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Water Security and Common Pool Resource Management

Lead PI. NSF: Collaborative Research: EAGER: SAI: Participatory Design for Water Quality Monitoring of Highly Decentralized Water Infrastructure Systems. With Alex Mayer, W. Shane Walker, James Doss-Gollin. No. 2121986. 2022 - 2023. 

Aging pipes and treatment facilities, droughts exacerbated by climate change, and contamination of water supplies all challenge America’s drinking water infrastructure. This in turn threatens the water security (reliable access to affordable water for a healthy life) of America’s population. Water is typically treated at central facilities and then piped to users, but recent technological advances could enable water treatment at the point of use (e.g., a house). In theory, this approach can make water systems more resilient to extremes, reduce the need for pipes and pumping, help water systems scale up or down as populations change, and filter contaminants that existing plants cannot treat cost-effectively. However, point of use water treatment also shifts the burden of maintaining water treatment infrastructure, monitoring water quality, and governing water systems onto end users, creating new vulnerabilities for water infrastructure systems. In this project, we test an iterative, collaborative frame­work for monitoring point of use water treatment in under­served communities that blends local expertise on social dynamics and water issues with our expertise in governance, water treatment, and systems modeling. We will co-develop this framework with communities near El Paso, TX called colonias where residents rely on a combination of trucked­ and bottled water.

Natural Disasters, Climate Change, and Covid-19

Researcher. NSF: RAPID: Public Responses to Personal and Societal Risk: Attitudes and Behavior on COVID-19 and Climate Change. PI: Elke Weber; With Robert Keohane and Sara Constantino. No. 2030800. 2020-2022.

The project studies public responses to COVID-19 and global change in order to advance the health, prosperity and welfare of American citizens and promote the progress of science. Addressing COVID-19 and global change requires large-scale collective action and governmental response. Yet, for both issues, the consequences of inaction are delayed, the costs and benefits of inaction are unequally distributed, and harms grow exponentially over time, if unattended. These features make it hard to learn from experience and lead to drastic underestimates of the costs of inaction. However, the response of the American public to the two risks appears to be very different. This research project will systematically compare public perceptions and reactions in the United States to these two crises, tracking them over the coming months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. Understanding people’s perceptions and responses will highlight promising (and likely different) policy responses to each crisis. A better social scientific understanding of public reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic under conditions of great fear and deep uncertainty is crucial to inform the design of effective and efficient policy interventions and implementation by public and private actors.

Co-PI. NSF: Collaborative Research: Responses to complex disruptive events: Cognition in a socio-political context. With Elke Weber, Rachael Shwom, Michael Oppenheimer, Sara Constantino. No. 2049796. 2021 - 2023. 

Health and economic crises, extreme storms, and other complex and disruptive events require decisions under high levels of risk and uncertainty. In these contexts, individuals often turn to trusted sources, such as close relations, community leaders, and political officials, for information about risks, responsibility and how to best respond. Some of these public actors are motivated to strategically highlight certain narratives surrounding such events, which can in turn shape the risk perceptions, beliefs and responses of their constituencies. Through a series of surveys, stakeholder interviews and social media analysis, the research team examines the factors that shape how individuals are impacted by, make sense of, and respond to extreme weather and other climatic pressures; and how public officials and other elites frame these events and communicate responsibility and blame. This research contributes to interdisciplinary research and psychological, social, and political theory by considering the interactions between individuals and the broader sociopolitical context. This work has implications for communication and policy making around complex, disruptive events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or other global change processes, and offers insights into how policy makers might tailor messages to different contexts and audiences. Furthermore, the research uses a longitudinal design to predict whether certain behaviors are a gateway for more costly ones, or a scaffolding for raising environmental awareness, political engagement, and social norm change. Coastal policy involves federal, regional, state, and local institutions that have overlapping responsibilities, which can lead to conflicting incentives. This work clarifies the net effect of these institutions on individuals and their responses. Finally, the researchers co-develop many of the study materials in partnership with local organizations and policy makers in order to maximize the contribution of this study to improve the welfare and livelihoods of front-line communities, and future generations.

Collective Action, Political Behavior, and Climate Adaptation

Constantino, Sara, Alicia Cooperman, and Manuela Muñoz. 2023. "Neighborhood-Based Organizations as Political Actors: Implications for Political Participation, Inequality, and Climate Resilience."

Neighborhood-based organizations (NBOs) can be powerful political actors, shaping policy outcomes and strengthening accountability. Whose voices do they elevate, and to what extent might they reduce or exacerbate local socio-political inequality? While some NBOs may strengthen social capital and facilitate political participation for marginalized groups, others have been active forces in segregating communities. Their dueling roles are especially salient in a context of climate change, where NBOs play a key role in facilitating or preventing neighborhood-scale policies for climate change adaptation and hazard mitigation. We develop a framework of neighborhood-based organizations and their role in shaping service provision, adaptation planning, and disaster response, and we present preliminary survey data from a nationally representative U.S. sample. We distinguish between property owners associations (e.g. homeowners associations) and residential voluntary associations (e.g. neighborhood or community associations), and discuss how different types of NBOs interact with policymakers in complex institutional environments throughout the Global North and South, with implications for equity of climate adaptation and resilience.

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