Designing an MPA Learning Network: Interview with Nick Salafsky

MPA News

Assisting with overseeing the design and implementation of the LMMA Network (described in the previous article) is a US-based not-for-profit organization, Foundations for Success (FOS). Established in 2000, FOS aims to improve the practice of nature conservation by coordinating the sharing of lessons learned among networks of practitioners. Nick Salafsky, a founder of FOS, works closely with the LMMA Network as well as other learning networks worldwide. Below, MPA News asks him about some of the considerations that go into designing such a network.

MPA News: Learning networks for practitioners can take many forms, including informal discussion groups. The LMMA Network and other FOS-coordinated networks have adopted a relatively formal, scientific approach to their information sharing, in which network participants follow a standardized framework for collecting and submitting their data. What does this approach enable managers to do that a more informal approach would not?

Salafsky: At least in theory, our more formal approach will enable us to test systematically the conditions under which an LMMA strategy can contribute to enhanced marine resources and conservation. That is to say, we can compare the situation at sites across the Pacific and hopefully say something about the effect of different management regimes, community tenure systems, or government policies on LMMA use. We can then also present our findings to the world in a collective voice, which will hopefully have some influence on policymakers. The more formal approach also enables us actively (as opposed to passively) to provide training and capacity-building support to our members.

Along these lines, Foundations of Success is currently wrapping up a study of learning networks in different fields. It has found that there are definitely trade-offs between the degree of formality and cost/complexity of learning networks. It remains to be seen whether the increased costs of more formal networks are justified by increased learning. To this end, the LMMA Network is testing this concept by trying it. I suspect that over time, we will find that both formal and informal networks have their uses, depending on the circumstances and needs of the members of the network.

MPA News: How much does it cost to set up and manage a learning network, and are there ways to minimize costs while still having an effective system?

Salafsky: Costs will vary widely depending on how formal a network is and other factors. The LMMA Network, based in the Pacific where it is very expensive to travel and bring people together, currently spends several hundred thousand dollars (US) per year on travel, workshops, training, and coordination. One way to reduce costs is to limit the geographic scope over which a network is working. Another is to limit the amount of training and technical support that the network provides. A third is to rely more on virtual electronic communication systems. We have found, however, that because of our emphasis on community-based conservation, electronic communications are at best a supplement to face-to-face training and communications.

For more information:
Nick Salafsky, Foundations of Success (FOS), 4109 Maryland Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20816, USA. Tel: +1 703 764 8572; E-mail: Nick [at] fosonline.org; Web: www.fosonline.org