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Social Network Analysis

Social Network Analysis (SNA) refers to a systematic process of analyzing groups (nodes) and relationships among groups.[135] The groups and ties comprising the social network can be visually mapped as a scatter plot: interpretation of the social network draws on scientific disciplines focused on understanding interpersonal relations and social structures (e.g., anthropology, psychology, and sociology).[136] One of the most important uses for SNA is in mapping communications and knowledge flows among groups.[137] Understanding such knowledge flows has many benefits, including identifying new opportunities for strategic collaboration, identifying communication bottlenecks, streamlining the flow of information across departmental or organizational boundaries, identifying trusted sources of knowledge within the network, and targeting specific stakeholders where key messages will have the greatest impact. Understanding such dynamic network interactions is possible through SNA because the emphasis is not on the attributes of individual groups, but on how the structure of relationships among groups affects how individual groups behave when they are plugged into the network. Thus, the overall shape and connectedness of the social network is an important determinant of what the groups within it do and how effectively the network operates to transmit information or ideas.[138]

Social Network Analysis

How can Social Network Analysis contribute to Sustainability?

SNA is a powerful tool for assessing and streamlining information flows across networks of people and organizations. As part of the stakeholder engagement process as well as to support sustainability tools that are highly dependent on understanding communities and individuals (e.g., environmental justice analysis), SNA can help identify key players, influencers, and trusted groups within a community.

What are the main steps in a Social Network Analysis?

As with other sustainability tools, there is no standard method for conducting a SNA, as the analysis should be tailored to meet the project’s needs and will depend on the questions asked in the data collection stage. In general, SNA involves the following steps:

  • Step 1—collection of data about: the key actors involved in the network; the metrics or structure ofrelationships among actors in a network (e.g. direction of communication flows, frequency of communication, or centrality of a particular node); and, in some cases, about the qualityof relationships among actors (e.g. trust or perceived importance of communicated information);
  • Step 2—development of a network map. A variety of software packages and analytical tools have been developed to aid in this step of SNA; and,
  • Step 3—analysis of the network including groups with little separation among the group members, clusters, or particular statistical distributions.

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What are the strengths and Limits of Social Network Analysis in a sustainability context?  

SNA provides a useful, visual tool to help understand and account for key relationships among groups. However, SNA cannot provide a complete picture of all relationships and all groups relevant to a particular issue or problem. The map produced by SNA is necessarily limited by the questions and data collection that inform it. These data are normally collected through a combination of survey questionnaires and in-depth interviews with actors involved in a particular network.

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How could Social Network Analysis be used to support EPA decision-making?

SNA is not currently used to support EPA decision-making; however, such analyses could be helpful in helping to incorporate community engagement into the decision-making process. SNA could also be used when formulating projects that will apply community-based tools, such as, collaborative problem-solving or environmental justice analysis. Analysis of communication flows and network structure could identify partnerships with a small subset of ‘hub’ groups that have already established strong relationships with target communities. Working through trusted communication hubs may also open up new opportunities for more direct, two-way information and knowledge sharing in the future.

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Where to Find More Information about Social Network Analysis

  • The International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) hosts its own website Exit EPA Disclaimer with a wealth of information on social network analysis application and methodology. The INSNA was founded by one of the more influential scholars of modern SNA – Barry Wellman. Robert Hanneman and Barry Riddle, social scientists at the University of California Riverside, have written an introductory textbook (PDF) (322 pp, 7MB) on SNA.
  • The full report of the ORD Decision Support Framework team includes an example of network analysis work for coral reef management.
  • Although primarily a commercial website, Valdis Kreb’s site, orgnet.com Exit EPA Disclaimer contains a large amount of useful information on social network analysis techniques and theory, as well as practical examples of SNA as applied to different types of networks.

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Illustrative Approach Applying Social Network Analysis.

  • Green Report: District of Columbia

    Source: ECOS Green Report: Case Studies on State Efforts to Achieve Sustainability, March 2012 [254] [Used with permission from the Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the District of Columbia]

    Suite of sustainability tools: segmentation analysis; social network analysis; social impact assessment; environmental justice analysis; life-cycle assessment; futures methods; benefit-cost analysis; eco-efficiency analysis

    Sustainability that matters to our community

    The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is currently coordinating a citywide sustainability planning effort for the Mayor. The Agency does not have an “official” formal definition of sustainability at this time. However, the Agency frequently uses a working definition that defines sustainability as the nexus of the environment, economics, and equity. DDOE also describes sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. These definitions are intended to be grounded in environmental protection, but inclusive of the critical connections between environment, economy, and equity.

    DDOE is home to core state and local programs that are simultaneously addressing sustainable practices including water and air quality protection, wildlife preservation and restoration, land remediation and toxics reduction, energy efficiency, and conservation. The Agency is working to integrate traditional regulatory programs into citywide sustainable efforts to strengthen programs and achieve the greatest possible environmental, health, economic and other equity benefits of cross-media coordination.

    Sustainable DC

    DDOE is co-lead (with the DC Office of Planning) of the Mayor’s sustainability planning process called Sustainable DC.

    Sustainable DC was launched in September 2011 with an intensive community outreach program. Throughout September and October, staff attended 50 community meetings and events to hear people's visions for a sustainable DC and actions the community can take to realize those visions. In November 2011, nine working groups (focusing on the built environment, climate, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, water, and the overall green economy) were launched to develop recommended goals, actions, and indicators. These recommendations will be integrated into a draft plan in summer 2012.

    In this role, DDOE is playing a coordination function among the Green Cabinet, representing more than a dozen key agencies directly affecting citywide sustainability, including transportation, public works, health, public schools, real estate, economic development, employment services, and water and housing authorities.

    STAR Community Index

    DDOE also is coordinating with a national effort to develop the STAR Community Index Exit EPA Disclaimer. This is a framework for gauging the “triple bottom line” of sustainability and livability of US communities. STAR is intended to transform the way local governments plan and develop policies in the way that the US Green Building Council’s LEED program transformed the building industry. STAR will measure a jurisdiction’s sustainability across measures in specific categories. Through these standardized measures, cities will be able to more objectively assess their progress towards sustainability and compare themselves to other cities across the country.

    Because of the size and complexity of STAR’s scope, ten jurisdictions were selected to serve as beta communities (Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boulder, CO; Chattanooga, TN; Cranberry Township, PA; Des Moines, IA; King County, WA; New York, NY; St. Louis, MO; and the District of Columbia). These communities will test and review the measures for appropriateness and feasibility.

    Benefit-Cost Analysis and Eco-Efficiency Analysis

    DDOE implements stormwater management projects on public sites. When evaluating project proposals, DDOE staff evaluates the cost/benefit of each proposal. The evaluation includes an analysis of the dollars per gallon of stormwater retained or treated, and whether the proposal will implement new technologies that may be beneficial to the District’s water quality efforts. At a much larger scale, staff is analyzing the relative environmental, economic development (jobs), and social equity benefits of digging huge tunnels to manage stormwater flows versus a large-scale deployment of green infrastructure (i.e., Low-Impact Development). Whereas traditional analysis might only look at the relative environmental performance and costs of these systems, this new sustainability-driven analysis will assess job creation, social support (i.e., unemployment and other social services) investment reduction, heat-island effect mitigation, community beautification, property value enhancement, and the costs and environmental performance of these systems.

    Environmental Justice Analysis

    DDOE considers social equity as a cornerstone of sustainability. Like many other states and local jurisdictions, DC, through DDOE’s Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice, reviews major development plans to assure that no disparate environmental harms are imposed on minority and low-income populations. Under the Mayor’s evolving sustainability strategy, EJ will likely evolve into much more than a risk assessment/risk management process, and will become a means of assessing the relative benefits of District investments on the distribution of opportunity and hardship across the city. A good example is the new program incorporated into the DDOE’s proposed stormwater regulations, which would allow off-site stormwater mitigation for projects that cannot meet the city’s aggressive 1.2 inch rainfall retention standard. These off-site projects likely will occur in less-developed portions of the city, which tend to be DC’s lowest-income communities. This option will bring substantial investment in tree planting, bioretention, green roofs, and other practices that will not only allow more and better stormwater management, but also will create jobs and beautify neighborhoods– and reduce the significant social disparities across DC. And the program will increase stormwater management by over 50 percent, while reducing costs by 30 percent.

    Future Scenario Analysis

    During the next year, DDOE will forecast the impacts of the District’s revised stormwater regulations. The purpose of this analysis is to determine how future development will lead to improvements in water quality and how DDOE’s new off-site mitigation program will impact EJ issues in the city.

    Life-Cycle Assessment

    The District's revised stormwater regulations will include a payment-in-lieu option for sites that cannot otherwise meet their regulatory obligations. To determine the appropriate price for this option, DDOE staff developed a life-cycle cost assessment to capture the full cost of implementing stormwater practices.

    Segmentation Analysis, Social Impact Assessment, and Social Network Analysis

    The District has developed a new social marketing campaign to reduce litter. The campaign includes significant social and psychological (focus groups and interviews) analysis to determine the root causes of litter and to develop effective messages and approaches that will have an impact. Additionally, the program has surveyed residents to evaluate the impact of the marketing campaign as well as the new Bag Law that requires a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags. 

    In addition to the tools mentioned above, DDOE has developed some new tools to measure the District’s sustainability activities:

    • Green Dashboard
      To help residents understand the District’s progress in becoming a more sustainable place in which to live, work, visit, and play, DDOE’s Office of Policy and Sustainability developed an online interactive Green Dashboard containing approximately 60 indicators in six categories (air quality and climate, energy and buildings, nature, transportation, waste and recycling, and water). Users are able to manipulate the data by time period and metric to suit their interests and will be able to also download raw data and image files of graphs for later use. Additionally, the Dashboard provides contextual information for each indicator, including information on what the data mean, why they are important, how the District compares to other jurisdictions, and ways users can get involved. Information is presented in an easy-to-read style with images and links to make the information engaging and digestible.
    • GreenUp DC
      DDOE developed GreenUp DC, an interactive web tool that teaches property owners how to reduce their energy footprint and stormwater releases. The tool tracks energy reduction and stormwater activities, and creates reports that allow DDOE to fulfill its legal obligations to US EPA. GreenUp DC allows DDOE to be transparent and responsive with up-to-the-minute statistical reporting on energy performance and stormwater reductions.

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  • Green Report: Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ)

    Source: ECOS Green Report: Case Studies on State Efforts to Achieve Sustainability, March 2012 [254] [Used with permission from the Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the State of Wyoming]
    Suite of sustainability tools: social network analysis; sustainability impact assessment
    The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) does not have an official definition for sustainability at this time.
    WDEQ has a robust Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP) that is involved in state sustainability and pollution prevention planning. Other state agencies also have a variety of sustainability efforts.
    Pollution Prevention

    In 2011, a new rule took effect in Wyoming stating that facilities must be implementing a P2 Plan consistent with the promulgated Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP) law in order to be eligible to enter a contaminated site into the VRP. The VRP launched a statewide outreach campaign utilizing a variety of media to inform Wyoming facility owners and operators about Pollution Prevention Planning and the new rule. Components of the outreach campaign included:

    • A mass mailing to more than 15,000 entities in Wyoming;
    • Development of two 60-second P2 public service announcements (PSAs) that aired on multiple radio stations over several months;
    • Development of two 30-second PSAs in video format that aired on both local and cable TV outlets statewide;
    • Two half-page color display PSAs published in the only state-wide newspaper in Wyoming; and,
    • Development of an “Interactive Toolbox” for the VRP website that provides Best Management Practices for P2, and a variety of other electronic P2 resources for Wyoming business owners and operators.

    While the outreach campaign served several purposes, the VRP believes P2 is an important component of sustainability in Wyoming. Reducing pollution sources, minimizing waste, and preventing environmental contaminate spills are all goals of P2, and in accomplishing those goals, continued sustainable use of Wyoming’s natural resources is an additional benefit.

    Green and Sustainable Remediation

    The Wyoming Environmental Quality Act requires the VRP to consider various balancing criteria when evaluating and selecting remedies for contaminated sites [§35-11-1605(b)]. Many of these balancing criteria aid the VRP in evaluating the sustainability of a potential site remedy by considering: long-term risks to human health and the environment; risks to workers and the community from remedy construction and implementation; short- and long-term disruptions to land use; traffic disruptions; visual, noise, and odor impacts; disruptions to ecological receptors; impacts to habitat; and, cost.

    In addition to considering the above-mentioned balancing criteria during remedy selection, the VRP recently developed a draft Green and Sustainable Remediation (GSR) policy and guidance for implementation at contaminated sites enrolled in the program. The goal of the GSR policy and guidance is to minimize the environmental impacts of, and increase the sustainability of, the overall cleanup process at VRP sites. GSR concepts and practices take into consideration the potential adverse environmental and social impacts of contaminated site remedies, and once finalized, the GSR policy and guidance will complement the VRP’s commitment to encourage, support, and implement GSR efforts at contaminated sites in Wyoming.

    The draft GSR policy and guidance advocate the use of GSR best management practices (BMPs) during all phases of the site remediation process, while meeting the balancing criteria for remediation. GSR BMPs are practices that, when implemented as standard protocol during site cleanup help to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of site investigation and remedy implementation activities and increase the overall sustainability of the cleanup project. The GSR BMPs highlighted in the draft VRP guidance focus on:

    • reducing the quantity of energy and non-renewable resources required to implement site remedies;
    • reducing the quantity of emissions and waste generated as remedy by-products, and;
    • improving community relations (and realizing other social benefits) during the site cleanup process.

    The draft GSR guidance also advocates the use of free online tools for evaluating quantitative GSR metrics such as emissions and the use of non-renewable resources. The draft GSR policy and guidance requests that VRP Project Managers and responsible parties document GSR efforts in site work plans and reports. Subsequent to finalization and implementation of the GSR policy and guidance, the VRP plans to establish a GSR webpage to highlight GSR success stories. The VRP’s goal is to finalize and implement the draft GSR policy and guidance in 2012.

    It is important to note that the GSR policy and guidance is still in draft form and is therefore considered internal guidance until finalized.

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