Building smarter collaborations for conservation

When attempting to build collaborations to meet an environmental challenge, is it better to allow them to develop by themselves (bottom-up efforts at self-organisation) or should they be designed ‘top-down’ by the powers that be (ie, government departments and so forth) in order to be ‘fit for purpose’ and efficient? New research from CEED researcher Angela Guerrero and colleagues suggests that bottom-up forms of collaboration have a lot going for them. However, a little bit of ‘top-down’ guidance might make them even more effective.

“A challenging aspect of many environmental problems is that they often extend over large geographic areas, often over multiple jurisdictions, and require management over extended periods of time,” explains Angela Guerrero. “Part of the solution is to foster collaboration between the different stakeholders but establishing and maintaining collaborative arrangements takes time, effort and resources, all of which are very limited.”

The research led by Guerrero found some support for the effectiveness of bottom-up self-organisation but it also found that the collaborative governance might be stronger if it was guided to better match the ecological systems in which it was situated.

“Our results suggest that in some cases the establishment of bottom-up collaborative arrangements would likely benefit from specific guidance to facilitate the establishment of collaborations that better align with the ways ecological resources are interconnected across the landscape,” says Guerrero.


Guerrero AM, Ö Bodin, RRJ McAllister & KA Wilson (2015). Achieving social-ecological fit through bottom-up collaborative governance: an empirical investigation. Ecology and Society 20: 41.

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