A case study of social capital and collaboration as a communication process in an urban community-based ecological restoration project

DiEnno, Cara Marie, author
Berry, Joyce K., advisor
Cottrel, Stuart P., committee member
Fernandez-Gimenez, Maria Edith, committee member
Thompson, Jessica Leigh, committee member
Bruyere, Brett L., committee member
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This case study examines the role of social capital and collaboration as a communicative process in an urban, nonprofit organization. The organization, the Partners for Native Plants (PNP) group, was a grant- funded project of a western U.S. nonprofit botanical organization designed to involve urbanites in riparian plant restoration projects. The PNP project was examined to (a) determine whether engagement in the social capital cycle could lead to an environmental ethic among urban participants and (b) test a combined collaboration framework, based on the Bona Fide Group Collaboration Model (Walker, Craig, and Stohl, 1998) and the Structural Model of Collaboration developed by Keyton, Ford, and Smith (2008), in a new context as PNP differs from traditional collaborating groups. Data were collected over a yearlong period through a review of organizational documents, in-depth interviews, a focus group, and open-ended questionnaires. Results demonstrate how social capital can be conceptualized as a cycle including (a) engagement, (b) social networks, (c) collective action, and (d) individual and social benefits. I found two impediments to enhancing an environmental ethic among PNP participants. First, Volunteer Leaders and Volunteer Participants had markedly different experiences while engaged with PNP, resulting in varying levels of satisfaction. In addition, participants' environmental ethic was not significantly enhanced by the project because participants already held strong pro-environmental values at the inception of the project, which motivated them to participate initially. The advocacy behaviors of PNP participants did increase, however. These results suggest that when participants in ecological restoration projects are willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with others in their communities, there may be potential for building an urban environmental ethic. Findings also suggest that a combined model of collaboration, based on the Bona Fide Group Collaboration Model and the Structural Model of Collaboration, is well suited to make sense of small community-based conservation projects. An understanding of the collaborative process through both the structural components and the communicative components including environmental exigency, collaborative partners, relational boundaries, negotiated temporary systems, and goals and outcomes yield best practice suggestions for organizations such as PNP.
Department Head: Michael J. Manfredo.
2009 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-185).
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