Research

My work focuses on understanding, enriching, and improving human relationships with water. I take an engaged and interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching which means that I shape my research to respond to needs for information and critical inquiry. I also collaborate with a diverse set of research partners across disciplines and within communities.  My research usually starts with intensive information gathering where I co-define problems, research questions, and general areas of inquiry with the people who will eventually use the final research and writing products.  I collaborate and co-publish with people in disciplines such as ecology, oceanography, hydrology, marine policy and biology, anthropology, economics, psychology, environmental engineering, and more. My three main topic areas include coastal resilience, rivers and social-environmental justice, and interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen science.

I briefly describe insights about these topics and links to learn more:

Coastal resilience

My interest in coastal resilience began during my dissertation when I became involved with the Frenchman Bay Partners, which at the time was an informal group that had organized around a conservation action planning process in the watershed that drains into Frenchman Bay. I collaborated with this group as an engaged social scientists and sought to study and support their process to strengthen resilience as a stated mission.  My approach to resilience, which seeks to combine social-ecological systems studies and sustainability science with rhetorical, critical, and poetic orientations, emerges from my work with in this context. Here are some overarching insights from a suite of studies.

  • Resilience as a discourse helps shape collective responses to change; rhetorical, ecological, and poetic orientations to dominant resilience discourses can help identify ways of working with the world for enhanced communication (McGreavy, 2016 and 2018; Stormer and McGreavy, 2018).
  • Coastal stakeholders define social and environmental problems in diverse and complex ways, and they also see the need for tailored and adaptive solutions to these problems. Engaged research can help build capacity to understand multiple problem perspectives and advance workable solutions over time (McGreavy et al., 2018). This research is now being used to advance multiple initiatives to improve learning, expand partnerships, and strengthen linkages between water quality and shellfish science and decision making. For example, the Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Fund is a seed grant project that seeks to help build resilience and support tailored and bottoms-up solutions to these complex problems.This research helped identify how people are defining problems and what, in the face of these problems, may be considered success in co-management. We provided specific communication-focused recommendations for supporting co-management efforts, including strategies to systematically gather information from municipalities to tailor state-municipal partnerships, how to improve and leverage the learning that occurs as part of Shellfish Focus Day, and opportunities for science-based partnerships and to strengthen civic connections with shellfish management.
  • Substance use disorders constrain adaptive capacities in the context of shellfish co-management. Conservative estimates with people involved in shellfishing indicate 20% of licensed clammers struggle with opiate addiction, with much higher rates of other substance use disorders such as alcoholism. This research has identified the complex ways in which substance use disorders affect the resilience of this fishery, highlighting six key factors, including (1) the relationship between ecosystem quality and resource management; (2) connections between management regulations and criminal activity; (3) a sense of futurity and the sustainability of the resource; (4) limits to volunteerism; (5) interactions that reinforce existing social hierarchies and exclusion; and (6) increased conflict within and across fisheries. This research is in progress and findings have been presented at the National Communication Association and the Resilience conference.

Rivers and social-environmental justice

Thinking with water can fundamentally shift how we see ourselves in the world. In my work, thinking with water in general and with rivers in particular has helped me begin to understand the disparate impacts of water pollution and management on coastal communities and indigenous peoples. My focus on rivers and social-environmental justice seeks to understand and transform the disparate impacts of water pollution and management, especially for how these regimes and practices affect clammer and coastal livelihoods as well as the the health and sovereignty of indigenous peoples, especially the Penobscot Nation.

Interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen science

Academic institutions are poised to help with pressing problems in the world that stem from climate change and systemic inequities.  To be able to address complex problems from multiple perspectives and worldviews, we must also learn how to work effectively, creatively, and equitably across different types of knowledge and disciplines. In my role as a Faculty Fellow in the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, I’ve studied and helped shape a number of sustainability science collaborations focused on topics such as linking knowledge with decision making about dams, protecting water quality and public health, advancing landscape-scale planning for vernal pool conservation, navigating institutional barriers for endangered fish restoration, taking an engaged approach to estuary and tidal modeling, developing a statewide network of sustainability science teams, and more. Across these efforts, we’ve identified a series of commitments that can nurture inclusive collaborations:

  • Decision making on collaborative projects is an important social space. Sustainability science teams that use inclusive approaches to decision making demonstrated greater satisfaction with their projects and progress towards meeting their objectives (McGreavy et al., 2015).
  • Large, interdisciplinary collaborations are complex organizations and need commensurate approaches to organizational design to foster dialogue and shared learning across disciplines and institutions. On the Future of Dams Project, we developed Dynamic Design Planning as an approach to studying and shaping this large, multi-jurisdictional project to advance our inter and transdisciplinary objectives.
  • Citizen science offers a model for engaging people in scientific research processes in ways that may help build adaptive capacities and social-ecological resilience. We’ve found that connection to place matters as well as creating spaces in the citizen science project for diverse forms of leadership to emerge can enhance resilience-related outcomes (McGreavy et al., 2016; Newman et al., 2016)