The oceans are increasingly a focus of global attention and concern, with new institutions for conservation and governance emerging at an unprecedented rate and scale.  Our research seeks to understand and inform contemporary transformations in ocean governance. We are especially interested in interactions among interlinked governance processes, and rely heavily on multi-sited fieldwork to explore connections among macro and micro level processes in dispersed political and geographical spaces. Most of our work is international, situated in small island contexts in Oceania and at the global level. Our current research falls within three main themes, detailed below.  

Ocean philanthropy

Ash Enrici at a kava ceremony in Fiji. Photo by: Michele Betsill

Philanthropic foundations have contributed significantly to environmental governance as sponsors of conservation projects, networks, policy initiatives, and research around the world. Between 2018-2022, our team is leading a social science research project to develop new insights about ocean philanthropy and foundation exits. The research includes a global analysis based on interviews with foundations working in marine conservation around the world as well as in-depth case studies in Fiji and Palau. Using a knowledge co-production approach, we are bringing donors and marine conservation stakeholders into partnership with the research team to collaboratively produce applied insights that can inform practice. Ultimately, we hope that the results of this research will contribute to effective, equitable, and robust marine conservation by providing insight into how foundations work and how grantees and others may engage with foundations in the future. The project is led by Rebecca Gruby, Michele Betsill, and Ash Enrici at Colorado State University, and Xavier Basurto at Duke University.  For additional information, please see our project summary

Selected publications:

Gruby, R. L., A. Enrici, M. Betsill, E. LeCornu, X. Basurto, and Research Co-designers. Opening the Black Box of Conservation Philanthropy: A co-produced research agenda on private foundations in marine conservation. In Press, Marine Policy.

M. Betsill, A. Enrici, E. Le Cornu, R. Gruby, Philanthropic Foundations as Agents of Environmental Governance: A Research Agenda. In Press, Environmental Politics.

Human dimensions of large marine protected areas

Research and experience with smaller, near-shore marine protected areas (MPAs) has underscored the importance of taking into account human dimensions – social, economic, political, and governance dimensions – at all stages of MPA design and management. Despite the recent surge of global interest and experience with large MPAs greater than 100,000 km2, little is known about their potentially unique human dimensions. To address this knowledge gap, I am leading a 3-year research and outreach project, with colleagues at Duke University and University of Guelph, that will examine the human dimensions of large MPAs. The project includes five in-depth case studies across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Through a comparative analysis of these cases, we seek to gain understanding of large MPA stakeholders and  interests; governance approaches; and social, political, and economic outcomes. This project will produce a diverse set of outcomes relevant to scientists, practitioners, and large MPA stakeholders, including publications, workshops, presentations, and web-based media. Our overall goal with this work is to develop and share new knowledge that may be used to inform decision-making and debates regarding large MPAs within case study sites and globally.

Please see our project website for additional information:

Selected publications:

Gruby, R.L., Fairbanks, L.W., Acton, L., Artis, E., Campbell, L.M., Gray, N.J., Mitchell, L., Zigler, S.B.J., Wilson, K.  (2017). Conceptualizing Social Outcomes of Large Marine Protected Areas.  Coastal Management 45(6):416-435

Gruby, R.L., Gray, N.J., Campbell, L.M., Acton, L. (2016). Toward a social science research agenda for large marine protected areas. Conservation Letters 9(3): 153-163.

Polycentric governance of common pool resources

Common pool resource theory was largely developed through research in relatively small, isolated social-ecological systems.  Recognizing that simple, isolated systems are the exception rather than the rule, sustainability scientists have been calling for the development of theories that can help us grapple with the governance of larger and more complex commons.  My lab is contributing to this effort to ‘scale up’ common pool resource theory through empirical and theoretical research on polycentric governance systems, a complex form of governance with multiple centers of semi-autonomous decision-making.  Our research on polycentric governance in the context of marine protected areas and small-scale fisheries is building greater clarity and specificity around the concept with the goal of facilitating systematic theory-building and, ultimately, enabling policy actors to harness its theorized benefits.

Selected publications:

Carlisle, K., and Gruby, R.L. Polycentric systems of governance: A theoretical model for the commons.. In Press, Policy Studies Journal.  OPEN ACCESS

Gruby R.L., and X. Basurto (2013). Multi-level governance for large marine commons: Politics and polycentricity in Palau’s protected area networkEnvironmental Science and Policy 33: 260-272.

Global oceans governance

Members of the Marshall Islands delegation to Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (June 2012). From bottom left: Minister Phillip H. Muller, President Christopher J. Loeak, and Minister Tony deBrum. From top left: Rebecca Gruby, and Christopher deBrum

Members of the Marshall Islands delegation to Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (June 2012). From bottom left: Minister Phillip H. Muller, President Christopher J. Loeak, and Minister Tony deBrum. From top left: Rebecca Gruby, and Christopher deBrum

Since 2010, I have been working with an interdisciplinary team of social scientists to develop ethnographic understanding of global environmental governance through a new methodology we pioneered called collaborative event ethnography (CEE). Through CEE, our research team works under a shared analytical framework to coordinate data collection across large and dispersed global events. So far I have participated in CEEs at the 2010 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity; the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development; the 2015 World Parks Congress; and most recently, the 2016 World Parks Congress.  My interests in CEE include the mechanisms through which state and non-state actors influence global decision-making; the emergence, transformation, and influence of global conservation governance discourses (e.g. related to the blue economy or protected areas); and the implications of the foregoing for outcomes of global environmental governance.

Selected publications:

Gruby R.L., and L.M. Campbell (2013). Scalar Politics and the Region: Strategies for Transcending Pacific Island ‘Smallness’ on a Global Environmental Governance StageEnvironment and Planning A 45 (9): 2046-2063

Gray, N.J., Gruby, R.L., and Campbell, L.M (2014). Boundary Objects and Global Consensus: Scalar Narratives of Marine Conservation in the Convention on Biological DiversityGlobal Environmental Politics 14(3): 64-83.