Burning through organizational boundaries? Examining inter-organizational communication networks in policy-mandated collaborative bushfire planning groups

Rachel F. Brummel, Kristen C. Nelson, Pamela J. Jakes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Collaboration can enhance cooperation across geographic and organizational scales, effectively "burning through" those boundaries. Using structured social network analysis (SNA) and qualitative in-depth interviews, this study examined three collaborative bushfire planning groups in New South Wales, Australia and asked: How does participation in policy-mandated collaboration affect bushfire communication networks amongst organizational representatives? Inter-organizational communication networks became more active, less centralized, and more closely connected during planning than they had been prior. However, efforts to institutionalize collaboration were intrinsically biased towards placing administrative power and influence in public agencies. Further, collaborative planning groups did not maintain "during planning" levels of network activity and structure after planning was completed. In one case, the mandated planning process had a negative impact on inter-agency communication networks. Contextual aspects such as group size, history of inter-organizational conflict and fire occurrence, and process management were important in the development of inter-organizational networks. Though communication diminished after planning was completed, participation in the collaborative planning effort may serve as an important basis for the continuation of inter-organizational relationships beyond the scope of the planning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)516-528
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the funders who were critical to supporting this research, including the Australian-American Fulbright Commission , the Mark & Judy Yudof Fellowship , the University of Minnesota Graduate School's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship , the University of Minnesota Consortium on Law and Values in Health , the Environment, and Life Sciences , the University of Minnesota Conservation Biology Program , and the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources . We are also grateful to institutional and research support provided by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research Organization (CSIRO) and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Additional thanks go to Susan Galatowitsch and Carissa Schively Slotterback for their comments on previous drafts and to David Knoke for his assistance in early stages of research design. Further, the authors are grateful to Alison Slaats for lending her GIS and map-making skills to the paper. Comments of anonymous reviewers also improved this manuscript. Finally, we are indebted to the bushfire planning participants from the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the Illawarra, and Snowy-Monaro for sharing their time and their experiences.


  • Bush Fire Management Committees
  • Collaborative planning
  • Communication networks
  • Inter-organizational networks
  • Mandated collaboration
  • Wildland fire planning


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