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Network Analysis of Organizations Promoting Sustainable Transportation
- By Glenn McRae
Do social networks affect sustainable transportation organizations aiming to influence the policy-making process? This is a question that transportation research scholar, Aaron Witham, has been researching for the past two years while pursuing his M.S. in natural resources from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and his graduate certificate in ecological economics from the Gund Institute. Working with professors Richard Watts, Tao Sun, and Curt Ventriss, Aaron has analyzed data from 121 organizations known to promote sustainable transportation policy across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Organizations were sent a survey in 2010 that asked them who they send information to and receive information from, along with questions about organizational interests, budget size, staff size, and other characteristics. The data on sending and receiving information became the basis for network models like the one in the photo.
Depending on where an organization lies within the network, it may be subject to constraints or provided opportunities. Organizations that occupy a central position in their network may have greater influence over the policy-making process or appear more frequently in the media. Organizations on the periphery of the network may have less influence and less of a voice in the media. To test this theory, Aaron and the research team ran correlations between different metrics of network position and perceived influence. Perceived influence is a survey-derived score that they acquired by asking each organization in the survey to rate each other’s level of influence in the sustainable transportation policy arena. They then took the average of those ratings to have a score for each organization. The research team also ran correlations between network position and the number of times an organization appears in Associated Press articles about sustainable transportation. “We are finding that having a central position in one’s network correlates strongly with having higher influence and more appearances in the media,” explains Aaron.
In his time as a TRC scholar, Aaron has thrived from the support of the Transportation Research Center. He notes that his research assistantship made graduate school affordable to him by helping defray tuition costs, providing him a stipend to live off, and helping him travel to conferences to present his research and meet other scholars in the field. “Without the support, I wouldn’t have been able to earn my graduate education and have this opportunity to contribute to the field,” explains Aaron. “And there is no better place to do it than the TRC where you are surrounded by interdisciplinary research and collaboration. You can literally lean one way and ask someone a quantitative question about GIS and lean another way to ask someone a qualitative question about livability.”
For more information on Aaron’s research: Aaron.Witham@uvm.edu
The full research report will be posted on the TRC website shortly.