Guest post: Networks for Mangrove Protection in Costa Rica

(by Barbara Schroeter)

mangroves

Costa Rica is one of the world´s biodiversity hotspots. In the southern Pacific Cost of the country, the Golfo Dulce region contributes to a rich biodiversity thanks to mangrove and other wetland ecosystems. Mangroves are important for carbon storage, as they store up to five times more carbon than tropical forests which makes them important for combatting climate change. But mangroves also prevent soil erosion, protect the shorelines against storms, offer habitat for birds, mammals and sea animals and can be used by humans for recreation. In Costa Rica, mangroves are public property, but without clear guidelines how to be preserved and far from being valued as important by everyone.

To engage in mangrove conservation the Civil-Society Organisation (CSO) Fundación Neotrópica set up a Community Blue Carbon Project. Together with the local communities, mainly the fishermen, they promote conservation activities in wetlands. They recollect mangrove seeds and create nurseries, reforest the mangroves, monitor the survival rate and teach environmental education at schools and try to rise awareness in the communities to sensitize to the importance of mangroves and wetlands in general. This project is financed by national donor companies which stimulate voluntary compensations for carbon production of their respective clients.

We used Net-Map to investigate the network of this project. Particularly, we wanted to find out about the role of the CSO in the whole network. The results revealed about the CSO´s position and function that it is a multi-level boundary spanner, bringing together actors from the local, regional, national and international level to make the project work. The CSO is also a guarantor of power balance between the national and the local level supporting negotiations, communication and knowledge exchange between them. Finally, the CSO is a permanently engaged intermediary, as it is interested in a long term development and empowerment of the local people.

These findings may help similar CSOs to reflect their organization structure and activities. If you want to find out more, check here:

Publication:

Schröter, B., et al. (2018): More than just linking the nodes: civil society actors as intermediaries in the design and implementation of payments for ecosystem services–the case of a blue carbon project in Costa Rica, Local Environment. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2018.1460808

 

Foto: Mangrove nursery in Osa, Barbara Schroeter

 

How to use Net-Map in Monitoring and Evaluation

Image result for images project evaluation international development cartoon

Are you planning or implementing complex projects, that aim at social change? Are you wondering how innovations spread through a given social system? Or maybe connecting people to opportunities or strengthening the networks of the people you work with is an explicit goal of your work?

In all of these cases, Net-Map may be a useful tool to establish a baseline and keep track of the social and network changes that happen, as you do your work. I have recently been asked by a number of colleagues about the use of Net-Map in M&E and my advice to them may be useful for you too.

  • Be intentional and get a baseline at the beginning. This might sound rather basic, but I have interacted with a lot of teams who were very excited to Net-Map the impact of their interventions but had nothing to compare it to. If you don’t know how the networks looked before you started, how much can you learn from a snapshot, just one point in time?
  • Put hard work into finding the right big question: “Who influences XY?” This is where most mediocre Net-Map studies start, with a question that is not quite on target, often too big (sometimes too small), two or three questions in one or using language that is easy to misunderstand. Pre-test and see if it works. Often at the beginning of a project you may need to start with a broad general landscape question, just to know where you are. Follow it up with a second session that asks a specific question closely linked to your project, so that it will be valid as a baseline.
  • Engage a broad enough range of participants, that they will show you your blind spots and give a balanced picture. Don’t just hang out with your friends and group-think. As you do more than one Net-Map over time, for M&E, will you be able to re-assemble the same group or at least a group of similar constellation?
  • Don’t just Net-Map. This is a tool that is great for telling you about the HOW and WHY, especially if you have a good interviewer who will dig deep into the qualitative discussion of the map and take good notes of it. However, for the most part Net-Map is not a tool to tell you a lot about the WHAT, to answer whether you have achieved your goals. Ensure to combine it with a solid methodology to evaluate the results achieved. Also, I rarely use Net-Map in a large, quantitative approach – but having it either inform a quantitative evaluation or be informed by it, can enrich both.
  • Use Net-Map as a tool for learning, not just for proving. As your project engages with local stakeholders, having a Net-Map landscape in mind can help you be more strategic and flexible and be less surprised by the way they react.

I know a lot of practitioners out there have used Net-Map in M&E context and would love to hear from your examples. Either in the comments or as a guest post.

How your landscape expands if you talk about conflict…

295_Conflict_4

Let me start by saying: I don’t like conflict. I am actually pretty good at diffusing unnecessary conflict and running away from necessary conflict.  (except sometimes, when I turn around in mid-running, and explode, but that is a different story).

I don’t even like talking about conflict. So why have I started insisting that most of the groups that I draw network maps with, add a link of “conflict” to their picture? Even if they don’t approach me with the question: “How can we solve our conflicts better?” Even if they don’t mention a single conflict when we plan the Net-Map session. But rather, their question might be: How can we be more successful in project implementation? How can I achieve my personal career goals? Or: How can we change the world?

I stumbled over the importance of talking about conflict when talking about networks rather unintentionally. When I included the link “conflict” in some of the maps I drew, I realized a pattern: Often the groups had agreed on the actors that play a role for the question, put them all on the map, linked them with friendly or neutral links, such as collaboration, hierarchy or money flows.

Then we moved to the question: Who has a conflict with whom? And all of a sudden new actors came out of the woodworks, quiet participants became agitated and the group explained the world to me in a way that had much more depth (dark and deep holes too) than the good weather picture we had seen before.

While I learned a lot about the personal differences, conflicts of interest and beliefs, I also learned about the history of the system, because most conflicts reach into the past. I started understanding where people were coming from, both in terms of their thinking and their family, loyalty and tribal relations. And by mapping out the conflict flows and how they are embedded in the rest of the social network, we could detect patterns and reasons that go beyond individual .

One agency or actor might be at the center of all conflicts in the network: Is that because they are mean and always looking for trouble? Or because they are standing up for what is right, in a corrupt system? Or is it because their formal role is to control others (e.g. evaluation function) so conflict is inherent in their role and will remain a productive force in the system?

There might be actors who have conflicts with our opponents – can we build coalitions, even if their area of interest is different from ours?

Drawing the lines of conflict is like adding the shallows to a nautical navigation map. Instead of just seeing where the ocean starts and ends, you now know which rocks and sandbanks you need to avoid on your perilous journey of change. And, in case you are nervous to ask about conflict when you are drawing network maps, in my experience, putting the conflict on paper by drawing colorful lines together seems to be enough of a diffusion that the sessions don’t normally end in a yelling match but rather turn into a collaborative exploration of how the conflict works.

Strategic engagement – with snakes, elephants, baboons, mosquitos and meercats

smiling-baboonI am just back from work in Southern Africa. And while I was in a specific country with it’s specifically difficult political context, the question that keept us awake at night was rather universal: How can we influence without much formal authority? How can we achieve the greater good (as we define it, anyway), when doing so will cut off streams of illicit benefits for many people in high position?

Then I found a simple solution, fixed the situation and all is well, world saved.

No, not quite. Rather, I led my participants deeper into the complexity of their challenge (identifying who the actors are, how they are connected, what their influence and goals are, a.k.a. drawing a Net-Map stakeholder map). Then I provided them with guidance to prioritize and strategize for most effectively engaging with their stakeholders.

We divided the stakeholders in

  • Elephants: high influence, positive
  • Meercats: low influence, positive
  • Snakes: high influence, negative
  • Mosquitos: low influence, negative, and
  • Baboons on the fence: high influence, undecided

And for each, there are a number of strategies to explore:

Elephants: High influence, positive toward your goals

elephants

  • Give them credit, let them lead
  • Frame the issue for them, share information
  • Engage consistently, regularly
  • Manage possible power struggle between positive high influencers
  • Build diverse coalitions:
    • Diverse power sources,
    • diverse motivations,
    • shared goals.

Meercats: Low influence, positive toward your goals

meercats

  • Can you increase their influence?
  • They can be connectors and information gatherers
  • They might have helpful friends
  • Build coalitions – strength in numbers
  • Remember: “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk”

And, don’t underestimate them: threat or belief can activate unexpected strength -see below, together they can kill a snake…

meercats-and-snake

Snakes: High influence, negative toward your goal

snake.png

  • Watch your back – protect yourself
  • Avoid – focus on other issues for now
  • Seek unexpected common ground
  • Explore their networks: Who do they listen to? Who commands them?
  • Explore win-win and trade-offs
  • Undermine their narratives
  • Weaken their coalitions

 

 

Mosquitos: Low influence, negative toward your goal

mosquito

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

Baboons on the fence: High influence, undecided about your goal

baboon-on-a-fence

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

By grouping our stakeholders according to their influence and their relationship to our goal, we became much more specific when developing engagement strategies. And calling our important stakeholders baboons or meercats also added a level of levity to the discussion that made us breathe more freely under the weight of our near impossible task. What are your strategies for engaging elephants, empowering meercats, swaying baboons, neutralizing snakes and protecting yourselves from mosquito bites? I am sure the above isn’t complete yet, so I am curious to hear from you.

The Power of Marrying Facilitation and Sector Expertise

Last week I talked with my colleagues from the IFCSumit Manchanda and Anja Robakowski-Van Stralen, and Amit Nag (Net-Map facilitator) who have used Net-Map to facilitate their political economy analysis in setting up Public Private Dialogues in developing countries. These are high level platforms, facilitating regular meetings and results oriented dialogues between public and private sectors actors. They help countries improve their business climate and government-private sector relations.

In our conversation we tried to distill the lessons learned from this experience and one thing really stood out: The power of bringing together technical expertise and good Net-Map facilitation skills. This doesn’t mean that a Net-Mapper has to be expert in each field they work in. Or that a technical expert is necessarily best placed to be the Net-Map facilitator. But if neither is the case, then bringing your technical colleague (ideally steeped in local knowledge too) into the room as co-facilitator or observer lifts your work to the next level. Because you, the Net-Mapper can bring out structural issues that have never been talked about before. You allow the group to look at complex pictures, seeing the trees and the forest at the same time.

The technical sector expert can then ask the questions they were never able to pinpoint, dig deeper, call out half-truths or omissions that the group might want to slip by you, remind the group of the history of the issue, nudge them to open up about conflicts and, most importantly, help you and the group figure out the meaning of what you see and what to do next.

Also, if the technical expert also happens to be your client, they will learn so much more and get so much more excited, when sitting at the table as the Net-Map is happening than by reading your report, which you had to condense, streamline and probably sanitize to fit public scrutiny and protect individuals. And they can take the insights from the mapping session right into the decisions they have to take about moving forward.

I am sure that even without ever being in a Net-Map session, you can share some experience about the tension or marriage (or marriage with tension?) between sector expertise and facilitation skills… What has been your experience with:

  • Facilitating processes without being a sector expert?
  • “Being facilitated” by a person who wasn’t an expert in your field?
  • Working in a Facilitator – Sector Expert team to facilitate difficult conversations?

 

(picture credit: migrationpolicy.org)

 

We have no conflict

Two weeks ago I was in a Net-Map session where one group insisted that they had no conflict likes to draw. The question they were working on revolved around the implementation of a complex government reform program, so my co-facilitator and I stepped back and started judging and strategizing: “Impossible that there are no conflicts. What do you think, is it maybe culturally difficult to admit? How can we call it instead? Disagreement? What can we do to make them more open or comfortable?” And we pushed some more and pulled some more.

Finally one of them broke it down to us: Look, we are working in silos, we never really interact, how could there be conflicts? Plus, the work hasn’t really left the ground yet…

For me that was a great lesson in listening instead of following our own frameworks. It’s so easy, especially when working under high pressure to see participants as “resisting” instead of questioning your own assumptions and framework…

Identifying international knowledge partnerships

With my colleagues Kerstin Tebbe and Bruno Laporte I just had an interesting design conversation for a session in which they want to help the members of a water basin commission better understand with whom they have knowledge exchange partnerships. We realized soon that this is not going to be a Net-Map session or a session of some squeezed out, shrunk down little cousin of Net-Map. So the proposed steps are the following:

  1. All 20 participants (individually) write the names of the commission’s most important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards (with thick marker and great handwriting). The cards are color-coded by categories, e.g. government on green cards, civil society on red.
  2. They put all cards on a large table and start looking for duplicates – if both of us wrote University of XYZ, we stack these cards to reduce the number of cards we are dealing with.
  3. Depending on the number of remaining cards (judgment call in the situation), they instruct the group to get up and take all cards (or only those of actors that have been mentioned at least twice), and walk to a large, sketched  map on the floor of the 5 countries involved. They distribute the actor cards on the map, according to the country the actor is located in.
  4. As this very rough geographical actor map emerges, the participants consider a number of questions: Do we have stronger networks in some countries than others? Are some colors (i.e. actor categories) overrepresented on the map – or in some countries? Who is missing? What is the difference between the stack of cards I produced on my own and the map that emerged as we started putting it all together? How can we, as a group, access this whole richness, instead of just our own little corners?

This activity is located at the start of a longer engagement to improve the knowledge exchange and management of this organization, so they don’t have to answer all the questions in the world, the goal is rather to get the conversation started, to invite the complexity into the room without being overwhelmed.

I am curious to hear what you think about this? Would it work in your context? Can you think of something which would even sharpen or further enrich the activity? Have we overlooked a critical risk? And, don’t you love the artwork above, which Tara Donovan (picture credit) created out of thousands and thousands of index cards?