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Network-based Expert-Stakeholder Framework for Sustainable Remediation

Final Report Summary - NEXSUS (Network-based Expert-Stakeholder Framework for Sustainable Remediation)

Results, conclusions and the socio-economic impacts of the project
The Nexsus research project aimed to achieve the following three objectives. First, it aimed to develop a social science grounded understanding of stakeholder involvement in sustainable remediation and regeneration. This included an evaluation of the state-of-the-art of approaches, frameworks and indicators for stakeholder involvement in order to determine how a social science approach can deepen researchers’ understanding of stakeholder involvement. At the same time, this approach was conceived to provide practitioners with concrete insights into how communication takes place among stakeholders and also with decision support to improve the integration of various stakeholder categories within regeneration projects.
Second, the project aimed to develop a social science-based methodology for assessing stakeholder involvement in land management. This involved the development of network-based indicators for social sustainability by integrating research results from qualitative and quantitative social network analysis.
Third and most ambitious, the project sought to develop an interdisciplinary methodology for assessing sustainability as communicative practice. This involved a process of building on the first two objectives in order to advance a framework based in sociology (social network analysis) and multi-criteria decision analysis (fuzzy logic) to assign user-defined scores and correspondingly rank sustainability communicators for brownfield regeneration projects.

The main results of the project:
The main results of the Nexsus project consist, first, in the successful development of the envisioned interdisciplinary methodological framework, integrating social network analysis (from sociology) and fuzzy logic towards the identification and scoring of potential sustainability communicators in land management projects. The second result is the successful completion of a case study for the research project, based on the regeneration of an area (including two redevelopment projects) located in one of the largest industrial zones in Europe (Porto Marghera, Venice, Italy). The third result is in the form of two scientific papers to be submitted to environmental science journals that value cross-disciplinary inputs from the social sciences. The titles of the papers are: “The Social Embeddedness of Brownfield Regeneration Actors: Insights from Social Networks Analysis”, submitted for publication in the Journal of Cleaner Production (on March 10, 2016) and “Identifying Sustainability Communicators in Urban Regeneration: Integrating Individual and Relational Attributes”, to be submitted to Global Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions (on April 8th, 2016).
The forth result is the capacity building for one Bachelor’s student, via supervision and tutoring in data collection (e.g. expert interviews) for the Nexsus project. The fifth and related result is the successful completion of this student’s Bachelor’s thesis entitled: “The Social Effects of Remediation and Regeneration Projects: A Case Study on Stakeholders’ Perceptions” using data from the Nexsus project. The thesis was co-supervised with Prof. Andrea Critto, was reviewed and graded at the Ca’Foscari University of Venice and received the highest grade (6).

Conclusions and their potential impact and use
The Nexsus research project has demonstrated the utility of a social science approach to a problem area – namely stakeholder involvement in sustainable brownfield regeneration - perceived as increasingly relevant by environmental scientists and practitioners. This approach is known as social network analysis.
Social network analysis holds promise to expand our understanding of stakeholder involvement in regeneration projects. The shape and density of networks can be employed in future research or applied projects as benchmark indicators for progress in improving the social embeddedness and involvement of social actors in sustainable regeneration.
By using different survey designs, it is possible for researchers and decision-makers to assess how different kinds of information (technical, financial, interpersonal) flow through the network of stakeholders. According to their goals, they can devise ways to enhance or reconfigure such flows.
The interdisciplinary methodological framework developed (integrating social network analysis and fuzzy logic) can support a comprehensive understanding of how sustainability visions might interact within various network configurations (such as dyads, triads, subgroups or the whole network) and ranking of these configurations according to users’ preferences.

The socio-economic impact of the project
The social impact of the project can be seen in the context of an increased interest in environmental decisions that are “socially-robust” and sustainable (Pollard et al. 2004). Understanding and achieving social acceptability and ultimately social robustness are to be regarded a contribution towards sustainable land management.
The economic impact of the project is linked to the capacity of regeneration decision-makers to enhance the social acceptability of their projects. A higher acceptability is likely to lower or eliminate the costs that are usually associated with public opposition to reclamation activities, such as delays or legal challenges. In addition, a positive relationship to the local community can also enhance the contribution of regeneration projects to the local economy.

The potential target groups for the results of the Nexsus research project
The potential target groups include brownfield regeneration practitioners (decision-makers or consultants), the scientific community interested in brownfield regeneration or sustainable land management more generally, civil society groups involved in urban regeneration processes unfolding on (former) brownfield areas and the general public concerned with public participation in regeneration (e.g. site neighbours).

Nexsus project website link: available beginning with April 12th, 2016.