Span Boundaries to Connect
Faculty Focus: Manoj Shrestha
By itself a single drop of rain cannot fill the water needs of an entire community. However, if that single drop falls into a stream that feeds a river and flows along, connecting and combining with millions of others, it can quench the thirst of many people. In this same way, associate professor of political science Manoj Shrestha studies how small communities can join together and create connections that ultimately benefit all.
Specifically, his research focuses on understanding the complexities of developing and sustaining collaborative and self-organized solutions to local problems. One of his current projects looks at water governance in remote villages in Nepal that are involved in implementing the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program (RWSSP). Supported by the World Bank, RWSSP is one of the largest collaborative water supply programs in Nepal, aimed at helping rural communities to improve access to clean drinking water.
The program adopts a collaborative approach where communities initiate, plan and organize water projects, while the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Fund Development Board, a quasi-governmental supervisory agency, provides the communities with technical assistance and funding.
Shrestha’s research focuses on how small communities’ ability to reach out to local or regional organizations and other villages can help them succeed in getting projects funded and completed.
“Let’s think of rural villagers in Nepal who have poor access to drinking water supply and are eager to implement a community water supply project. Since these communities lack information, resources, expertise and organizational skills to implement such a project, they need to develop collaborative networks with a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations to access those resources to successfully implement the project,” he said.
In addition to achieving access to a clean water supply, Shrestha’s research shows that the community reaps long-term benefits by making connections and developing partnerships.
“During this process, communities also develop capacity and learn managerial and relational skills – creating relationships with external organizations. Improved capacity and skills can go a long way to help these communities to implement new initiatives that improve their wellbeing – a sign of community sustainability,” he said.
Shrestha notes that developing collaborative connections can help resolve larger issues of governance and management of local public goods and water resources, with community sustainability as the ultimate goal.
Multiple communities who share an aquifer, watershed or river basin are another example of the importance of group water management in areas around the world.
“This is a classic collective action problem – no one entity is entirely responsible or has capacity to address the issue,” Shrestha said. “However, developing a collaborative network among concerned stakeholders could provide a path forward to improve the condition. Often many entities have authority over or have interests in the watershed, for example. Coordination could be a huge issue. Networks among these entities can resolve barriers to coordination.”
Born and raised in Nepal, Shrestha said his interest in this area of research came from personal experience.
“I have seen communities doing better when they act together, listen to others, resolve differences and are willing to span boundaries to connect to others for help and advice. During my graduate study at Florida State University, the explanation of my life experience became my curiosity. Interdependency and embeddedness are fundamental to our existence,” he said. “This also applies to ecological systems and between social and ecological systems. Interdependency demands interaction and interactions among elements of a system emerge into a network – a structural pattern of relationships.”
Shrestha has employed field surveys and online or mail surveys to gather data for his research. His findings have been published in peer-reviewed publications such as the Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Urban Affairs Review and the Political Research Quarterly, and may have far reaching implications.
“Scholars believe that there are underlying structural patterns of relationships or network structures that could very well explain the real-world phenomena that we observe. Understanding how these network structures emerge and how these networks are linked to outcomes could prove very valuable in our attempt to address many complex problems,” Shrestha said. “It is not only the characteristics of individual parts but also the characteristics of the interactions among these individual parts that are critical to our ability to understand and perhaps devise solutions.”