Understanding the role of social values in ranchland management decision-making: collaborative research with Montana ranchers

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Montana's ranching communities are considered socio-ecological systems (SES), a term which recognizes the role of the social component within a land-based whole. This component includes the decision-making process of ranchers, which is critical for building adaptability, resilience, and transformability (ART) for long-term sustainability. A tool for understanding decision-making process is Kolb's Learning styles which explains how decisions are made in three general stages of Feel-Think-Action. The Holistic Management (HM) decision-making framework, follows Kolb's process by providing a working framework for the Kolb's stages. The HM framework is commonly used by ranchers to manage SES dynamics, in ways that include positive SES benefits. Many measures exist for understanding how decision-making influences economic and ecological components of SESs, however, there are few measures or indicators for understanding the role of social values. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine the extent to which social values identified by a case study group of HM ranchers are used by a general sample of ranchers. This project used a two-part, participatory collaborative action research -- exploratory mixed-methods design to learn about the role of social values within ranchland management decision-making. Local knowledge partnered with science-based approaches connects common ground and social capital, leading to increased sustainability of SESs. Five HM ranching practitioners collaborated as case study participants. Discussions with each participant was social value focused, lasted 60-minutes, and was recorded. Collaboratively, 10 social values were identified which were held in common. Using the 10 identified social values from the discussions, a 20-question survey was created which included the 10 identified social values, with an underlying element of ART. The survey was administered to 50 ranchers in Eastern Montana via phone and took each participant approximately 10-12 minutes to complete. It was found that all ranchers use the Kolb's Feel-Think components in relationship to the ten identified social values, and HM case study ranchers were more likely and survey respondents were less likely to take Action on these social values. This research documents the role of social values and ART in ranchland management decision-making in ways that cannot be fully expressed when using conventional metrics.




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