SRS RN: Integrating land and sea: building coastal resilience and ecosystem services for sustainable urban-rural systems.
Vision: We propose building a research network to collaboratively build solutions to socio-environmental challenges in Massachusetts that explicitly include linkages between human systems and coastal environments, acknowledging the inherent uncertainty and tradeoffs across environmental, social, and economic interests. Through this planning grant we will bring an interdisciplinary network of researchers and community stakeholders together through a sequence of participatory modeling workshops to identify research questions and outline methodologies that will be used for an eventual RN Track 1 proposal. We plan to integrate the development of our network with the creation of a community of professional learning for K-12 teachers to develop curriculum associated with fostering coastal literacy and systems thinking to enable place-based socio-environmental problem solving as it relates to community-relevant issues in Massachusetts.
Background: Ocean and coastal marine ecosystems are an important part of the economy and cultural identity of human communities in coastal states, and these linkages form integral parts of human economies. Yet, there is often a lack of integrative assessment across both terrestrial and marine systems when planning and addressing tradeoffs for management sectors across rural and urban human communities. Extending our value systems beyond resource extraction and production in coastal, rural, and offshore areas, to include the value of ecosystem services, including to urban communities, may depend on creating the potential for new policy solutions that better recognize linkages and also provide the means for a more inclusive planning and management process in both understanding and realizing how governance institutions facilitate or constrain possible solutions for sustainable futures.
Massachusetts provides a unique case study and model setting for understanding interactions among dynamic social, economic, and environmental systems. It includes concentrated urban-estuarine systems, coastal fisheries, resort communities, and a mix of expansive wildlife habitat, edge communities, and suburban sprawl. Climate change and sea level rise, demographic and economic shifts, development pressure, and coastal hazards, are particularly threatening to already vulnerable endemic wildlife species and human populations within the next few decades (Uiterwyk et al. 2019). Economic production from marine systems, including fishing, has played a large role in shaping the coastal Massachusetts identity. The development of offshore renewable energy in the region provides opportunity for growth centered around a blue economy. Despite these connections to the coast, coastal literacy and coastal-related ecosystem services remain inequitable through communities in Massachusetts. Addressing these challenges will demand bringing together and aligning a wide variety of currently disparate services, research entities, and political and economic interests. Consideration of linked socio-environmental systems is central to ecosystem-based management approaches (e.g. Arkema et al. 2006, Christensen et al. 1996, Tallis et al. 2010) that attempt to make explicit the tradeoffs among a diverse set of goals and objectives when considering policy and management options across and within sectors of human activities.
We propose building a research network to collaboratively develop solutions to achieve coastal sustainability in Massachusetts that explicitly include linkages between human systems and coastal environments, acknowledging the uncertainty and tradeoffs across competing environmental and socio-economic interests and the limitations of a polycentric governance system when it comes to global issues like sea level rise (Ostrom, 2010). Our hypothesis is that co-constructing an action-learning culture among a wide variety of interests and perspectives on these challenges (including, e.g., physical and biological science research, fisheries management, urban and environmental planning and policy, and commercial and private interests) is essential to eliciting innovative and adaptive outcomes toward more integrated, resilient and responsive communities. We seek to build a framework for mutualistic learning across different interests and cultures to cultivate a kind of “Coastal Literacy” in which policymakers and advocates, science and engineering researchers, and other stakeholders in the blue and green economy develop common understandings of the relationships among interests, influences, risks, and tradeoffs.
Objectives: With a core working group of interdisciplinary researchers engaging their connections throughout Massachusetts, we plan to undertake a series of participatory modeling workshops to engage stakeholders not yet represented to engage them in a process of an initial round of conceptual modeling, to understand relevant entities, actors, and concerns surrounding the connection of coastal ecosystem services to the Massachusetts economy. Our goals for the work in this planning grant are to:
1) Continue our network building efforts across diverse sets of institutions centered on connecting coastal issues to Massachusetts communities and educators to establish a community of practice centered on knowledge sharing and learning from each other with clear and transparent expectations for interaction.
2) Implement a sequence of workshops with our network team and community leaders, to identify relevant stakeholders, ecological services, institutions, and outcome variables necessary to fully represent the complex integrated system of human economies within Massachusetts. We will collaboratively build conceptual models of system linkages centered on key sustainability themes to develop relevant research questions that can serve as focus of developing community systems literacy, including connectedness of the coast to broader societal goals among communities and institutions.
3) Develop a full RN proposal using the outcomes from our participatory workshops to develop integrative research approaches, and also create a white paper (or eventual publication) on the description of the system and linkages developed through the collaborative model building.
Our broader goals for our research network are to 1) strengthen and augment our community of practice around integrating systems-thinking about coastal literacy, ecosystem services, and the connection of coast and coastal issues within the broader urban-rural human system in Massachusetts, 2) understand what design and modeling principles are associated with producing effective and actionable pathways into knowledge that are feasible and functional for members of our participating community, 3) understand the impact of those pathways on the quality and scope of each stakeholder group’s access to the data, skills, and knowledge to respond to threats, risks, and challenges identified for Massachusetts coastal communities, and 4) explore how different kinds of modeling and visualization tools contribute to collaborative innovation, assessment, and compromise around the inherent tradeoffs of solutions to complex social and environmental problems, to focus on the kinds of institutional arrangements and solutions that emerge from the deliberative processes using these tools and facilitation structures. Our research network will attempt to devise an integrated approach to better enable institutional arrangements for communities in Massachusetts to organize themselves to create governance and management frameworks that center equity in both decision-making solutions for coastal resilience and how these map to societal goals for sustainability. Our planning grant activities will mirror those taken to develop our initial network, with a consideration of inclusion across both research activities and the way we work together.
Methodological Approach: Our workshops will coalesce on a set of themes of sustainability that map to key ecosystem services. These will evolve from the workshops but we anticipate research questions to focus on aspects that closely connect rural and urban communities within Massachusetts to the coast, for example including (sea)food systems and renewable energy (and the development of offshore wind):
(Sea)Food systems: Fisheries and fishing have long been an important part of the Massachusetts economy and cultural identity. In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the seafood industry, with closures and restrictions to both fishing activity and distribution of seafood products to markets creating a large shock to the seafood supply chain (White et al. 2020). These impacts affect both fishers and other businesses that are part of seafood supply chains that link coastal and inland regional and national communities. While these disruptions seem unique to the global pandemic, changes to supply dynamics can be caused by other large-scale shocks, including effects of climate change, a changing regulatory system, interactions with other ocean and land uses, and international trade wars. All these changes may cause cascading effects to seafood supply chains and related businesses, and so a coordinated approach is needed to ensure continued fisheries sustainability (Froehlich et al. 2021). Understanding how seafood supply chains and marketing solutions sit within the larger Massachusetts food system and contribute to the ability to adapt to shocks could help promote stability and productivity of fisheries by identifying strategic solutions in the face of systemic change. Understanding the role of seafood in the Massachusetts food system will build on existing work to create models for New England seafood supply chain dynamics and food systems assessments for Boston and the South Coast.
Previous applications to characterize the economic effects of fishing decisions for the New England region demonstrate likely spatial differences in impacts, as a result of sector-specific responses (Fay et al. 2019). In addition, the distribution of wealth and wellbeing from these activities are not equitable. For example, New Bedford is the top economic fishing port in the country (NMFS 2020), but it is also one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a large minority population and 21% of residents living below the poverty level (US Census Bureau 2019). Efforts to quantify indicators of social vulnerability of coastal communities and the reliance of their economies on fishing are being incorporated into status reports for regional fisheries management bodies (e.g. Colburn et al. 2016, NEFSC 2020), but these do not cross sectors or consider structure and pathway of supply chains and food distribution. Testing the performance of ecosystem strategies using models often involves simple characterizations of human-institutional dynamics in ecosystems. These approaches also tend not to take an ecosystem services perspective which could include say the consideration of aquaculture as augmenting source of seafood production.
Offshore Renewable Energy: Massachusetts is set to form a nexus of renewable energy, including the emerging development of offshore renewable wind industry, as areas of the Northeast USA continental shelf continue to be leased for development projects. The Eastern Seaboard has considerable capacity to expand production of offshore wind. Offshore turbines are higher and bigger than onshore ones and the winds offshore are steadier, thus they can produce more energy and do so with less intermittence than onshore turbines. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that wind energy off the Atlantic Coast could supply about 35 percent of the country’s electricity. The price of offshore wind is competitive with fossil fuels and more competitive than onshore wind for the eastern seaboard. In 2017 wind energy and its supply chain employed 105,500 in the United States. With current projects and pending commitments, the potential is many times that. The DOE estimates high levels of domestic content in the three largest components of a turbine: more than 85 percent for nacelles (housing for gearbox and other generating components), between 70-85 percent for towers, and between 50-70 percent for blades and hubs.
Offshore wind could become a major employment engine for New England. In 2016 the legislature passed a bill to develop 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027. In 2018, the Democratic legislature and Republican governor Charlie Baker called for another 1,600 megawatts by 2035. In late December 2020, Baker announced the state would produce 25 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2050. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 20.7 direct jobs are created per megawatt of offshore wind developed. Depending on the multiplier, two-to-four times as many indirect jobs could be created. Officials in Massachusetts, New York, and elsewhere are in conversations with turbine manufacturers with the goal of landing a turbine production facility, which would have very specific location requirements—in particular a harbor with no bridges or overhead obstructions that would prevent the blades from passing. There is considerable potential to build supply chains that would create jobs in the Commonwealth’s cities, small towns, and rural areas.
Planning grant Workshop activities: The outcomes of our workshops will be (1) an outline for the conceptual dynamics of a systems model for the urban-rural, human-natural system we will be attempting to model in future work, with the express purpose of being able to use this model to guide the construction of computer-based models that can be used in future computer-supported planning and coordination activities across the various urban-rural stakeholders, (2) a series of research questions inspired by the nascent model, which will be targeted at addressing either individual or collective concerns about the coast and how coastal systems are connected to broader human systems within Massachusetts, and (3) a full RN proposal to fund the creation of these models in the service of the targeted research questions. Aspects to be addressed during our planning grant workshops are identifying the entities represented in the model (i.e., actors who make changes, communities who experience change, whether human or natural), the processes at play (e.g., coastal phenomena, trends in human activity like use of fertilizer, fishing activities, etc.), and the dependencies (i.e., the maps of connections, the ways processes depend on or affect different entities).
Workshop 1: Conceptual modeling of linkages among systems
Our first meeting will be an “elicitation of individual activities and concerns” session, designed to ask stakeholders to tell us about the individual concerns they have for their engagement in the coastal system and what kinds of actions they take (or might not take) as a part of their normal work/life or in response to changing coastal conditions and the regulatory constraints they perceive to these actions. From this conversation we will start distilling the entities, processes, and dependencies as a group, beginning to make a map of the system, highlighting important connections and ecosystem services.
Workshop 2: Emergent concerns and activity topics
Meeting 2 will be a “derivation of emergent concerns and activities” session, centered on identifying possible points of conflict and friction using the evolving systems diagram from workshop 1, as well as types of collective actions that might be used to address them. Changes and additions will continue to be made to the systems model during this session, as discussion and thinking evolves, questions get posed, and ideas are clarified and refined. Our education partners will begin to develop possible learning modules that could support training for teachers around the developed concerns and activities.
Workshop 3: Research question identification and proposal planning
Meeting 3 will be an “identification of research questions and crafting of research proposal outline” session, where we lightly facilitate stakeholders and other RN planning group participants as they form into subgroups to craft research questions and outlines for the larger research proposal to support the RN activities, including those questions and linkages among people, institutions, and sectors that the system model will make possible to explore in more depth. We anticipate being able to explore questions related to tradeoffs among sectors, and to develop knowledge and understanding for how choices made about recognition of ecosystem services or an integrative governance across these sectors, as well as human communities, could foster (or not) improved attainment of sustainability goals and a more well-informed and agency-led community. Our education partners will craft structure for a professional learning community that can work with the proposed research.
Participatory modeling (PM) is defined as “a purposeful learning process for action that engages the implicit and explicit knowledge of stakeholders to create formalized and shared representations of reality” (Voinov et al. 2018). PM is increasingly being used in environmental planning and conservation, thanks to advances in cyberinfrastructure and to the greater recognition that stakeholder diversity is crucial for effective and fair decision making (Sterling et al. 2019). PM is centered on stakeholder engagement in the exploration and modeling. The main goals of PM are to co-develop: (1) knowledge of a system and its behavior, and (2) solutions to problems arising from that system (Gray et al. 2018; Zellner and Campbell 2015, 2020). PM builds on a range of tools and degrees of participation (e.g., rich pictures, causal loop diagrams, system dynamics models, agent-based models), depending on the forms and degrees of stakeholder engagement (e.g., citizens as consumers of information that provide comment in public hearings, residents and researchers as co-producers of data, models and solutions) (Arnstein 1969, Voinov et al. 2018). These approaches empower communities to engage in decision-making that will have a meaningful impact on their daily lives.
Timeline of Activities: Throughout the 12-month project period we will hold weekly planning group participant meetings via Zoom, to coordinate network participants, plan workshop logistics, organize workshop structures, and evaluate progress towards developing the work needed for the full RN proposal. Our expected timing for the sequence of workshops is: August 2021 - Workshop 1; January 2022 - Workshop 2; June 2022 - Workshop 3. This will be followed by proposal writing until submission of the track 1 RN proposal in January 2023.
Convergent Research: Convergence across sectors of concern and stakeholder groups and communities can help inform trade-offs among scales, from a cross-dimension perspective. Importantly, convergence is integrative rather than just collaborative (Peek, et al.2020) demanding a systems approach. We aim to explore tradeoffs within system sectors, but also across themes, and to understand how the complex hierarchy of governance and decision-making influences tradeoffs, and for whom. Given these complex system dynamics, an interdisciplinary approach is required within themes to understand how linkages affect each other. For example, the siting of offshore wind turbines overlaps with fishing grounds and will likely impact fishing distribution, productivity of marine habitats, and the efficacy of ongoing scientific monitoring to understand changes in the marine ecosystem. However, investment in coastal cities and working waterfronts to provide the necessary infrastructure and workforce to install and maintain these turbines has the potential to rejuvenate these areas and provide additional employment and shoreside support that could strengthen fishing fleets and ports. While this tradeoff appears limited to two marine industries, connections to broader human systems (including rural-urban connections) are revealed when viewed from services lens including regional food security (fish production), jobs and earnings (wind farm construction, infrastructure development maintenance, fishing, fish processing, food distribution), and energy (wind power supplies energy to regional communities). Tradeoffs among elements of these sectors are also likely to vary spatially and over time as different phases of activity ramp up and down (e.g. need for employment of construction workers, matching of seafood markets and supply to changing availability of species as a result of climate change, etc.). Integrated decision-making can help foster satisficing and transparency in goals and objectives, as part of an ecosystem-based management approach.
Developing this capability of research to support decision-making will be done in concert with developing education programming and professional development for teachers, and training of higher education students. The convergent goals of providing solutions for regional sustainability decision making and development of systems thinking literacy within multiple students and educators at multiple levels will reinforce the innovation of integrative ideas to address place-based, community relevant concerns. Linking expertise across disciplines (our team includes marine biology, statistical and data science, social sciences, public policy, and education), and education goals attempt to build knowledge creation and transfer across communities and generations. Our budget specifically includes financial support for students who will begin to build a network of early-career professionals with systems thinking skills as well as the networks of senior researcher personnel, community partners, and stakeholders. The dynamics of our eventual RN will be explored using network analysis to think about how links are made, extant, form/fail, within themes, and then also across themes, and how these relate to the effectiveness of sustainability solutions, from both socio-environmental perspective and also governance/institutions. Our participatory modeling approach provides opportunity for the use of open data science collaborative tools, such as interactive web applications and conceptual model building platforms, that provide for reproducibility and transparency in approach. We anticipate emphasizing and continuing the use of open research computing tools and data portals to facilitate collaboration among the RN.
Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement for Impact: We will take a collaborative approach to knowledge-building via partnerships, recognizing that knowledge which is co-produced is more likely to result in more trusted outcomes (e.g. Francis et al. 2018). Our intent is to engage with stakeholders surrounding the coast that do not normally have a voice in solutions and decisions. This will include organizations and communities such as the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (CCT) which supports the primarily immigrant workers in fish processing plants and land-based agriculture; the Cape Verdean Association, representing recent immigrants and established families from this often underrepresented community; the Mashpee Wampanoag and other area indigenous tribes; the New Bedford Community Economic Development Center; the Azorian Maritime Heritage Society; and the Southeastern Massachusetts Agriculture Partnership (SEMAP), representing small-scale farmers in the region. Fishing industry partners may include Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and Gloucester Fishermen, with the Southcoast Food Policy Council could provide regional food system assessment knowledge. We will also include key coastal and rural land management and scientific organizations in the region, including Massachusetts Bays National Estuaries Project (MassBays), Buzzards Bay Coalition, The Trustees of Reservations, as well as The Ground Truth Project, Woods Hole, MA Bureau, which has important knowledge and connections with regional environmental groups. An important outcome of the research network will be a model process and resources and frameworks for learning that can be generalized to other coastal states across the US. We hope to show how to leverage existing data and models to integrate with complex social data about institutional and decision-making linkages to empower communities with the literacy and agency to derive actionable outcomes. During the workshops we will ask our community stakeholders which voices are not in the room, and evolve the participation of future activities to reflect this assessment.
Diversity and Culture of Inclusion: Our planning grant proposal is focused on building a community of practice around creating a collaborative research network to co-create solutions. Central to the network success is to foster an inclusive and supportive environment that creates safe spaces for both our research team and stakeholder partners to share and bring their perspectives to the table. We will provide a model for how we interact and engage with each other and our broader colleagues within the network and partners by including early in our planning grant activities establishment of a code of conduct and research network culture and philosophy, to demonstrate our intent for centering equity in decision-making, by highlighting how we will work together as part of the planning process. We will build from codes of conduct and research network culture documents used by our senior personnel in their research groups, but will ask our team to co-create these to ensure a sense of ownership over the process of how the network will work together in addition to having ownership of the scientific products.
We are specifically interested in how a diverse perspective in thinking about systems and ways of knowing can contribute to coastal sustainability. Our RN participant calls will continue using a variety of web conferencing software, and we are interested in how different web tools can foster different types of interactions that could be leveraged during the eventual RN project activities. During planning meetings of our senior personnel and planning participants team we aim to continue using many software for connecting with each other to discover how these scaffold our interactions. We will also build community by documenting our team’s goals and perspectives through video and audio recordings to promote a richer understanding within our network of what has shaped our perspectives and values.
Broader Impacts: Coordinated approaches to challenges such as the effects of climate change on human and natural systems and economies will be needed across sectors to create systems that can adapt and be resilient to stressors and change. An understanding of how the structure of institutions surrounding systems that cross coastal, urban, and rural demographics can help to buffer heterogeneity in social vulnerability and linkages among communities for action to create equitable solutions is needed. Focusing on stakeholders across sectors on the Massachusetts Coast includes earth systems and their influence on marine, estuarine, and fisheries research, wildlife and conservation advocacy, coastal economies, tribes, communities of need and municipalities. Our core aims of participatory model building and education via promoting coastal literacy will result in open tools, systemic education resources and processes, a model framework to guide the convergence among disciplines in social, environmental, and economic research, and a design process for resources intended to serve the regional, and hyper-local needs of communities facing problems of resilience that emerge from confluence of land use, economic and demographic trends, gaps in cultural funds of knowledge, and inadequate access to education and social services. We will integrate planning for education activities to foster life-long learning and coastal literacy into our RN activities, to ensure structure for these components are co-developed with the project.
Teacher engagement and Curriculum development: In partnership with the Cape Cod Regional STEM Network (CCRSN), we will leverage the region’s STEM Learning Ecosystem to engage existing members, and specifically recruit key K-12 partner schools and educators to participate in planning activities that will bring robust synergy in the K-12 education sphere to the project. Teacher engagement will be especially impactful in addressing equity and diversity in the RN project activities. Engaging teachers from underserved communities in the broader region during the planning phases will ensure that as the end users of any curriculum, they participate in its development from the very start, and can help to address and inform on issues of equity and access in K-12 education.
Community of Practice: We propose to create a Professional Learning Community where teachers can participate in professional development and networking with the scientists and researchers developing the SRS RN core project research questions. This learning community has the potential to bring the essential research of this project directly into the classrooms, or bring the classrooms directly out to the research sites. Teachers participating in regular exploration of the scientific and social science methods being used in the field can then apply their experiences to developing standards-aligned curriculum on place-based learning that creates relevant, meaningful, and dynamic experiences for the students they serve. The Professional Learning Community will explore inquiry-based and problem-based learning models as a framework. Through ongoing participation in the SRS RN work, and through regular engagement with members of the research network and mentoring from PIs, teachers will gain the opportunity to develop essential questions and areas of study for their own classes that will bring the issues of coastal resilience to life for students thus having broad impacts in the region.