Leadership in informal stormwater governance networks

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Recent transitions in the governance of urban stormwater, specifically developments that leverage the environmental and social benefits of green infrastructure (GI) including infiltration and neighborhood stabilization, often require capacities beyond those of any single municipal- or regional-scale organization. In many cities, transitions toward green stormwater infrastructure have been shepherded by networks of individuals spanning a diversity of organizations from governments to NGOs. These networks are often informal, that is, not established by legal mandate, governing authority, or formal agreement, and are often striking for their lack of formal hierarchy or formal leadership. Previous scholarship has revealed the importance of leadership in the development and efficacy of these multiorganizational, cross-sector environmental governance networks, but research has yet to empirically investigate and characterize informal network leaders within the context of GI for stormwater mitigation. To address this gap, we designed and administered a social network analysis (SNA) survey to individuals in a regional network of GI stormwater management professionals in and around Cleveland, Ohio USA. We collected network data on individual relationships, including collaboration and trust, and tested the impact of these relationships on peer-recognition of leaders in the GI network. Our findings suggest that network size, frequency of collaboration, and individual position within the network—specifically, betweenness centrality and openness—defined and likely supported leaders in the stormwater governance network. Leaders in this non-hierarchical, multi-institution context were more likely to be women and brokerage roles within the network benefitted women, not men, which contrasts with previous findings from research on single-organization and corporate networks. The implications of this research suggest that informal environmental governance networks, such as the GI network investigated, differ substantially from the generally more hierarchical networks of organizations. This finding is useful for municipalities and regional authorities grappling with complex environmental challenges, including transitions in strategies to manage excess stormwater for the protection of municipal drinking water sources and urban freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0222434
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


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