Panel Paper: Local Climate and Sustainability Policy Networks: An Examination of Cities’ Use of Multiple Memberships for Strategic Positioning and Impact Maximization

Friday, November 9, 2018
Taylor - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Le Anh Nguyen Long, University of California, Davis and Rachel Krause, University of Kansas

For over two decades, scholars have examined the role that trans-municipal networks (TMNs) play in facilitating local governments’ pursuit of sustainability and climate change policy innovations. TMNs enhance local government decision-making by offering informational tools and software, expert guidance, and exclusive funding opportunities. They also provide forums for member-to-member communication and knowledge exchange. There generally is some barrier to entry into TMNs, be it an annual fee, an extensive application and selection process, and/or policy action requirements. Although these barriers may be prohibitive to some municipalities, others participate in multiple similarly-focused TMNs. Some scholars have treated this membership overlap as redundant; however, recent work suggests that it can significantly raise the likelihood of local government climate policy innovation and impact. We hypothesize three additional reasons that local governments might pursue membership in multiple climate and sustainability-focused TMNs. Namely, multiple memberships may also facilitate cities’ ability to: (1) obtain reputational gains through recognition as “green leaders;” (2) act as opinion-leaders that shape the substantive decisions of peer municipalities; and (3) “evangelize” the importance of local sustainability efforts and convince other cities to further integrate within the policy community.

We examine how local governments’ proficiency at securing these roles within networks are shaped by city government and community characteristics and present hypotheses related to political institutions, resource dependencies, and community pressure. To test these expectations, we construct a 2-mode TMN using membership lists from the four dominant locally-focused climate and sustainability networks active in the US: ICLEI Cities for Sustainability, the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network, 100 Resilient Cities, and C40 Cities. We theoretically link the four motivations described above to different network centrality measures, which indicate cities’ structural positions within an overarching network. For example, cities wanting to become “opinion leaders” on climate protection policy have interest in shaping the flow of information. Their ability to do this is indicated by betweeness centrality, a measure which captures each city’s potential to facilitate, hinder, or manipulate information spread. To date, network analysis has been used sparingly in the study of trans-municipal networks. The few studies that do employ network analysis, treat the network as uni-modal. This approach overlooks the critical role of TMNs as venues where ideas are shared, relationships are established, and projects are organized. Because 2-mode network analysis captures overlapping affiliations among TMNs, this approach explicitly examines the value added of multiple TMN memberships.

We next integrate the social network analysis with statistical modelling by using cities’ theoretically meaningful centrality measures as dependent variables in regression analysis. This enables us to empirically assess the factors that influence cities’ positions in the overarching TMN that operates in the US around local sustainability. Formal networks are becoming a dominant form of governance around locally-driven climate efforts and, as such, their membership patterns and implications have policy significance. Moreover, cities' positions with the networks, which often overlap in mission and membership, warrants being taken into account to gain insight into the active and passive modalities through which cities affect sustainability policy action.