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Information Sharing Among Park Professionals: Facilitating Ecological Restoration

John Strauser, William P. Stewart, Thomas J. Benson, Carena J. van Riper

Abstract


Ecological restoration projects in nature preserves are most likely to be effective when those holding different roles within park agencies share information in a complete and timely manner. However, when the information contains sensitive material the transfer of knowledge can become difficult. Anytime sensitive information on topics such as endangered species or cultural artifacts is shared, there is a risk that the information could be used for unethical activities. With the potential for sensitive information to be used with corrupt intent, some park staff members could feel that sharing information might be outside of the best interest of the agency’s mission to protect the ecological and cultural functioning of the nature preserve. Anytime information sharing occurs it is possible that knowledge could be acquired by corrupt actors potentially putting the material resources with the preserve lands at risk of damage. However, if information is not shared it would be a hindrance to ecological restoration projects. 

To facilitate the sharing of information related to ecological restoration, park agencies with mandates to both provide for human use and preserve ecological conditions need to invest in both technical and social infrastructures. Park agencies generally accumulate information across time in ways that staff members could access it, usually done in informal and decentralized ways. Organizations regularly utilize technical investments in computers and electronic filing to facilitate sharing information by providing the necessary tools. However, research in park management and ecological restoration has not fully explored the social investments that facilitate sharing information. 

A conceptual framework is developed to explain the relationship between trust, risk, and information sharing in ecological restoration projects within a public park agency. A complementary mixed-methods approach was applied including nine in-person interviews and a survey (n=49; 96% response rate) distributed to all professional staff members of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois USA (FPCC). Acknowledging the role of information sharing in public park management, the FPCC developed a management information system to secure, transfer, and catalog relevant information for ecological restoration. The FPCC leadership was also aware of the need to invest in improving the social processes involved in information sharing, which led to the motivation for the study. Empirical evidence from the research supports that perceived material risk influenced trust, perceived individual risk, and willingness to information share. The survey findings indicate that when a respondent perceives a high level of risk, trust and information sharing are diminished; the survey findings are further corroborated by participant interviews. The qualitative evidence also gave reason to believe that participants conceived of risk as both a threat to the park resource they manage (ecological) as well as a threat to their professional development (individual). Results indicate that social factors impact intra-organizational information sharing in the context of park management for ecological restoration. The study supports the need for agencies to invest in both social and technical infrastructures when embarking on ecological restoration projects. 

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Keywords


ecological restoration; information sharing; land management; organization; trust

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2020-10147

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