SNA is a technique of analyzing patterns of relationships and helps us understand the characteristics of operating water governance networks. Moreover, SNA can help our understanding of how individual actors interact and the nature of their relationships within the broader social and political structures that exist – both formal and informal. SNA is applied in this water governance study to provide a new perspective into the complex Okanagan water governance network. SNA is a practical analysis method that helps us qualitatively (and possibly quantitatively) analyze the network of people and the relationships that influence water governance.
Examples of SNA
SNA has also been used to help our understanding of other complicated issues including: obesity (Christakis and Fowler 2007), social capital (Small 2009) and the influence of networks on getting a job (Granovetter 1995). This study builds on contemporary SNA water governance research (Schiffer, Hartwich and Monge 2010, Stein, Ernstson and Barron 2011) that provides a different perspective on how we may visualize and hopefully improve water governance networks. The application of SNA helps identify network structures – functional and dysfunctional – and actors that are highly central and others who are peripheral (Cross, Borgatti and Parker 2002).
SNA case study approach
Our work builds on recent water governance research (Schiffer and Hauck 2010, Stein, Ernstson and Barron 2011) and takes a case-study approach applying SNA to explore and help characterize the Okanagan water governance network. Benchmarking the Okanagan water governance network provides an opportunity to better understand the actor relationships, formal and informal, involved in water governance and some of the factors that influence decision making processes applied to water scarcity events in the Okanagan. By applying SNA we can explore some of the characteristics of the network including how funds and information are perceived to flow through it.
SNA provides for a useful set of tools to help understand water governance. Networks are patterns of relationships that connect individuals and are particularly useful when: (1) individuals and organizations have multiple levels or complex formal interrelationships, (2) access to information is important to support long-term resilient decision making, (3) coordination, cooperation and trust are key threads for functioning water governance, (4) social learning is an important component to supporting a resilient and adaptive water governance (Pahl-Wostl 2002b), and (5) when informal organizations compete or replace formal institutions.
SNA provides water managers with a useful set of analytical and descriptive tools – although they are not without limitations – to help understand the role of individual actors and the relationships between actors within the context of a broader network of relationships. SNA techniques identify the current state of the network and where a baseline state can be defined and communicated and through strategic policy applications, the network can be improved. It was noted that “any transformation towards more sustainable and equitable water use and management will need to work through the complex webs of social relations” (Stein, Ernstson and Barron 2011). The network characteristics generated using SNA software, for qualities such as density or connectivity, reflect a very narrow part of the broader water governance network but provide a useful starting place for a broader discussion on how networks are currently functioning or may be improved. The network analytics should be treated as one component or indicator within a broader, more nuanced discussion about water governance in the Okanagan watershed and the broader, provincial, national and international context in which it is nested. “Formal social network analysis in combination with the richness of ethnographic description and analysis can significantly enhance both the validity and the readability of a given work” (Johnson 1994). The combination of text analysis in Chapter 4 with the SNA results reported in Chapter 5 provides a more comprehensive picture of the water governance network and the resulting descriptive analysis is greater than the sum of the parts.
SNA in practice
SNA provides a new and practical means to communicate the characteristics of a water governance network and helps in our understanding of individual decision makers within the context of a broader network of people who have different objectives, experiences, understanding of decision theory, and prejudices (Hammond, Keeney and Raiffa 1998). This study using SNA in combination with expert interviews provides new insights into how relationships between actors and their perceived influence and power (i.e. funding, information flow) impact water governance – bounded by policy and geographic constraints.