCP members (Table 3). CSA and ERS have been working with traditional authorities and local residents to co-develop plans for their community-managed rangelands. Rangeland management plans identify degraded land and water areas and establish strategies to regenerate these areas through rotation and rest (e.g., preventing grazing on specific areas during the growing season). To ensure compliance, UCP members hire and train “ecorangers” to guard the rested rangelands; ecorangers also maintain invasive species removal after WfW has cleared an area.
To bolster this, the Meat Naturally Program (MNP), a UCP partner, incentivizes rangeland management through local validation schemes linked to mobile markets for sustainably raised livestock. Eight partners organize or assist with mobile livestock auctions and the development of metrics to measure rangeland health (Table 3). MNP organizes potential buyers and gathers data from farmers, rewarding those who are compliant by charging them lower commissions and providing other non-monetary benefits such as cattle branding, vaccinations, and support with grazing management plan development. Importantly, MNP’s program supports UCP outcomes without reliance on governmental or outside funding. The collaborative production of this incentive-based model drives the other aspects of the UCP’s rangeland management, furthering each partner’s goals.
Although data has been produced to demonstrate the benefits of the UCP’s collaborations across the catchment, the data management is lacking. With information trickling in from NGOs, research partners, private and government actors, and NGO-led citizen science programs, the multiplicity of data and different centers of analysis related to the UCP’s research, monitoring, evaluation, and learning (RMEL) produce management problems. For instance, data from auctions, rangeland monitoring, wattle clearing, and livelihood information are produced and analyzed inconsistently and by different individuals with different agendas and without coordination. The structure of funding contracts deepens this challenge, as they may stipulate that monitoring data be retained by individual organizations that receive funding, creating competitive tensions and undermining trust amongst organizations. With regards to monitoring, funders might not allow for it or there is concern about intellectual property, which according to one respondent, “happens less now because there’s far more communication between partners” (#6). The parastatal SANBI has potential to centralize RMEL initiatives, but partners have not been satisfied with the results of this activity. Given the structure of NGOs to function as local implementing partners, UCP has tried to build partnerships with research partners to mitigate this collective action problem. Overall, RMEL tends to produce more frustration amongst partners than other activities.
The actor groups emerging as the core groups (see Appendix 3) based on meeting attendance (ERS, CSA, DEDEAT, Fig. A3.1), collaborative relationships (ERS, Fig. A3.2), and shared activities and programs (ERS, CSA, and EWT, Fig. A3.3) demonstrate the “what” and “who” of collaboration. UCP members’ main goals for engaging in the UCP were not primarily to seek material benefits for their organizations, but rather to “do more together,” to contribute to the public good, to learn from each other, and to build reciprocal relationships (Table 4). This happens primarily through the leaders’ facilitation of spaces of collaboration across the network (Cunliffe and Eriksen 2011, Andersson et al. 2020), yet this facilitation is imperfect and sometimes pushes people away from the UCP. To demonstrate the “why,” “why not,” and “how” of collaboration, we highlight perceptions of leadership in particular about those in the Secretariat (ERS and CSA).
The UCP envisions a healthy and resilient catchment for people and the environment. Individual members see that this can be achieved by working together to “improv[e] lives of beneficiaries” (#11), “invest resources to help communities” (#11), and “contribute to the livelihood of rural communities” (#2). The UCP provides a physical and cognitive space to collectively pool resources, knowledge, and expertise, resulting in accomplishing more of this vision “together.” “When we come together, we can use resources more wisely to maximize our efforts” (#3). This vision is realized because of the trust, transparency, and cooperation that members have accepted as part of the collaborative culture of the UCP. This culture is developed through frequent interactions at meetings and learning exchanges as well as expectations that this culture will succeed through collaboration. “[The UCP] can take [the work] in bite-sized chunks by sharing responsibility” (#23). The success of collaboration is demonstrated in the reduction of overlap, the ability to devise creative solutions, and few conflicts over the allocation of resources (Table 4, Fig. 6). The shared benefits of collaboration have resulted in less competition between organizations and shared project plans, outcomes, and challenges. “People don’t feel a need to express ownership. [A project] needs to be beneficial to all members of the partnership, not one organization” (#23). A rangeland monitoring effort we observed was attended by individuals from three NGOs and one CBO in the partnership, who shared data and program achievements. Although funding streams may vary, coordinated actions in the catchment facilitate “accomplishing more together,” including the garnering of funding, which span across sectors and social boundaries.
How leaders foster collaboration
Respondents highlighted how collaboration and relationships between UCP members are framed by the leadership, that serves as “the hub that links the spokes and the grease to keep everything moving” (#23). The Secretariat (ERS and CSA) serves as a cheerleader or champion for all members, encourages cross-institutional collaboration, links new UCP members to the wider collective, and shares strategic information across the partnership. “[The Secretariat] is like the crayon connecting the dots” (#23). Their roles are fluid and non-hierarchical. “Sometimes I am the tea maker ... I morph my job title for whatever is needed.” (#23). Members observed how the Secretariat produces a neutral and welcoming space for interaction and collaboration amongst diverse individuals, which both brings them into the network and allows for their ideas of network activities to emerge. “Different government agencies may not have previously found mechanisms to work together, NGOs might compete, but [all] can collaborate [in the UCP] through a neutral, safe, unbiased environment with common goal” (#5). “[The] UCP is a humble collaboration. It allows space for everybody, regardless of background. It’s very human and welcoming” (#6). Providing this neutral space allows the co-creation of meaning and action across the partnership. Along with this non-hierarchical approach, these leaders constantly facilitated non-leaders to share and present their work as well as serve in leadership roles throughout the UCP; this created redundancy in UCP activities. Despite the social network analysis data (Fig. 5) showing boundary acting mostly to be led by ERS and CSA, this leads some to assert that there is no single leader, but “... all of us together as a team collaboratively support the UCP and help to establish its goals and objectives. It’s more of a teamwork effort than specific individuals” (#12). Leaders thus serve as the glue that holds the partnership together, supporting collaboration and representing the diversity of people living in the region across land use practices, class, race, gender, age, language, and ethnicity groups.
The qualities of leaders were recognized as attentiveness, informality, respect, and care. For instance, although in other places a concern fell on deaf ears, the leaders listened to individuals’ concerns. This results in individuals seeing the UCP being a place of comfort in the “battlefield” of collective watershed stewardship (#16). “I just wanted people to talk to that had the same ideas about the environment” (#1), “... peers who are in same boat as you” (#5). “I can talk about stress with others” (#9). This psycho-social care and recognition of mutual challenges may not have emerged in a more professional environment, but the environment and culture that the UCP leaders have honed supports this multiplexity. As volunteer coordinators of the UCP, leaders possess no legal registration to receive payment by the UCP. This informality is perceived by some as one of the UCP’s strengths, enabling leaders to play multiple roles as needed, and to show that they are intrinsically motivated to work together, rather than by formal rewards. “The Secretariat plays a lot of roles: conveners, implementers, drivers etc. There’s something dynamic and real about it. If it became too slick, UCP would lose its heart. People respond to the real passion that people have within the UCP. If the UCP could do more, maybe it would get more funding, but then maybe it wouldn’t be the same UCP” (#6). This emphasis on both the “heart” and the “smallness” of the UCP summarized multiple statements about how the network functions best through informality, care, and enthusiasm of its leaders.
Barriers to collaboration
Despite the many positive attributes of the partnership, the collaborative platform sometimes lacks coordination, exhibits competition over resources, observes member withdrawal, and fails to manage and distribute knowledge across the partnership (Table 4).
The strengths of the Secretariat as part of the “core” serves also as a weakness, resulting in assertions that few organizations shape the decisions of the UCP or that there are multiple and conflicting agendas. Although most have demonstrated the inclusivity of the partnership, others stated that participation is uneven, with some partners being perceived to not do their part or only a few organizations functioning as implementers across the catchment (Fig. 6, Table 4). Consensus-building amongst a wide partnership was considered an onerous process because of multiple agendas and goals. “When you get to over thirty-two orgs, you need to be quite flexible and understand, you must consider a wide range of views. If you fail to do that, they fall off the ladder” (#16). Conflicts occur infrequently between NGOs, however, with more emphasis placed in interviews on tensions between the NGOs involved and governmental actors. Because of the voluntary nature of the collaboration, no financial support is provided for participating, despite differential individual and organizational constraints, which may translate to the same members responding more consistently than others.
It is notable that many respondents did not know anyone who had left the UCP, but those who leave the partnership do so for a variety of reasons: member career changes, evolving organization missions, or visions that do not align with the UCP’s vision, funding constraints, political opposition, or interpersonal struggles. Those who disengage mentioned differing ethical or political views (e.g., an ideological stance against the introduction of hydraulic fracking to the catchment in 2019). Yet generally individuals had little to say about reasons for withdrawing, pointing out that the UCP does not dictate who can or cannot engage and that organizations leave on their own terms.
Knowledge management is especially lacking. Types of data that are currently available include livestock sales, grassland ecological assessments, water quality, individuals receiving training, perceptions of positive and negative changes resulting from interventions, etc., but there is no centralized data management or distribution. Several partners noticed a need for comprehensive and thorough data collection to demonstrate social and ecological impacts across scales. Although costly, systematic monitoring practices could help streamline information coming from a wide variety of sources and make it more easily accessible and informative for partners. Also, some data belong to individual projects and funders, which may restrict its use or otherwise limit its translation to a wider audience. One solution proposed is greater inclusion of research organizations in the Partnership. Respondents see data management as an essential component to future progress and efficacy.
In this study we aimed to respond to the question, what supports voluntary collaboration in the UCP? What we found is that by examining the UCP as a social network, we begin to see how it functions as a core-periphery network. This core-periphery network provides a space for collaboration based upon the quality of relationships derived through the network. Yet, what makes these relationships stick is the expression of care-based modes of leadership by the Secretariat. These findings, described in more detail below provide important examples to collaborative water governance in South Africa and beyond.
Relationality in a core-periphery network
A subset of organizations (ERS, CSA, DEDEAT, and sometimes EWT, see Appendix 2) serve as a relational hub (Cockburn 2019b) and are situated at the center of the network with other organizations in a peripheral position. Understanding the role of relationality in the functioning of a core-periphery network such as the UCP requires consideration of network structure and function alongside qualitative interview data. By examining three different forms of social engagement (QMs, activities, and interpersonal relationships), we were able to see the ways that the multiple peripheral and central actor groups interact within the network. Tie density is important to collaboration primarily when connecting key actors who exist amid a larger network of less densely connected actors (Ulibarri and Scott 2017), which resonates with what we have uncovered in the UCP network, where central hubs are densely connected to each other (Fig. 4); yet, activity hubs (Fig. 6) anchor peripheral clusters of densely connected actors. This central core cluster (see also Csermely et al. 2013) is reflective of the UCP Secretariat and partner organizations that together lend stability and cooperation to the network by facilitating regular meetings, tracking progress, aligning network activities with UCP objectives, and coordinating peripheral actors.
The hub serves as a common connection amongst many otherwise unconnected nodes, and they have a consistent and visible role within formal collaborative forums (e.g., quarterly meetings, activities/programs) as well as a wide web of personal relationships across the UCP. Central nodes in the UCP tend to serve as boundary organizations by connecting disparate actors, influencing and producing information flows across boundaries, and activating unconnected nodes toward common goals (Bodin and Crona 2009, Kowalski and Jenkins 2015, Cockburn et al. 2019b). As other studies have shown (Cummings and Cross 2003, Christakis 2019), boundary acting may contribute to core-periphery problems when the hub becomes a bottleneck to accessing information, decision-making processes, or inclusivity.
Mediated by centrally positioned leaders, core-periphery networks are theorized to be able to achieve high levels of network coordination and solve complex problems while also maintaining influence over the generation, acquisition, and dissemination of knowledge and information across the network (Bodin and Crona 2009, Long et al. 2013). We see this reflected in the UCP network where complex watershed restoration efforts were carried out through frequent informal and formal interactions, transparent learning exchanges, co-production of meaning and activities, and evidence of care-based leadership (Tables 1, 3, and 4). Collaboration is thus sustained through both the structural and cultural elements such as the frequent fora for communication and expressions of transparency, trustworthiness, inclusivity, and a legibility of care amongst a multiplicity of actors. Moreover, through multiple activities and programs, individuals build interpersonal relationships that imbue the network with trust and norms of reciprocity and reflexivity.
Although we do not employ explicit measures of collaborative outcomes in our study, results from network models and interview data suggest that the UCP is arranged to support collaborative governance processes. In each of the three configurations of the network, the expression of nodes reflected a diversity of engagement. Quarterly meetings (Fig. 4) and interpersonal interactions (Fig. 5) provide a forum of exchange amongst UCP members, yet the activities (Fig. 6) are essential to providing a place of exchange and agency for peripheral actors, such as community-based organizations. Because of temporal restrictions on this research, we were not able to extend our study into the role of CBOs in the collaboration, but this area is worthy of further examination. Relationality fosters a perpetuation of collaboration and is directly related to new opportunities for engagement, a unified vision for stewardship, and expressions of care and reciprocity.
Care-based leadership supports relationality
Care-based, non-hierarchical leadership supports relationality in the network and has a key role in connecting and fostering leadership amongst core and periphery actors in the UCP. The Secretariat characterizes care-based leadership by establishing norms of trust, respect, and reciprocity (Table 1) within the network (Noddings 2015). These norms are established in several ways. They establish situated knowledge (Nicholson and Kurucz 2019), by recognizing that as leaders “we are not the experts,” by embracing subjectivity and fluidity of roles and evade hierarchical terms like “director,” and by co-creating and co-defining collective goals to bring about catchment restoration. They open cognitive and physical spaces of collaboration (e.g., and accessible office space and, e.g., invitations to present at quarterly meetings) wherein these goals can be iterated, tested, and deliberated in a co-productive process (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013). Within these spaces, vulnerability, triumph, and frustration can be voiced by all members, in part because of the leaders’ ability to engage in intertemporal processes that embrace complexities and express solicitude with the goal of building greater relationality (Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Noddings 2015). Care-based leaders hone their interpersonal skills and facilitate connectivity (Matson et al. 2016) while at the same time empowering future leaders to espouse and build collaboration. This supports these new leaders to fill any gaps left by those who exit the partnership (Table 4; see also Ciulla 2009).
This transformational leadership (Edmiston 2019, Branicki 2020) has been exemplified in their recognition of the co-productive process that brought about the objectives and activities in the UCP. For instance, upon winning the 2019 Living Planet Award from the WWF, they made the following statement, “Our progress has not been just due to our own work but also our entire team and the fantastic partners we work with ... A ship cannot sail without the crew!” (WWF 2019). This humble leadership is not only the glue that holds the network together, but empowers an ethic of collective success or ubuntu (Metz 2011, West 2014), wherein success is shared across multiple, embedded programmatic activities (e.g., rangeland management coupled with MNP’s livestock mobile markets; Table 3). This analysis aligns with recent work by Andersson et al. on the importance of unselfish leaders in enabling collective action in groups (2020). Concurrently, according to the social network theory’s notion of “the strength of weak ties,” the leaders who have a higher number of weak ties are more capable of facilitating this kind of collaborative organization, wherein horizontal linkages such as multilateral exchanges across gender, wealth, and sectorial gaps are possible.
The concept of care-based leadership emerged from our analysis of collaboration among UCP members. By providing empirical evidence of care-based leadership and discussing how these practices contribute to the structure and function of the UCP network, our findings set the stage for a more targeted analysis of care-based leadership in other collaborative management contexts.
This case stands in contrast with how governance of watersheds has gone in other parts of South Africa. The passage of the 1998 National Water Act (NWA) presaged a change in the direction of integrated water management, but this has largely not come to pass (Schreiner 2013). One way of interpreting the results of this is the fractal-like repetition of the core-periphery network seen within our case to the national context: many places such as the uMzimvubu Catchment remain at the periphery of the formal institutional context, and therefore are not prioritized in the implementation phase. Additionally, as Schreiner (2013) describes, formal agencies in charge of water management (e.g., government) have historically been technically oriented, not emphasizing the “soft” skills that are so reflected by the leading boundary actors in the UCP. Evidence from our case has demonstrated the core-periphery problems may be sectoral. Relatedly, although the NWA is revered as a rigorous piece of legislation that focused more than before on equity, ultimately it is relationships that determine outcomes, and these must develop over time in specific times and places, which is hard to legislate.
At the same time, our case is not unique. Elsewhere in South Africa, networks resemble widely dispersed hubs of stewardship activity arranged around key actors who support knowledge sharing and generate a shared environmental ethic (Cockburn et al. 2019b, Cockburn et al. 2020a). Although top-down governance is an intuitive place to look for large-scale change, we need to remember to look at specific times and places for “smaller” victories, as we have in this article. It is often in such places as the uMzimvubu Catchment that path dependence has less of a hold and progress can be made.
This case study demonstrates how collaborative watershed governance is maintained by a relational hub of the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership. The UCP is a voluntary collective made up of a diversity of organizations representing the national to local scales of watershed management of the uMzimvubu River in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. We studied the UCP as a social network and qualitatively analyzed how the network’s central hub (made up of the UCP Secretariat and several other central actors) serves as a boundary institution to convene and support collaboration amongst peripheral UCP members. Effective watershed stewardship is predicated upon the ability of the hub’s conveners to build relationships across the catchment and to empower others in the UCP membership to lead. We found that the style of leadership practiced by the Secretariat reflected literature on relational leadership, but can be called care-based leadership for its stronger focus on subjectivity, emotional well-being, horizontal engagement and deconstructing hierarchies. Moreover, the structure of the network, transparent and open channels of communication, and frequent face-to-face meetings establish an ethic of care and shared success, which bolsters the collaboration of the UCP and supports transformative collaboration in the partnership’s watershed management activities.
Mixed quantitative and qualitative approaches to social network analysis helped to understand each organization’s role in the UCP network and lend explanatory detail as to why an organization’s participation may change over time. Incorporating qualitative data analysis into social network methodologies is gaining traction as a useful approach to examining collaborative processes, though it remains understudied (Luxton and Sbicca 2021). This project demonstrates an example of how qualitative data can add depth and explanatory power to the outcomes of quantitative social network analysis and builds a more meaningful understanding of how network position relates to collaborative processes in large organizational networks. Further, we reveal how important contextual factors, such as geographic distribution of funding availability, may limit participation in collaborative forums, and that such factors may go unnoticed without inclusion of qualitative data in network analysis. Finally, we find that leadership traits, in this case servant leadership enhanced with values like ubuntu, bestows capacity upon network hubs that may transcend core and periphery network dynamics that might otherwise oppress some of the stakeholders in watershed collaboration.
RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLE
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The authors wish to thank all the individuals in the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership for their contributions. In turn, we particularly thank the Paulson Family for their gift to the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College, which made this research possible.
The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author, JS. None of the data are publicly available because of their containing information that could compromise the privacy of research participants. Ethical approval for this research study was granted by the Dartmouth College Internal Review Board (STUDY00031761).
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Table 1. Characteristics contributing to care-based leadership.
|Relational||Attentive to the personal
Respectful of self/other
|Ciulla 2009, Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Noddings 2015, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019, Braniki 2020|
|Subjective, Embedded, and Situated||Seeing the big picture
Subjectivity before objectivity
Knowledge as situated & embedded
Co-creating meaning & action
|Simola et al. 2010, Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019, Braniki 2020|
|Transformational||Legibility of care
Accountable to others
|Simola et al. 2010, 2012, Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019, Braniki 2020|
|Collective Well-being||From “needs met” to dignity
Collective success or ubuntu
Honing emergent leaders
|Ciulla 2009, Metz 2011, 2012, Gouws and van Zyl 2015, Nicholson and Kurucz 2019|
Table 2. Number of organizations included in analysis and individuals interviewed, summarized by uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP) organization participant type.
|Type of Organization (Orgs)||Acronym||Type Definition||# Individuals interviewed||Total potential orgs by type†|
|Non-governmental organization||NGO||Non-profit and non-governmental organizations||13||70|
|Parastatal||PARA||Semi-public institutions managed partially by government mandates||3||22|
|Community-based organizations||CBO||Non-profit organizations affiliated with traditional South African leadership||3||13|
|Private||PRI||Private, for-profit institutions||2||17|
|Research||RES||Institutions of higher education including public universities and non-profit research institutes||2||26|
|Government||GOV||Government institutions at multiple scales||3||45|
|† Total potential organizations based on cumulative quarterly meeting attendance (see Appendix 2).|
Table 3. List of activities conducted by uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP) partners.
|Working for Water (WfW)||Government program training citizens in invasive species removal with the aim to improve water retention||ANDM, CSA, DEA, DEDEAT, ECPTA, ERS, EWT, INR, LIMA, MLM, MNP, MT, RU, SA, SR, TKT, UW, WWF (18)|
|Rangeland management||Rangeland restoration for soil and water retention (e.g., rotational grazing)||BSE, CSA, DAFF, DEA, ERS, EWT, INR, LIMA, MNP, SA, TKT, UW (12)|
|Learning exchanges||Training and exchanges relevant to UCP objectives||DAFF, CSA, ERS, EWT, INR, LIMA, MNP, SA, SANBI, SR, TKT (11)|
|Environmental education||Environmental stewardship training for school children and adults||CSA, DEDEAT, DEA, ECPTA, ERS, EWT, MTDP, SANBI, SWC, TKT, WESSA (11)|
|Research and monitoring||Establishing protocols and engaging universities and citizen scientists in collaborative research||CSA, DEDEAT, ECPTA, ERS, EWT, MNP, RU, SANBI, SR, WESSA, WWF (11)|
|Catchment stewardship||Raise awareness about environmental health and sharing best practices with those living in the catchment||ANDM, CSA, DRDLR, DEDEAT, ECPTA, ERS, EWT, MDTP, TKT, WWF (10)|
|Agriculture (non-livestock)||All non-livestock agricultural production activities, advocacy and training||AV, CSA, EWT, ERS, LIMA, RU, SR, TKT, WESSA, (9)|
|Livestock auctions||Providing a mobile market for cattle that are raised in sustainably managed rangelands||CSA, DEDEAT, ERS, EWT, MNP, LIMA, UW, WESSA (8)|
|Eco-Futures||Youth internships in environmental education, research, and projects||DEDEAT, CSA, ECPTA, ERS, EWT, INR, LIMA, WWF (8)|
|Green expo||Features sustainable agricultural products||CSA, ERS, DEA, SR, TKT (5)|
|Healthy catchment alliance||A partnership for the management of South African river catchments||CSA, ERS, EWT, WESSA (4)|
|Fire awareness||Managing uncontrolled agricultural burning||DEDEAT, MDTP, MNP (3)|
|† Names of activities include the formal names of projects (e.g., Eco-Futures) and other activities (e.g., environmental education).|
Table 4. Characteristics and statements representing what fosters (+) or hinders (-) collaboration. UCP, uMzimvubu River Catchment.
(# of respondents)
|Representative Quote (ID)|
|+||Less competition, Trustworthy (4)||“[We] can collaborate through a neutral, safe, unbiased environment with a common goal.” (#5)|
|+||Collaborative culture (4)||“[We] share the same vision ... if all of us work together, pull our skills together, we’ll be strong, not as a single entity, but together.” (#9)|
|+||Transparent information sharing (4)||“There’s something about transparency in tackling complex problems. People respond well to the open, honest way in engaging and communicating with UCP.” (#6)|
|+||Cross-sector collaboration (1)||“UCP is structured to create a platform for government officials and civil society to come together - [this is] great and positive [because] interdependent!” (#12)|
|+||Inclusive (1)||“UCP is a humble collaboration: It allows space for everybody, regardless of background. It’s very human and welcoming.” (#6)|
|+||Legibility of care (2)||“You feel good after the UCP session, you see your work is useful and others support your work, not on your own.” (#9)|
|+||Interconnected (2)||“UCP allows me to connect to people I wouldn’t have otherwise connected to.” (#1)|
|+||Honing Leaders (2)||“[The Secretariat] has helped me be the environmental activist that I am today.” (#1)|
|+||Subjectivity (2)||“I morph my job title for whatever is needed.” (#23)|
|+/-||Conflict and collective action (1)||“[T]here are some clashes over ideas and what they feel is right/their way. Conflict can lead to better outcomes though.” (#11)|
|-||Lacking coordination/ Multiple agendas (5)||“UCP doesn’t do the actual work, it’s done by different organizations and UCP doesn’t really allow for them to communicate.” (#17)|
|-||More competition and overlap (4)||“[T]here is a lot of competition within the UCP, issue of overlapping.” (#17)|
|-||Limited funding (3)||“If UCP was funded, everyone would love to participate, and it would be more participatory.” (#7)|
|-||Free riders (1)||“Some partners do not pull their weight so you must push them.” (#11)|