- Political Ecology
- Sustainable Livelihoods
- Political Economy, Participatory Research Methods
- Monitoring and Evaluation Methodology
My research interests are rooted in my experiences from 1997-2003 as a researcher, active participant, and project manager with the Coastal Areas Monitoring Project and Laboratory (CAMP-Lab), a participatory resource management project in Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua. In its third phase, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), I facilitated a participatory research based partnership between graduate student and faculty researchers from York University and local people working with the Center for the Investigation and Documentation of the Atlantic Coast (CIDCA) in Nicaragua.
Theoretically, I place my research interests within the context of political ecology drawing on Robin's (2004) hatchet (political ecology as critique) and seed (political ecology as equity and sustainability research) analogies. While I am appreciative of the hatchet approach that forms the core of much of the political ecology literature, my own work focuses on the seed approach to political ecology. In particular, I am interested in contributing to alternative approaches to sustainability research -- rooted in local social, political and economic reality -- that contribute to possibilities for moving towards more sustainable local livelihoods. The process of theorizing and contributing to these types of alternatives are often vulnerable to critiques related to the essentialization of the local people and the imposition of outside values on local settings. While these critiques are valid to a point, contributing to research on alternatives to mainstream approaches to sustainable development continues to represent, in my view, the pragmatic next step if political ecology is to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Within this theoretical perspective, I am interested in pursuing academic work that supports the development of sustainable livelihoods. My approach to this task involves: 1) efforts to identify, generate, and improve development activities and interventions that are grounded in local social, political and economic realities to support environmental sustainability and improved livelihoods; and 2) efforts to develop methods that document and illustrate the value of these alternative development options so that they have greater resonance and influence with relevant donors and policymakers.
Within the context of this overall vision, my primary research interest is centered on sustainable livelihood issues at the local level. My future research will focus on the role of local capacity, in particular social capital, and local agency in protecting and enhancing sustainable livelihoods (Krishna 2001). In particular, I am interested in working within the context of Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua and other Caribbean locations to examine the way in which variations between communities' social capital and agency capacity influence their abilities to protect and enhance the environmental assets available to them. In addition, I am interested in exploring avenues for the development and enhancement of agency capacity at the community level as a means to contribute to improved livelihoods and environmental sustainability.
Related to this focus on sustainable livelihoods, I am interested in examining the role of deficits in what Bird and Shepherd (2003) termed 'geographic capital' in limiting the sustainable livelihood possibilities and avenues for improvement in remote areas. In particular, I am interested in examining the possibilities for, and barriers to, the use of new technologies in overcoming limits to enhanced sustainable livelihood possibilities that are rooted in problems related to the high cost associated with transportation and communication in remote areas.
My secondary research interest builds on my expertise in the participatory use of the Outcome Mapping (OM) methodology for monitoring and evaluating development programs (Earl, Carden and Smutylo 2001). This method, developed by the IDRC's evaluation unit, works towards project learning and accountability by tracking a program's influence on behavioral change in its partners by using graduated progress indicators, and relating these changes to the program's strategies and practices through narratives. Research on the development and use of participatory monitoring and evaluation methods within development projects is a logical extension of my focus on local agency capacity as it represents a pathway to increased local influence over the development process.
My current research on CAMP-Lab's use of OM suggests that its focus on behavioral change makes it uniquely suited to both identify and improve the influence of development projects on environmental sustainability and local capacity development through project learning while also providing good data for institutional accountability. My future OM research will focus in two areas: 1) comparative work between projects using OM to further refine implementation methods and improve project learning results; and 2) refinement of OM's data collection and reporting methods in an effort to contribute to the method's relevance and effectiveness for influencing various development decision makers. This latter aspect of my research focuses particularly on the methodological challenges inherent in using participatory approaches to research design and data collection for consumption by bureaucratic and academic audiences unfamiliar or uncomfortable with these approaches to research.