Network_confusion

In a recent study published in the journal of Forest Policy and Economics I interviewed  10 of the most central actors of the bioeconomy network in Germany. This study is a follow up of a previous network mapping exercise we did last year which allowed us to identify some 30 central organisations for Germany’s WBN. “Central” means that these organisations are well connected and in some cases even act as “brokers” between different parts of the network. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the policy options as well as the opinions of these stakeholders regarding the direction of the German bioeconomy project. The respondents represent a diverse pool of stakeholders, ranging from researchers, policy makers to industry representatives. Here’re some highlights from the article:

During the interviews I asked respondents about the existence of a so called “bioeconomy network”. If so, they were then asked to describe it, elaborate on it’s scope ,and name some of the most important organisations they thought were central for the network. In a second step I sent them an online interactive network map I had produced earlier last year together with my colleague T. Metz. The map built on an online survey we’ve sent out to some 200 organisations in Germany. Although far from complete, it nevertheless gave us an idea of whom we should be talking to if we wanted to find out more about the bioeconomy network in Germany (find out more about this previous study). Having send this interactive map per email to each of the 10 respondents, I then asked them if we could explore it together, describe and comment upon it. Was our map correct? Who were these actors involved? Had we left someone out? What is this network actually about?

This style of interviewing resulted in some interesting discussions with the respondents. Not surprisingly, the general bioeconomy concept was endorsed by all. All described a common vision of a more sustainable economy, based on natural, renewable resources. Likewise, all agreed that there is a bioeconomy network “out there”. Some networks existed long before the bioeconomy was en vogue while others had recently emerged, supported by the government. Yet, going deeper into the different policy options and narratives about how this could be achieved, opinions differed and some clear sectorial interests surfaced.

For example, not all respondents agreed on labeling the bioeconomy as “forest-based” or even “wood-based”. Whereas, as my colleague Michael Stein pointed before,  representatives of the forest sector claimed “we are bioeconomy” others suggested it would be more sensible to talk about a “lignocellulose- based” bioeconomy that takes into consideration other sectors (foremost agriculture) and biomass types (residues, short rotation crops etc.). There were also some disagreements regarding the availability of wood. Whereas some were more optimistic about the forest industry’s capacity to provide the required wood quantities to feed a wood-based bioeconomy, others were highly skeptical and pointed that there is already high competition for wood on the market. There was also some incoherence regarding the “sustainability” aspect of bioeconomy. Some interpreted sustainability as a standard that can be achieved while others pointed that the bioeconomy is not per se sustainable and that it could put forest ecosystems even more at risk.

Besides these disagreements, there where some points on which all respondents seem to agree. One of the strongest point was the the reduction of subsidies for the energetic use of wood. One interviewee pointed that this is unacceptable in the era of “energiewende”. Likewise, most respondents agreed that some major challenges for a bio-based market lye ahead, and that more support in this area is badly needed. Finally, communication and stakeholder outreach was an area where most respondents thought that more work needs to be done. How to communicate the bioeconomy and raise consumer awareness for bio-based products remains an important question.

Generally, two types of storylines can be teased out of this analysis. 1. Conflicting– suggesting conflicts in understanding, problems and solutions for the bioeconomy project (e.g., labeling the network, availability of wood, or the sustainability debate)  and 2. Consenting- suggesting broad consensus on common problems and proposed policy solutions (e.g., calls for reducing energy wood, support for the bio-based market, and the need for better outreach, and communication). Both types of storylines indicate different interests and discursive struggles over policy outcomes.

Rather than shared objectives, such conflicting storylines indicate a lack of common trajectory for the bioeconomy network. The forest and wood-based sector is undoubtedly an important part of the broader bioeconomy, yet the transition will not be able to fulfill its promises without cross-sectoral cooperation. The broad scope and cross-sectoral character of the bioeconomy implies large structural changes to production and consumption pathways that will inevitably affect some stakeholders more than others. Transitioning to a sustainable bioeconomy will undoubtedly be difficult, but not impossible. Cooperation for overcoming these hurdles is key.

 

The full scientific article can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389934118301047

If your institution does not have access to the article, feel free to contact me directly and I can send you a personal copy.

 

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