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Organizing collective innovation in support of sustainable agro-ecosystems: The role of network management

Elsa T. Berthet and Gordon M. Hickey

Agricultural Systems, 2018, vol. 165, issue C, 44-54

Abstract: Designing and managing sustainable agro-ecosystems remains a significant challenge for society. This is largely because their expected functions and values are multiple, and diverse networks of actors and institutions control common pool resources at different scales. Networks are expected to play an important role in facilitating collective innovation in agro-ecosystems, through enabling knowledge acquisition and transfer, resource mobilization for effective governance, and cooperation. However, in order to realize their potential benefit networks require effective management. Drawing on case studies located in the peri-urban agro-ecosystems surrounding Montreal (Quebec, Canada) and Paris (France), we analyze four collective innovation initiatives aiming to reduce the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment. For each case, we assess the contribution of network managers to the core tasks of: “Connecting” (initiating and facilitating interaction processes between actors), “Framing” (guiding interactions through process agreement), “Knowledge brokering” (facilitating knowledge transfer and capitalization) and “Exploring” (searching for goal congruency by creating new content). We then pay particular attention to the activities associated with Exploring across our cases and consider the implications for more collective approaches to designing innovation in agricultural landscapes. Our results suggest that, despite heterogeneity in the activities of network managers in each context, network managers devoted efforts across each of the four tasks. Yet, building a shared vision and engaging diverse stakeholders in a common goal over time were reported as challenging. We identify that the network managers tended to set objectives at the outset, and that design processes were often confined to a limited subgroup of actors. While these strategies were viewed as being efficient in the short term, they likely limited the success of the collective enterprise in the long run.

Keywords: Collective action; Network governance; Design reasoning; Sustainability; Innovation brokering (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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