Exploring and Bridging Group Divides in Climate Communications.pdf (2.35 MB)
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Exploring and Bridging Group Divides in Climate Communications

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posted on 01.05.2017, 00:00 authored by Matthew Babcock

At the same time that additional coordination and cooperation between involved stakeholder groups is required more than ever to respond to changing environmental and socio-economic conditions, there has been an increasing trend of polarization across several important social divides (scientists/local actors, urban/rural, and political partisanship). Boundary organizations and boundary chains have been promoted as ways to help mitigate the problematic effects these divisions have on the successful communication of climate adaptation information in the water management sector. In this dissertation, I present three studies that were conducted in two regions to further explore stakeholder groups and the boundary chains that connect them. Both areas (Guanacaste, Costa Rica and Montana, USA) are historically agricultural regions experiencing ongoing environmental and socio-economic shifts. A mental models approach involving the use of interviews and surveys was used in each study area. The first two studies were conducted in Guanacaste and focused on comparing stakeholder group perceptions of their water system and hydro-climate information and on the differences in trust in forecast sources and its impact on forecast use. The results of these studies suggest that there is a distinction between the perceptions of larger stakeholder groups (e.g. government agencies or large farmers) and smaller groups (e.g. local water committees), and that this division suggests a need for boundary-type translation work. The third study was conducted in Montana with a focus on what communication strategies are used by, and what prompts engagement with, a boundary chain connecting rural agriculturalists to urban scientists. The results show that members of the network generally agree that for successful communication it is important both to not engage in ways viewed as attacks on agriculture and to make attempts to understand and respect local agricultural contexts. While there is some tension in the network, overall “buy-in” to the goal of bridging divides appears to be a common reason for engagement. In addition, organizations engage with the boundary chain for both the opportunity to connect to others and because of the need for translation between the concerns and logistics of different groups.




Degree Type



Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Gabrielle Wong-Parodi