The Importance of Brokers in Collaborative Marine Ecosystem-Based Management of Social Ecological Systems

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Practitioners play a critical yet largely unexamined role in translating collaborative, ecosystem-based management (EBM) for social-ecological systems from theory to practice. We paired mental models and social network analytical methods and applied them to two cases of marine EBM in Rhode Island and New York, focusing on practitioners themselves, to understand the relationship between practitioners’ mental models of marine ecosystems and the extent and nature of collaboration within each network. Mental models analysis was used to assess the comprehensiveness and balance of practitioners’ mental models, and social network analysis was used to assess the role and influence of practitioners within each network. A comparative statistical analysis was then performed to understand the relationship between mental models and network measures. Research revealed a statistically significant correlation between practitioners’ mental model comprehensiveness and practitioners’ influence within the network. In other words, practitioners with comprehensive mental models of the ecosystem for which they were planning were found to act as “brokers,” connecting those who were not otherwise connected, bridging jurisdictions, sectors, and disciplines. Results underscore the importance of brokers in achieving the collaborative and integrated goals of EBM and suggest the need for greater attention to practitioners’ role in EBM implementation.

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Coastal Management