Ecologists and Organizers: Participatory Research for Shared Understanding in the Green Seattle Partnership
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The city of Seattle's landscape of urban natural areas provides a myriad of social and ecological services, but many of Seattle's forested parks are experiencing a serious decline in biodiversity and ecosystem function due to the predominance of invasive species. In response, dozens of community groups have begun to steward their neighborhood parks, and public agencies and non-profit organizations have aided this effort with technical assistance, research, training, and funding. These collaborative efforts have formalized into the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP), with an ambitious goal of restoring 2,500 acres of forested parkland by 2025. This thesis reports on a study performed in partnership with GSP stakeholders. Building on previous empirical research, it was based on the idea that shared understanding among multiple stakeholders is critical to the success of adaptive and collaborative ecosystem management efforts. This study was undertaken to (1) assess the degree of and potential for shared understanding among the Partnership's many constituencies, and (2) provide recommendations to strengthen its capacity for adaptive management. The study used a combination of qualitative interviewing and Conceptual Content Cognitive Mapping (3CM) to elicit the mental models of ecological restoration of 17 GSP Forest Stewards--a key constituency group. It used inductive and deductive content analysis to provide a comprehensive, qualitative description of Steward mental models, and to compare these models to GSP's framework for ecological restoration. Based on this analysis, the study found that Forest Stewards held a wide variety of conceptual understandings of ecological restoration, with some Stewards' mental models focused primarily on the ecological processes of sustaining the forest, and others focused primarily on the social processes of building community. It also found that Stewards varied greatly in the extent to which their mental models reflected key concepts from GSP's framework for restoration, with a significant degree of agreement on the activities and outputs of restoration, but far less shared understanding regarding the effort's long-term ecological and social outcomes. It found that Stewards did not share an understanding--among themselves or with GSP--regarding the long-term role of community engagement in urban forest sustainability. However, as a group, the Stewards collectively held nearly every key concept from GSP's framework--indicating a strong potential for shared understanding. This thesis concludes by offering several recommendations based on these findings in order to build shared understanding for adaptive capacity.
- Forestry