Image: Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Using Networks of Networks in Conservation

“Multiscalar networks – networks that cross levels or layers – are what turns innovation into widespread systemic transformation” 1

While networking is a common term and is one of the most powerful tools in the world of conservation, getting the most from it may be more complex than many people think. In this week’s Lightning Update, we will look at how networks can network with each other to enhance their effectiveness in addressing a wide variety of issues, with examples of how this methodology is being used within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as well as how it is outlined in the America the Beautiful report.

We have all networked either for our own professional benefit or for the sake of our employer. The same networking methods are being implemented in the conservation field, particularly within a “network of networks” or “NoN” framework. This framework stems from research conducted by June Holley of the Network Weaver Institute on how networking can be used effectively to achieve goals and enact change within all sectors. Her methodology has been used by consultants, such as Christy Gabbard of Local Concepts, LLC., to evaluate the effectiveness of networking to achieve progress in the environmental literacy movement in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. There are three general types of networks: local, focused, and network of networks. Within the last category of networks of networks, there are three subcategories: aggregated, cross-sector, and networks with differing focal areas. Before diving directly into the NoN framework, we will look at the first two types of networks:

  • Local Network: A local network is formed within a community and focuses on a particular issue. For example, the Farm Alliance of Baltimore comprises several urban farms and community gardens in the Baltimore area with the collective goal of expanding “communities’ self-determination and power” through “connection, resource sharing and collective advocacy with respect to food, land and water.”2
  • Focused Network: A focused network is a state, multi-state, or national network that is focused on a specific issue. The larger number of individuals and organizations involved in this type of network cater toward more influential action. An example of a focused network is the Anacostia Watershed Society. This organization works with the local community, partners from a variety of organizations, and the government with the common goal of restoring the Anacostia River and watershed.
Image: Anacostia River Advocates (KristaSchlyer.com, Anacostia Advocacy)

“Networks can really benefit when they network with other networks. These types of networks help networks be transformative either through their differences or through their power of aggregation.”3

Local and focused networks put together the third category: a network of networks (NoN).

  • Network of Networks: A network of networks is, as the name suggests, a conglomerate of networks. These networks can have a single common goal or a variety of differing goals with the aim of collaborating and communicating to benefit all parties involved. As with other types of networks, NoN have three subcategories:
  • Aggregated networks: An aggregated network is focused on a particular issue and networks with other networks to amass participants for effective influence and change. An example of an aggregated network is the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership (CCP), a familiar and exemplary model, working on a regional scale. CCP has a primary focus of land conservation within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and partners with several organizations, agencies, and local communities that have their own established networks.
  • Cross-Sector networks: A cross-sector network, as the name suggests, involves networks from a variety of sectors that have input on a similar issue or expertise on a subject related to the issue. An example of a cross-sector network is The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC has the common focus of conserving land and water in the United States and around the world. TNC works toward this focus by networking with people and organizations from a variety of networks and sectors, including the government, educational institutions, the health sector and other nonprofits.
  • NoN with different focal areas: This type of network involves networks collaborating with networks in other sectors that have different focuses or goals. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) falls into this category. Its primary focus is wildlife conservation. To broaden its reach, it partners and networks with a variety of organizations, companies and agencies across the country. For example, the NWF has partnered with General Motors (GM). While GM’s primary focus is not wildlife conservation, it is interested in enhancing its sustainability efforts and networks with organizations like the NWF to expand its knowledge and reach into environmental initiatives.
Images: Left – Nicholas_T on Flickr; Right – CCP Logo, NWF Logo, TNC Logo

Networking and the America the Beautiful Report

As you likely recall, on May 6, 2021, the Commerce, Interior and Agriculture Departments, along with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, released the America the Beautiful report. This report outlines eight principles to advance efforts in land and water conservation by calling for collaboration across sectors to continue ongoing conservation initiatives. The NoN concept is especially useful to consider within the America the Beautiful framework. The eight principles in the report reflect components of every Americans’ life, making it imperative to understand how networking can enhance the execution of the goals outlined in America the Beautiful.

The report references the land and water stewardship of “ranchers, farmers, fishers, hunters, [and] private property owners.”4 Each of these groups of people form local networks within their communities to work towards conservation. Conservation organizations are highlighted in the report and can be classified as focused networks because of their focus on conservation, while their partners can classify them in the network of networks category. The report highlights the need to contribute to and advance the outreach and extent of the ongoing conservation efforts, particularly those started at the local level. Networking among networks is one way in which this need can be addressed. The report also outlines the need for federal agencies to identify priority areas on which to focus investment and collaboration. Federal agencies can approach this need by joining forces with local, state and national networks as well as established NoN with the general focus of conservation.

Networks networking with each other within the conservation realm can be a successful method of sharing ideas, completing projects, connecting communities and people, and caring for the planet. The keys to success with all of these networks are keeping open communication and connections with partners and maintaining an open mind with regard to efforts to seek information, ideas and opinions from outside of the network, community, and even country to establish a broader view and knowledge base to work toward common goals. Although examples for each kind of network were provided to illustrate how they work and are currently used within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, all of the NoN are interconnected, creating an even larger network of networks.

“The spirit of collaboration and shared purpose should animate all aspects of America’s nature conservation and restoration efforts over the next decade” 5

As partners in conservation and related fields continue to weave together environmental and social concerns to enhance their outcomes, growing their spheres of partnerships, i.e., enlisting complex networks of networks, is both inevitable and essential.

1Holley, June, “Transformative Networks are Multiscalar,” (December 18, 2018)
2Farm Alliance of Baltimore, Our Mission and ValuesMission statement
4America the Beautiful report, pg. 13

Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at success.chesapeakeconservation.org, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.