Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dams as a model for shared decision making and management.

How do we communicate for social-ecological resilience? Communication research to connect science with coastal and freshwater management and policy.

As part of the requirements for FOR797 Perspectives on Career and Gender, students share responsibility for reporting on presentations in ESF's Women in Scientific and Environmental Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Mariela Cavo, MS student, Forest and Natural Resources and Management, SUNY ESF.

Dr. Bridie McGreavy, Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, studies communication within sustainability science teams in coastal and freshwater management contexts. She is currently the lead investigator on the New England Sustainability Consortium’s Future of Dams Project. This project, funded by NSF-EPSCoR, links science with decision making about systems of dams.

              On January 26, 2017, Dr. McGreavy launched this semesters Adaptive Peaks and Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions (WiSE Professions) Speaker series with the preliminary results of her research Save Beaches and Shellfish.  Her presentation focused on answering the questions, “How do we communicate for social-ecological resilience?” and, “How do we  link science with decision making related to coastal and freshwater management and policy?”

              Attention was first put on describing the most challenging ecological, economic and social-cultural threats identified by the project: the coast of New England has been warming at a higher rate than other similar areas.   They have noticed significant changes in precipitation, t various kinds of pollution in the area, and a green crab invasion because of the increase in temperature. It was also noted that the decline of resources like clams, as well as the price fluctuation and the market power in the shellfish market, have been making stakeholder’s income prediction quite challenging, leading to economic uncertainty. Regarding the social and cultural aspects, the clam industry was identified as the second most important industry in the area of Maine.  The fisheries industry faces pressing social and cultural issues, including biases, restricted access to new technology, and the decline of local knowledge, cultural traditions, and food sources.  In addition, the physically demanding work puts workers at risk of pain and injury, which can lead to opiate and alcohol addiction. 

              The research in question has found that a well-designed “co-management strategy” could improve the shellfish industry. To date, this industry has been co-managed with shared decision making among the fishery industry, municipalities, state agencies, civic groups and private businesses. Co-management is most effective when well designed with opportunities to implement knowledge gained from research.  Topic areas include water quality, natural resources management and barriers to participation. 

Dr. McGreavy also depicted the methods they use to communicate social ecological resilience: incentivizing the participation of the different stakeholders, using an adaptive and iterative engagement through interviews to share information regarding the progress and to get feedback, and being responsive to information and partnership needs. Regarding the linking of science with decision-making for resilience, the project has a decision support team that has been mainly focused on watershed cluster analysis.  
Learning from failure, partnership redundancy and diversity, getting muddy with stakeholders create a shared, dynamic experience that help mold the deliberate, conceptual framework.   To conclude, the professor recommended conducting yearly needs assessments with the towns, improving and leveraging fishermen’s forums, exploring organizational restructuring to expand shellfish science and monitoring, building municipal partnership and infrastructure and increasing the sharing of the information and collaboration across sectors.  

Dr. McGreavy received her B.A. in Political Science from Bates College, her M.S. in Environmental Studies/Conservation Biology from Antioch University New England, and her Ph.D. in communication with a concentration in sustainability science from the University of Maine. Her research has been published in journals such as Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, Ecology and Society, and the International Journal of Sustainable Development.

This presentation was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, with the assistance of the ESF Women’s Caucus. For more information about SUNY ESF’s Adaptive Peaks Seminar Series, please visit  For the WiSE Professions series, please visit: