A Cross-Sector Approach to Conservation: The Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network case study

The Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network is a collaboration of nineteen federal, state, and county agencies, land trusts, nonprofits, research institutes, a Native American tribal band, and a timber company, formed in 2014 to improve land stewardship in the Santa Cruz Mountains region south of San Francisco.

Rather than forming the network around a clearly-defined purpose and a set of measurable objectives, the network formation process has allowed outcomes to emerge from a process that emphasized cultivating strong trust-based relationships between participants, facilitating the right conversations, and implementing necessary leadership, organizational structures, and decision-making processes as the network evolves.

The result after two years is a cohesive group of committed participants who have overcome historical tensions in the region, are working together more closely to implement shared stewardship projects, and are formulating strategies for improving stewardship throughout the region in ways that no one organization could accomplish alone.

What follows is the story of the network’s first two years — the obstacles that were encountered and overcome, the lessons learned, and the challenges ahead. The study also explains and illustrates the conceptual frameworks that were used to guide the network’s formation.

Read the full case study for the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network here.

View the executive summary of the case study here.

The case study includes the following contents, organized by its Narrative as well as the Frameworks and Tools used throughout the network formation process.


  • Introduction 2
  • The Network’s Origin 4
  • Forming the Network 7
  • Hiring a Network Manager 14
  • Expanding the Network and Going Public 15
  • Continuing to Evolve the Network 23
  • Conclusion 25
  • References 28
  • Acknowledgements 29
  • SCMSN Member Organizations 30

Frameworks and Tools

  • Deliberate and Emergent Aspects of Network Formation 3
  • The Role of Foundations 6
  • The Five Cs Network Formation Framework 8
  • Deliberately Cultivating Trust 10
  • Historical Tensions in the Santa Cruz Mountains 12
  • Measuring Connectivity and Trust 13
  • The Network Manager Skillset 14
  • Balancing Self-Interest and Shared Interest 18
  • Network Structure 20
  • Evaluating Networks 22
  • The Importance of Trust 24



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David Ehrlichman

David Ehrlichman

Author of Impact Networks. Catalyst & coordinator of Converge (converge.net). Writing about the way we work together and how it can be different.