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High Reliability Knowledge Networks: Responding to Animal Diseases in a Pastoral Area of Northern Kenya


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How can reliability be generated and sustained in the face of uncertainty? This question is explored by examining knowledge networks among pastoralists and others in northern Kenya, emerging in response to a highly variable animal disease setting. Using quantitative and qualitative social network analysis, intersecting locally-embedded, development project and political networks are identified. Drawing on high-reliability theory, as applied to critical infrastructures, the paper explores the key characteristics of the knowledge networks in relation to systems, knowledges, relationships, technologies, professionals and politics. Reliability – the ability to provide stable services and respond variability in real-time – is shown to be related to the networked capacity to mobilise knowledge to confront uncertainty and avoid ignorance, with certain high-reliability professionals central. The locally-embedded network in particular has important characteristics of a high reliability knowledge network, but key brokers link to the development project and political network. Development challenges often require addressing uncertainty and even ignorance and lessons from high-reliability approaches can be crucial.
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High Reliability Knowledge Networks: Responding
to Animal Diseases in a Pastoral Area of Northern
Alex Tasker & Ian Scoones
To cite this article: Alex Tasker & Ian Scoones (2022): High Reliability Knowledge Networks:
Responding to Animal Diseases in a Pastoral Area of Northern Kenya, The Journal of Development
Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2021.2013469
To link to this article:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
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Published online: 10 Jan 2022.
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High Reliability Knowledge Networks:
Responding to Animal Diseases in a Pastoral Area
of Northern Kenya
*Anthropology Department, University College London, London, UK, **PASTRES Programme, Institute of Development
Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, UK
(Original version submitted March 2021; final version accepted November 2021)
ABSTRACT How can reliability be generated and sustained in the face of uncertainty? This question is explored by
examining knowledge networks among pastoralists and others in northern Kenya, emerging in response to a highly
variable animal disease setting. Using quantitative and qualitative social network analysis, intersecting locally-
embedded, development project and political networks are identified. Drawing on high-reliability theory, as applied
to critical infrastructures, the paper explores the key characteristics of the knowledge networks in relation to systems,
knowledges, relationships, technologies, professionals and politics. Reliability – the ability to provide stable services
and respond variability in real-time – is shown to be related to the networked capacity to mobilise knowledge to
confront uncertainty and avoid ignorance, with certain high-reliability professionals central. The locally-embedded
network in particular has important characteristics of a high reliability knowledge network, but key brokers link to
the development project and political network. Development challenges often require addressing uncertainty and
even ignorance and lessons from high-reliability approaches can be crucial.
KEYWORDS: High reliability; social network analysis; uncertainty; pastoralism; Kenya
1. Introduction
How to generate reliable outcomes when things are so uncertain? This is a question asked by many,
whether around natural disasters, climate change or disease pandemics. Pastoralists in remote regions
face multiple uncertainties and sources of ignorance when confronting animal disease outbreaks.
Focusing on pastoralists in northern Kenya, we demonstrate how these communities mobilise knowl-
edge networks to generate reliability and stable outcomes.
In this paper, we use the idea of ‘high reliability’ more commonly applied in organisational theory
to ‘critical infrastructures’, such as power stations, electricity grids and air traffic control (Roe &
Schulman, 2012; Schulman & Roe, 2016). These settings seek to avoid catastrophic failures and
manage high input variability. These systems demonstrate the continued presence of uncertainty –
where the probabilities of particular outcomes are unpredictable and unknown, and ignorance – where
we don’t know what we don’t know (Scoones, 2019). This requires a set of processes and practices –
Correspondence Address: Alex Tasker, UCL Department of Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW, UK.
Supplementary Materials are available for this article which can be accessed via the online version of this journal available at
The Journal of Development Studies, 2021
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecom, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
termed ‘operational modalities’ in critical infrastructure literature – to reduce high input variance,
stabilising output variance to ensure reliable service delivery: the lights stay on, the nuclear power
station does not melt down, and planes land safely.
Pastoralism can also be thought of as a ‘critical infrastructure’ (Roe, 2020). Through practices such
as mobile herding, fodder provision, and disease control the highly variable, non-equilibrium
environments that characterise pastoral areas are managed to ensure that a stable flow of livestock
services and products continue to support livelihoods (Roe, Huntsinger, & Labnow, 1998). High input
variance includes environmental variables such as rain or snowfall, and so availability of grass and
water, but also economic, social and other livelihood factors. Uncertainties dominate pastoralists’
lives, and are seen by these communities not as hazards to be avoided, adapted to or coped with, but
to be embraced and even lived off (Krätli & Schareika, 2010).
Living with and from uncertainty requires mobilising different sources of knowledge, including
knowledge about possible futures even if unpredictable. It also requires knowledge about
immediate day-to-day and seasonal changes affecting capacities to manage livestock under uncertain
conditions, whether the state of natural resources or the effects of insecurity and conflict in an area.
This knowledge gathering and sense-making for action requires high reliability knowledge networks,
rooted in relations among diverse people. In this article, we focus on how pastoralists mobilise
knowledge networks to confront uncertainties around livestock disease.
We ask, to what extent do different networks generate reliability (low output variance in the face of
high input variance) and what features of these networks enhance this? Focusing on one challenge
and a limited set of networks allows us to probe the form and function of networks used by
pastoralists in a particular setting. As we discuss at the end of the paper, animal disease challenges
sit alongside many others; we acknowledge that the networks we explore here are a sub-set of a much
wider array of networks and relations constructed to embrace the inevitable uncertainties and avoid
the dangers of outright ignorance.
We argue that insights into the form and composition of pastoralist knowledge networks that generate
reliability have wider implications for development. Standard development practices often ignore
uncertainty, undermining capacities to respond to increasingly common highly turbulent, high-variance
settings across a range of domains. We suggest a high reliability framing, and insights on knowledge
networks are relevant to wider conversations around responding to a world dominated by uncertainties.
1.1. High reliability and pastoralism
Organisational and policy analysts working on high reliability management in critical infrastructures
characterise high reliability behaviour as the creation of predictability from the unpredictable
(Laporte & Consolini, 1991; Rochlin, 1993, 1996). Suggested characteristics of high reliability
organisations include systematic learning from experience, the ability to identify wider patterns and
scenarios, and linking wider systems understanding with real-time practice (Roe et al., 1998).
Organisations that are able to foster adaptive learning, reflective experimentation and situational
awareness are more effective at managing turbulence, while effective organisational features include
redundancy, modularity and flexible scenarios.
Central to the search for reliability are ‘reliability professionals’. These are people, usually
connected through informal networks, who enhance reliability and ensure the supply of stable
services. Transforming high-input variance through a range of processes to low output variance
requires a range of capabilities, strategies and options. One process is to scan the horizon for
possible dangers by modelling possible scenarios and exploring diverse options through testing
and focused experimentation. Another is to keep track of ground-level events as they unfold,
creating localised scenarios about what might happen and thinking ahead to the next step.
Crucially, high reliability professionals can track between these domains, continuously shifting the
scope and focus, translating diverse sources of formal, experiential and tacit knowledge into action
to ensure service supply.
2A. Tasker & I. Scoones
Relationships and networks are key. High reliability in an electricity supply system might involve
those in the control room, along with IT specialists, equipment suppliers, business continuity
consultants, regulators and others connected through formal and informal relationships built on
trust, communication and learning. Whilst protocols, regulations and rules are necessary, the shared,
real-time knowledge and learning occurring rapidly as situations unfold is often more necessary.
These high reliability professionals are often not recognised or rewarded for these roles, yet they are
vital for safe, reliable system functioning.
Studies of networks in high reliability management of critical infrastructures (e.g. Berthod, Grothe-
Hammer, Müller-Seitz, Raab, & Sydow, 2017) have rarely systematically analysed the knowledge
dimensions of such relationships (although, see Baker, Day, & Salas, 2006; Carroll & Rudolph, 2006).
While high reliability theory has been applied to pastoral settings (e.g. Roe, 2020; Roe et al., 1998), the
nature of networks and the role of knowledge in generating reliability has not been explored.
Studies of pastoralism have long recognised the importance of variability in the management of
livestock (Behnke, Scoones, & Kerven, 1993; Krätli et al., 2016). These studies highlight the
significance of sudden shocks and slower onset disasters resulting from droughts, conflicts or market
volatility (Mcpeak, Little, & Doss, 2012). The implications of these drivers for livelihood resilience
and sustainability, social differentiation and inequalities have also been widely explored (e.g. Catley,
Lind, & Scoones, 2013; Lind, Sabates-Wheeler, Caravani, Kuol, & Nightingale, 2020; Scoones et al.,
2020). In this extensive literature, a detailed focus on knowledge mobilisation across networks to
confront major challenges such as livestock disease are rarely addressed (although, see Homann,
Rischkowsky, Steinbach, Kirk, & Mathias, 2008).
Research on knowledge networks in development studies has historically focused on the macro-level,
analysing networks among national and international organisations (Maxwell & Stone, 2007). Studies of
policy processes have explored how narratives storylines about policy problems and solutions are
constructed and shared between actors within networks (Keeley & Scoones, 2003), but such research does
not typically delve into the details of knowledge exchanges, nor develop a quantitative analysis of such
relationships. Studies of development practice frequently uses the metaphor of networks to explain how
actors relate to each other and how particular brokers, intermediaries and gatekeepers operate, for
example in the implementation processes of aid programmes (Lewis & Mosse, 2006). Yet again, such
approaches offer only broad, qualitative insights into such relationships and the actors involved.
Researchers have however adapted quantitative social network analysis methodologies to more localised
contexts to address a wide range of subjects (see, for example, Bouwer, Pasquini, & Baudoin, 2021;
Chaudhuri, Roy, Mcdonald, & Emendack, 2021), including livestock disease in pastoral areas (Tasker,
2020). Network approaches provide powerful tools to examine the complexity of pastoral settings, but the
intersecting and multi-layered nature of networks is often a barrier to this type of research. The analysis of
multiplex networks – those with multiple relationships between the same actors – provides a more
detailed and realistic picture of social realities (Hanneman & Riddle, 2005), but require significant efforts
on behalf of the researcher to identify and capture relationships.
In this study, we explore multiplex networks in a pastoral area, drawing on social network analysis
but bringing this firmly into a development context. We aim to understand how knowledge is mobilised
to address animal disease challenges in northern Kenya. In particular, we highlight the importance of
overlapping networks – and key individuals within them – as the basis for generating high reliability.
2. Study area and methods
We explore these questions among the Gabra pastoralist community of North Horr, 200 km north-
west of Marsabit town, the administrative capital of Marsabit County (Figure 1). This is an extremely
dry region, with an average annual rainfall of 150 mm
and pastoralism – extensive livestock keeping
using a mix of camels, cattle, sheep and goats is the dominant form of production accounting for
80 per cent of livelihoods in the County.
High reliability knowledge networks 3
Animal health is a major impediment to pastoral production. Recent studies have identified Peste
des Petit ruminants (PPR), contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCP), sheep- and goat pox, tick-
borne diseases, helminthosis and pneumonia as key diseases of smallstock (Abdilatif, Onono, &
Mutua, 2018), and trypanosomiasis, brucellosis, mastitis, diarrhoeas, worm infestations, camel pox
and tuberculosis in camel populations (Lamuka, Njeruh, Gitao, & Abey, 2017). In 2019, the Marsabit
County census estimated the population at 459,785 people,
215,234 camels 744,474 goats, 627,832
and in 2009, 28,162 cattle.
Many Gabra pastoralists have diversified livelihood species and
now mix sedentary and mobile livestock strategies (Watson et al., 2016) in combination with
diversified livelihood activities including trading, waged employment, and farming (Little, Smith,
Cellarius, Coppock, & Barrett, 2001).
Pastoralists’ deep knowledge of animal health and disease spans multiple generations, and is
embedded in cultural relations and practices (Waller & Homewood, 1997). Today such knowledges
intersect with other sources of understanding and expertise, coming from state actors as well projects
supported by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In Marsabit, the droughts of the 1970s and
Figure 1. Map of study site.
4A. Tasker & I. Scoones
1980s led to a marked increase in the number of relief and development agencies operating in
pastoral areas of Kenya over the following decades (Fratkin & Roth, 2005). A range of externally-
funded projects has provided access to alternative networks of animal health knowledge and
resources, often in the absence of state-supported veterinary services, which were further reshaped
by the contraction of state support due to structural adjustment economic reforms. As in other
farming settings, herders had to respond to an evolving knowledge context by integrating different
sources of knowledge, often creating hybrid forms, linking ‘scientific’ and ‘indigenous’ knowledges
(Agrawal, 1995; Scoones & Thompson, 1994). This resulted in the emergence of diverse hybrid
knowledge networks, involving a number of brokers and knowledge intermediaries (see Mosse, 2001
for further discussion).
In this study we ask, how do such sources of knowledge intersect around responses to animal
diseases and who are the key actors? We focus on animal health and disease for analytical tractability,
but we could have examined livestock water provision, marketing, fodder management, herding
labour, off-farm income earning, or any other aspect of pastoral systems and wider development. The
study employed a mixed qualitative and quantitative comparative social network analysis (SNA) and
used the framework proposed by Herz, Peters, and Truschkat (2014) for qualitative structural analysis
(QSA). QSA approaches enable contextual understanding of knowledge exchanges through deeper
evaluations of meaning and content than solely quantitative SNA approaches (Crossley, 2010). The
quantitative assessment used as of betweenness and degree centralities as indices of actor position
within the network. Degree centrality describes the number of connections between an individual and
others, whereas betweenness measures the number of paths across the network through which each
actor may exert influence. These metrics are helpful for identifying individuals who may occupy key
positions within a network (Hage & Harary, 1995)
The study was conducted during 2016 as part of a larger project examining knowledge networks
(Tasker, 2018). Data collection was conducted through exploratory interviewing and mapping; initial
findings were reviewed iteratively against existing research and local sense-checking with commu-
nity collaborators and pastoralists. Snowball sampling was used to expand the studied networks, with
network boundaries established through discussion with informants. Following open-ended question-
ing, semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand the type and direction of animal health
knowledge exchanged, the nature of relationships and the context and motivation for exchanges. In
total 113 relationships were recorded between 24 actors. These were 11 pastoralists, the Animal
Health Assistant (AHA), an ex-Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW), The Community
Disease Reporter (CDR), two agro-vet dealers, the chilres’, the District Veterinary Officer (DVO),
the County and Director of Veterinary Services (DVS), the North Horr Chief and Head of Police and
VSF North Horr and Nairobi. Network plots in Excel and Gephi were presented to participants for
feedback and verification interview transcripts were then analysed using thematic analysis, while the
accuracy and relevance of the characterisations were further investigated through open-ended inter-
views with fourteen key informants from the overall network.
The overall network provides a topographical perspective on all connections, and within this sub-
networks can be identified, each potentially reflecting shared social norms within the wider knowl-
edge network (Millar & Choi, 2009). After the overall network had been mapped, a modularity-class
algorithm (Muff, Rao, & Caflisch, 2005) was used to suggest sub-networks from their structural
features, including proximity of members and number of inter- and intra-connected relationships, and
these were reviewed against qualitative interview data. Three sub-networks were identified:
Locally-embedded: local knowledge exchanges between pastoralists and service providers invol-
ving a number key brokers;
Development project: exchanges around a development project, a NGO-led PDS (Participatory
Disease Surveillance) programme
; and
Political: A smaller network used to engage with external political systems.
High reliability knowledge networks 5
Limitations of the study should be highlighted. The networks identified included a majority of adult
male herders, and gender- and age-specific networks were excluded, although ethnographic studies
demonstrated their importance for some challenges (see below; Tasker, 2018). Within populations,
relationships and networks exist in parallel across and within levels (Bolíbar, 2016), intersecting and
reshaping one another in ways that may remain hidden or latent. Casual or contingent interactions may
not be recalled in the analysis, but are nevertheless crucial. This study focused on livestock health
networks only, but all these networks are necessarily situated within a much wider set of relationships,
which can be drawn upon in addressing wider uncertainty and generating wider reliability.
2.1. Livestock disease generates high input variance for the pastoral system
Alongside other sources of variability, livestock diseases are an important source of uncertainty for
pastoralists, with a number of different diseases having major impacts on livestock production (see table
1: ‘Disease incidence in Marsabit district showing high input variability’ in additional materials).
Diseases are often seasonal, increasing in the rainy season for those transmitted through particular
vectors or water. Some diseases are endemic and continuously present in the population, resulting in on-
going disease impacts, while others are epidemic outbreaks, sometimes only after long periods such as
Rift Valley Fever, when heavy rainfall (associated with El Niño climate events) results in the emergence
of dormant mosquitoes in low-lying areas and the transmission of the disease.
Different diseases have different effects: some result in chronic conditions resulting in higher
morbidity and lower milk production and calving/kidding rates, while others can result in significant
mortality, especially of vulnerable breeding and young stock. Differing patterns of livestock owner-
ship result in different consequences of diseases; large animals and large herds may respond
differently to those with few goats or sheep. Pastoralists therefore respond to high levels of disease
variability, in a wide variety of ways.
Government veterinary services recognise the threat of livestock diseases on production, but struggle
to address these challenges due to under-resourcing of state services and a lack of support for private
alternatives (Leyland, Lotira, Abebe, Bekele, & Catley, 2014). Gaps left by insufficient state and private
sector veterinary coverage have driven searches for alternative animal health services and provision.
NGO-supported community animal health workers (CAHWs) have been an important intervention,
although non-accredited, local provision has been resisted by state veterinary services in Kenya (Catley
et al., 2004; Sikana, Bazeley, Kariuki, & Fre, 1992). However, pastoralists who engage with CAHWs
can limit the impacts of disease and improve their production levels (Allport, Mosha, Bahari, Swai, &
Catley, 2005). Many pastoralists also engage with the ‘Duka model’, purchasing therapeutics through
general stockists or informal channels (Mugunieri, Omiti, & Irungu, 2002).
Alongside external animal health options, pastoralists make use of local, specialised knowledge
networks. Detailed taxonomic classifications and nuanced veterinary knowledge are interwoven with
other knowledge around rangelands, climate risks and markets (Liao, Ruelle, & Kassam, 2016).
Access to knowledge is highly differentiated – for example by age, gender or wealth – and individual
herders must negotiate plural networks by drawing from a range of sources, access to which may
depend upon their position and power.
In sum, disease incidence shows high levels of input variability, with potentially major impacts on
morbidity and mortality of livestock. To respond, pastoralists must mobilise knowledge from
different sources across different networks. Those most able to navigate these complex relationships
can enhance reliability, defined as the continuous provision of critical services, and so reduce impacts
on livestock and improve livelihoods. Pastoralists are capable of piloting a complex technical
system – livestock – through periods of high variability and uncertainty using, as we shall see,
a variety of networks. The next section explores the three contrasting knowledge networks we
identified in this study.
6A. Tasker & I. Scoones
3. Results
3.1. Three knowledge networks: what generates and sustains reliability?
Our first step was to map all 113 knowledge exchanges across the overall network of 24 actors based
on the coded interview data. As discussed earlier, three sub-networks were identified within the
overall network (Figure 2).
The next sections explore the three sub-networks. In each section, we present the quantitative
analysis and network centrality measures before moving to in-depth qualitative analysis.
A complete table of network calculations is available in additional materials under ‘table 2: network
3.1.1. Network 1: the locally-embedded network. Figure 3 maps the ‘locally-embedded network’
based on a quantitative analysis of knowledge exchanges. In this graph, and others that follow, node
size is proportional to the betweenness centrality, while degree centrality is represented by the
number of connections. This network contained 81 relationships between 19 actors and is charac-
terised by the use of local livestock health and disease knowledge. In terms of measures of centrality,
the core network actors were the CAHW (degree (d) = 22, betweenness (b) = 97.2), agro-
Figure 2. Overall network, with three sub-networks.
Legend: Locally-embedded sub-network, Development Sub-network, Political sub-network
High reliability knowledge networks 7
1 (d = 18, b = 53.8) and 2 (d = 12, b = 7) and the AHA (d = 16, b = 34.7). Full network
values are given in the supplemental materials.
Knowledge exchanges, according to informants, follow a real-time, open format, emphasising
group engagement and sharing. One pastoralist suggested:
You see a herder doing something new, or hear daimtu (knowledge exchange) that a disease may
be treated differently, and you will think of this. When you are with your friends you will talk of
the new thing, and they will also have heard or you will tell them. You may send word to friends
who know, or telephone a different manyatta (settlement), or ask an elder who is knowledgeable
of these things. Then you decide if it is right for you, your household. And you may try it, but
always you will talk of how it is, how it was. (Pastoralist 2)
Pastoralists describe how their own knowledge exchanges differed at collective and individual levels:
Many things change, but this is our culture, and we may do what we need and want. If someone
comes to our community and he is doing something different, we will come and see. We will
ask. We will talk to others who know about his things and see if it is for us. If it is good or bad,
the Gabra will talk. If it is good, herders may choose it; even if it is bad some may choose it still
but do it differently, in his way. Like medicines for sick camels you will talk to those who
know, and choose to use them if you can find them and can pay. (Pastoralist 85)
Such processes of ‘co-construction’, where epistemic and normative orders emerge together,
highlight how knowledge and action are intertwined in this network, with pastoralists seeking
Figure 3. Locally-embedded network.
8A. Tasker & I. Scoones
and giving help on very practical issues. The type of challenges identified in knowledge exchanges
varied widely from sources of feed and fodder, to market prices, to disease outbreaks and the loss
of animals through accident or illness, to upcoming NGO vaccination schemes. Exchanges around
animal health therefore did not focus only on the supply of drugs or vaccines, but included
discussions around local treatments, the movement of livestock, the deployment of herding labour
to improve nutrition and so health, the specialist care for sick animals or the splitting of herds to
reduce vulnerabilities of particular animals to disease effects through quarantining practices. These
exchanges were often multi-layered and cross-referenced. By way of example, when discussing
the health of camels for marriage dowry, herders would also consider emerging ‘mystery’
respiratory diseases, alongside anticipated sale prices in the United Arab Emirates for the next
Particular individuals are especially central to this network. Their positions enable them to
influence the flows and content of knowledge exchange within and outside of the network. The
role of the chilres within this network is an example. Often mistranslated as a ‘livestock expert’ or
‘traditional healer’, the role of the chilres is better characterised as a broker and gatekeeper to
different sources of knowledge on animal health and disease within what we are calling here the
locally-embedded network. Pastoralists describe the chilres as a collator of knowledge on treatment
approaches using cultural channels and local technologies to advise, or to direct individuals to
alternative sources of knowledge or resources. For instance, in exchanges recorded during the
network mapping, the chilres discussed treatment approaches used by non-Gabra herders such as
the Boran, Turkana and Samburu for Rinderpest and Foot-and-Mouth disease. The format of these
conversations was central: discussions were broad and discursive, often involving the telling of
stories and relaying of anecdotes. The information sharing acted to inform and contextualise herder
decisions rather than aim for any kind of consensus. This was a stark difference to the advice from
the veterinary department or NGO actors where information was framed in terms of singular,
technical recommendations and presented in a one-way exchange, rather than emerging through
a more open discussion. When asked about his choice of livestock advice, a young herder contrasted
the chilres and NGO employees:
I know him (the chilres) well, he is a good man, a clever man. He and I talk about many things,
he knows about animals very much; but also about families, women and children. And school-
ing. You may ask him many things that he can tell you . . . . . . When you go (the NGO), you
cannot say my animal has this or this, you must ask them only to help you. Then they will tell
you ‘I have this or this’, you can ask them for their knowledge, but they follow the programme
that they have. If they are digging wells, then you have water. If they are vaccinating, then that is
what you will have. (Pastoralist 7)
The chilres maintained his role as a cultural knowledge broker through experience and embedded
networks within local society. A key relationship was with the Animal Health Assistant (AHA) – also
a local Gabra herder who was employed by the state as a subordinate of the (non-Gabra) DVO
and CVO.
The AHA was a central contact that enabled the chilres and, by extension, the wider Gabra
community to gain access to networks of veterinary science and state livestock health resources.
Thanks to his involvement in the locally-embedded network, the AHA was adept at bridging cultural
and hierarchical barriers. He combined his positions as a livestock-owning male Gabra with being
technologically literate and occupying a government position, and so having accredited legitimacy.
This permitted privileged entry into other knowledge domains and, like the chilres, he acted as an
important broker and intermediary:
You cannot sit with (the NGO) people, you cannot talk with them as we (the Gabra) talk. He (the
AHA) sits every night, he herds his animals, he is at weddings and he will be with us when it
High reliability knowledge networks 9
rains and when it does not. But he is clever and he has a good job, a job that means he can talk to
NGO, to government. He can make them hear us and can tell us what they say, and what they do
not say. What is good for him is good for us. (Pastoralist 4)
The bridging ability of the AHA was also understood by actors in the government veterinary service.
When interviewed, the DVO stressed the hierarchical difference between him and the AHA, but
acknowledged the increased access the AHA’s embedded position granted – particularly around
disease surveillance:
Of course he (the AHA) knows much, but he has not had the training (that I have) . . . . . . he (the
AHA) knows the community well, they are his tribe, his family. When there are problems that
are difficult for me to solve, then he will often know what the community are doing to address
them. When an outbreak happens, he will know before I am told. (DVO)
The AHA’s position also enabled localised experimentation and adaptation. Under the PDS scheme,
the DVO was required to provide confirmatory diagnosis of livestock disease; there were, however,
no resources for treatment following diagnoses. Responding to the shortfall, the AHA engaged local
treatment providers to accompany the DVO on field visits, facilitated by NGO vehicles. The
navigation of intersections between government, NGO and locally-embedded networks exemplifies
many of the features of high reliability systems of service provision, enabled by the AHA’s multiple
Most pastoralists, however, lacked the contacts to engage an NGO as a first step. Instead, many
herders would approach the ex-Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) who, despite having
been formally removed from state services, retained a wide range of contacts. Describing the
CAHW’s role, one herder noted:
The CAHW knows the animals and the government well, he has many friends and people who
he knows and work with. He is a good man for North Horr as they (the government) will know
us and our problems. He may not have the same vehicle as before, but he is still a powerful
person for us and for them (government). (Pastoralist 4)
This characterisation of CAHWs as ‘good’ and ‘powerful’ highlights the wide recognition of the
value of external expertise, but also the need to have local contacts embedded in wider networks to
secure and provide access. The bridging of networks by the CAHW (together with the chilres and
AHA) also serves to reinforce their position across multiple networks, both local and beyond,
allowing for a diversity of sources of knowledge to be drawn up in local responses to animal health
challenges. In many cases, the capacities of bridging individuals are enhanced through linguistic
expertise. The way in which the CAHW was able to navigate skilfully between Oromo, Kiswahili and
English echoes observations by Mahmoud (2008) on the importance of multi-lingual dilaal, or ‘go-
betweens’, for traders in nearby Moyale.
Today, all these exchanges are facilitated by the use of mobile phones. Despite limited network
coverage in the district (Parlasca, Mußhoff, & Qaim, 2020), connectivity continues to increase
substantially in the last decade, shifting the nature and speed of knowledge exchange. With
Whatsapp, the possibility of discussions across groups increases, and exchanges can be less uni-
directional and more in the form of wide exchange and discussion. Even so, the key roles of the
core actors in the network remains, as their advice and suggestions are deferred to. A herder
He (the agro-veterinarian) is a good man, we talk often. He knows many things about new drugs
and treatments, and he helps very much. Now we are talking on WhatsApp when there are
10 A. Tasker & I. Scoones
bigger things . . . . . . in this group he knows many things, he can help very much. If you need to
know how to get blood tests, he can talk to friends and give you help. (Pastoralist 32)
While the AHA and CAHW showed high levels of betweenness and degree centrality in the
quantitative mapping, this was not the case for the chilres. However, despite there being fewer
recorded direct connections in knowledge exchanges, his role – especially together with the AHA – is
clearly crucial in this network. As the CAHW mentioned:
The Gabra are always learning, and always changing. This is important, very important. We
learn through talking inside and outside (the community). Men like the chilres they know so
many things about my family and our lives, but also the Somali and Borana. They talk more and
listen more and hear more and can tell what they know. A man he will say ‘my uncle has a sick
goat’ The chilres knew a Somali who had sick goats like this and he showed how he must treat
them’. This is very different to me (the CAHW). I would tell them the drugs, I would say the
ways in which they must treat the sickness. But the chilres, he will be able to find those who
have seen this before maybe even me! (CAHW)
These multiple network relationships and positionalities, and the ability to move between different
knowledge domains, illustrates the fundamental importance of the chilres, AHA and CAHW in this
locally-embedded network. As those able to scan wider sources of knowledge from other pastoral
areas or from formal veterinary science – and connect these to the day-to-day realities of pastoral
production systems through processes of learning, local experimentation and social and technical
innovation, they are quintessential high reliability professionals. They are able to bridge and connect
networks and respond to challenges as they arise in real-time and communicating widely across the
community. By being reliable in real-time, right now when it matters, this locally-embedded network
is able to maintain longer-term relationships, building ongoing, two-way exchanges that develop
relationships over time. Embedding these exchanges of knowledges in vernacular forms – story-
telling, using local terminologies, linking to cultural metaphors and well-known sayings, songs and
poems (Tablino, 1999) also enables exchange to occur easily and rapidly, including sharing across
and between ethnicities and cultural groups (Schlee, 1989). That the exchange is two-way means that
learning occurs, and responsiveness to rapidly unfolding situations is possible.
Despite the effectiveness of this network in generating reliability in the face of highly variable animal
disease contexts, reliability is generated selectively. Unequal power structures within pastoral societies
mean that, despite the claims, not everyone can benefit from the locally-embedded high reliability
network. Connections are built on Gabra solidarities, and so those from other ethnic groups are excluded.
Clan and kin loyalties affect some relationships, although the key high reliability professionals have
a wide reach. Those able to make additional, direct connections with veterinary officials and NGOs tend
to be the more powerful and wealthy male pastoralists, who are able to travel to town, having mobile
phone credit to get in touch with people or having transport to bring an officer to a herd or flock.
This network is therefore formed around a set of (usually) older, male pastoralists and the issues
addressed very much focus on their concerns. These include the health of larger more mobile
stock under the management of male pastoralists, rather than the management of smallstock at
homesteads, and issues around milking and the care of young animals, which tends to be the
domain of women (Mcpeak & Doss, 2006). While there are undoubtedly other networks asso-
ciated with these challenges and involving mostly women, the way such networks connect and
their power and influence within local society shows how knowledge networks and the construc-
tion of reliability is inevitably a complex process, affected by power relations and patterns of
differentiation locally.
3.1.2. Network 2: the development project network. The ‘development project network’ contained
25 relationships between 11 actors, and was focused on a joint NGO-Government livestock health
High reliability knowledge networks 11
reporting project, the Participatory Disease Surveillance (PDS) programme (Figure 4). In terms of
measures of centrality, the core network actors were the CDR (d = 16, b = 65), the VSF lead in North
Horr (d = 8, b = 17), and two representatives of state veterinary services, the DVO (d = 7, b = 9) and
AHA (d = 6, b = 0).
In North Horr, the training for the CDRs focused on reporting ‘notifiable diseases and those
of economic importance’ to District and County Veterinary Officers (Kimondiu, Duehnen, &
Buono, 2016). The programme was specifically designed to strengthen links between livestock
keepers and government service providers through collaborative investigations and treatment
The PDS programme was generally well received by herders who made use of it and linked with
the project actors, notably the CDRs. In contrast to the locally-embedded network, exchanges were
more formalised and transactional. A prominent herder commented, ‘In the past VSF have provided
many good things; they have medicines and can help us sell animals’ (Pastoralist 5). When pressed,
he elaborated that his involvement in the project was less driven by a need for immediate treatments
and more about establishing and maintaining an ongoing relationship and access to future projects.
When asked about this, an NGO staff member suggested the benefits were ‘an improved awareness
by livestock keepers on disease control and more effective conventional veterinary practices’.
The project is thus founded within an hierarchical relationship of knowledges, and less based on
a process of co-construction and dialogue as in the locally-embedded network. It assumes that the
accredited, veterinary knowledge is the ultimate arbiter and can filter out what is effective and
ineffective local knowledge. As we have discussed, pastoralists do make use of externally-derived
scientific knowledge and value this alongside their own understandings, but their engagement with
this network is selective and largely instrumental.
Figure 4. Development project network.
12 A. Tasker & I. Scoones
That said, the community-based recording of disease incidence has been useful in particular
instances (Catley, 2006). While disease identification and reporting helped mobilise external
support from state veterinary officers, the reporting was upwards through an accredited, formal
body with responsibility assigned by the state. The relationships are derived from state-based
veterinary practice, which allows only formally-qualified veterinarians to be involved in disease
response and treatment. This means that the development project network is narrower, reliant on
a single individual (the CDR), connected to the AHA, the DVO and the project (VSF), and
involving a structured gatekeeping relationship, rather than the facilitator, broker roles seen in
the locally-embedded network. The DVO suggested that, ‘he (the CDR) is my ears in the
community, he can see what is going on. He is trained to report the diseases, the outbreaks, and
we (veterinary service providers) will work out what should be done’. Because of the regula-
tions and protocols there is less flexibility and greater reliance on a single professional within
the network the CDR and a hierarchical relationship with a circumscribed and filtered set of
knowledges. The CDR reflected on his close alignment with the DVO: ‘the (PDS) project is
very good, as it uses the knowledge of the people. We (the CDR and DVO) are able to tell the
government what we need doing, how are animals are sick’.
In terms of high reliability management theory, this network shows fewer of the key features of
scanning across knowledge domains, learning and deliberation, local experimentation and innovation
and flexibility in response compared to the locally-embedded network. However, due to the connec-
tions across networks facilitated by the CAHW/AHA, the reliability features of the locally-embedded
network can feed into this network, even though this is not acknowledged or even recognised by the
project and the state veterinary service.
As in the locally-embedded network, there are exclusions; not only of particular types of local
knowledge deemed unacceptable by the accredited veterinarians, but also of certain actors. The
networks mapped here again involved only men, and those supplying information to the CDR
inevitably focused on the disease challenges that their domain of pastoral management faced.
Those with time and connections – including those investing in these relationships in the hope of
future project support again tended to be men who were richer, large herd owners focused on the
management of large-stock, notably camels.
3.1.3. Network 3: the political network. The ‘political network’ has only five actors and seven
connections, and is linked to the locally-embedded and development project networks through the
Chief, the Head of Police and the DVO. The network also includes actors not in the other two
networks including the Country Veterinary Officer (CVS) and County Director of Veterinary
Services. Although only five actors were mentioned as being directly exchanged with by pastoralists
around animal health issues (and so mapped here), all are conduits to wider networks, including to
local M.P.s, as well as other government actors, business people and diaspora connections. In terms of
measures of centrality, the core network actors were the North Horr Chief (d = 4, b = 4), DVO
(d = 3, b = 4), and CVS (d = 3, b = 3).
While not drawn upon frequently and not seen as central to day-to-day management of
uncertainties, pastoralists pointed to the importance of gaining access to wider sources of
support via key individuals through the political network. For example, the local M.P., who
has been important in directing resources to the area, was connected to WhatsApp groups that
included the Chief and/or the DVO. This forum in turn afforded members access to an elite
Gabra diaspora spanning from the USA to Asia. The DVO suggested that the group was
‘supporting the Gabra who wish to make more, go further, so they can continue helping our
Connections to the political network helped in pushing government officials, including the
veterinary service, to respond. These wider connections are important for generating reliability.
Mobilising investments and generating political and funding support to the area helps more widely
to reduce vulnerabilities, enhancing the capacity to respond to uncertainties. Such support may come
High reliability knowledge networks 13
in the form of investment (in infrastructure for example), in direct cash support to those struggling
(through social protection programmes) and through expertise (from specialist research). Political
connections are important too when disasters strike. For example, when many smallstock owned by
local herders were injured in a truck accident, herders contacted the Chief, who was charged with
finding a political contact to apply pressure to the Marsabit police department so that compensation
would be provided.
As Figure 5 shows, the political network overlaps with the two other networks and members of
the locally-embedded network were very aware of the political network. However, brokers, such
as the Chief, were required to gain access to political connections. Exchanges with the political
network involved individual approaches by particular pastoralists on certain issues, as well as
more collective lobbying around local challenges. Here particular pastoral elders with standing in
the community become important, as they carry with them credibility amongst locals and the
ability to reach out to politicians and more senior government officials. In this way, the day-to-
day functioning of the larger locally-embedded network is linked to the narrower political
network. Clearly, such relations are not available to everyone, and it is far from guaranteed
that male elders will automatically represent everyone.
Some of these relationships could be cast negatively in terms of clientelism or patronage
relations. However, networked relationships are crucial for boosting reliability in a highly
networked social and political system affecting everyone. While the political network per se
is less about response to immediate disease uncertainties, it is more about supporting the wider
community to reduce vulnerabilities through the channelling of support. In this sense, pastor-
alists argue, such connections, based largely on elite links and kin/clan relations between
particular individuals, contribute to wider system reliability through the boosting of capacities
to respond.
Figure 5. The political network.
14 A. Tasker & I. Scoones
4. Discussion
4.1. Generating reliability: key features of knowledge networks
Looking across the three networks, we can identify six key features of knowledge networks that
contribute (or not) to the generation of reliability in a highly uncertain animal health/disease setting.
Through these framings, processes and practices, high input variance is translated into lower output
variance in the provision of services (in this case through livestock), and so into more resilient
livelihoods. These six features, we argue, are relevant to other contexts where mobilisation of
knowledge across networks is essential for confronting uncertainty and ignorance. Given this is
a common, although often under-played, feature of most development settings, we argue that these
features may have wider relevance.
4.1.1. Systems. The three networks emerge from differing definitions of the systems to be
managed, with implication for how service reliability is generated in the face of uncertainties, as
well as surprises that may emerge suddenly. In the locally-embedded network, a wide bounding of
the system is demonstrated, with the objective being the protecting of livelihoods from disease
shocks. To that end, the system incorporates not only livestock and pathogens but also wider
cultural, social and political features, and relationships that include links to state services and other
ethnic groups.
The development project network by contrast is more narrowly focused. Its objective is to improve
surveillance and disease reporting of a list of known animal diseases through a well-defined system,
involving a specified array of actors through a participatory disease reporting system. The objective
here is to identify and control disease through the intervention of veterinary expertise, focused on
known risks where estimated outcome probabilities can be assessed through information gathering
and analysis. The political network is even more targeted when it comes to specific issues related to
livestock. Network actors are differentially engaged, depending on the issue, and exchanges are
focused on a narrow objective around mobilising knowledge and, especially, resources.
4.1.2. Knowledges. As noted already, there are major contrasts in the sources of knowledge that are
made use of in the different networks. In the locally-embedded network, experiential, tacit knowledge
is combined through cultural frames with externally-derived knowledges in different ways, co-
constructing hybrid forms of real-time knowledge. A sense of seeking out different experiences
and expertise through searching, discussing and evaluating is particularly evident. Knowledge is not
seen as fixed or divisible from action, but is emergent, and linked to action. The focus is on real-time
responses and rapid action in the face of unfolding, uncertain conditions; what we have been calling
high-input variance.
While the development project network explicitly makes use of multiple sources of knowledge,
these are viewed hierarchically with scientific knowledge from credentialed professionals having the
role of filtering and selecting useful knowledge derived from local settings. The focus is on
identifying particular disease risks through a classic form of risk management, where estimated
probabilities are assessed through a surveillance and reporting system. Knowledge is less situated
locally and linked to real-time action, as knowledge must be collected, reported, analysed and acted
upon, largely sequentially and governed by a limited number of defined actors within specified,
hierarchical relationships. There is less of a sense of co-construction, but more one of extraction for
later instrumental use. A similarly hierarchical relationship is evident in the political network, where
knowledge flows uni-directionally from those in power and with resources to pastoralists, via
different brokers and intermediaries.
4.1.3. Relationships. Within and between networks, relationships are the defining element when it
comes to meeting service reliability mandates. Our quantitative analysis highlighted measures of
centrality (direct and betweenness) in each network, and different patterns were observed, with the
High reliability knowledge networks 15
locally-embedded network having a greater number of actors and relationships, and a larger group of
core actors at its centre. These actors can be seen as high reliability professionals, in that they act as
brokers, connectors, facilitators and networkers, and are able to link knowledges on the wider system
(scanning horizons, thinking about next steps ahead) with local, day-to-day contexts. Together, the
chilres, AHA and CAHW show a variety of relational characteristics vital to assuring service
reliability through the network. They are rooted in cultivated, reciprocal relationships and cultural
forms that are widely trusted, and are the result of continuous social investment over time.
The development project network also depends on key relationships, but these are hierarchically
structured within a project frame. As a project, with funding constraints and institutional commit-
ments, it is a time-constrained network less embedded in long-term social relationships, and depen-
dent on external resources. Although there are is overlap in membership with the locally-embedded
network, the social and political nature of relationships is quite different. However, it is the less
visible, unacknowledged connections between the two networks that add to the overall system
reliability. Here the importance of key reliability professionals the AHA and CAHW are under-
scored. The political network has again a hierarchical set of relationships, but links between those
with particular types of knowledge can only be made through access to certain brokers, who are
engaged on a case-by-case basis.
4.1.4. Technologies. Technologies are important in both networks and phones and Whatsapp con-
nections take centre-stage. As one pastoralist noted, ‘Phone credit is better medicine for the camel
than blood tests’. Phones are used in different ways, resulting in different technological ‘affordances’
within the networks. In the locally-embedded network, it is two-way learning and exchange that is
essential and allows for effective, rapid responses. Dialogue and deliberation on emerging challenges
is facilitated by WhatsApp groups, where collective knowledge can be applied. Informal connections
to other networks – notably the political network – help mobilise resources from outside the area, as
well as the ability to draw on wider sources of expertise such as through searching the Internet,
though limited coverage remains a barrier to wider use
In the locally-embedded network, the end point may not only be the delivery of a particular drug or
vaccine, but a wider set of management responses – such as movement, fodder supply, herd splitting
and so on. By contrast, in the development project network, mobile phones are used for transfer of
information within a reporting system. The availability of phones and the wider infrastructure that
makes this possible – ensures disease reporting is rapid and effective. Accredited expertise is in turn
offered to pastoralists essentially in a uni-directional way, with a set of defined animal health
messaging and disease treatments, focusing on drugs and vaccines.
While the development project network’s veterinary response is much appreciated and widely
used, it focuses on generalised risk-based knowledge. A risk is defined through surveillance and
disease reporting and a response results, usually focused around particular disease treatments. By
contrast, engagement with the political network is much more case-specific, whereby phone connec-
tions are key to linking to those in distant and more powerful places. The flow of information is again
uni-directional and situated: specific requests or petitions are made, and specific responses may or
may not follow. In other words, these two networks are less attuned to addressing unfolding and
intersecting uncertainties and wider ignorance around really complete surprises, and so less effective
at generating real-time reliability for a variety of key services related to animal health and diseases.
4.1.5. Professionals. Within the three networks there are strategic individuals, usually with high
degrees of centrality in network measures. They are the individuals who are central to generating
reliability. They connect, bridge and provide knowledge and can act both to scan wider sources of
knowledge and understand the local context, tracking between the two. As people who have lots of
insight tacit and explicit and who have experimented with locally-realistic, alternative
solutions over time, they are innovators who provide the basis for others to follow. In the locally-
embedded network we identified the triad of the chilres, the AHA and CAHW as the high
16 A. Tasker & I. Scoones
reliability professionals, emerging from their relationships in the network. The AHA and CAHW
provide a link to the development project network, and so connections across networks, again
building the capacity for response. In addition to their relational positions in the network, such
individuals have personal characteristics that make them successful in these roles. They have
charisma, a good reputation and are seen as local and so highly trusted. All these qualities add to
their professional expertise in managing uncertainty and responding to surprises. By contrast, the
other two networks are not built around such reliability professionals, although the AHA and the
CAHW are present in the development project network. Instead, those with high centrality (the
CDR and the DVO, for example) act less to mediate knowledge across the network, both scanning
horizons and responding to local change, but are more gatekeepers between different parts of
a network, providing information in a hierarchically-organised relationship.
4.1.6. Politics. As we saw with the political network, connections to politicians and elite actors within
the state helps to galvanise support for the community. While this is less important in the day-to-day
response to uncertainty, it is nevertheless vital to generate support for the community in the form of
investment in infrastructure, for example, as well as the response to particular disasters. In mobilising
wider action across the political network, individuals are again important and the status of ‘elder’ in the
pastoral setting is especially significant in the leverage of political connections and commitment.
In sum, these six features define how pastoralists mobilise knowledge to confront uncertainties around
animal health in this context. A broad definition of the system, the deployment of plural knowledges, the
investment in diverse relationships, the use of technologies to facilitate knowledge exchange and the key
role of particular individuals, with certain professional capacities, in brokering and facilitating across
networks, are all important. And overall, there is a clear recognition that politics matter in mediating
networked relations, both opening up opportunities and closing them down. At one level, such findings
seem obvious, but when we contemplate how development policies are framed and projects are designed
here around animal health in Kenya, but much more broadly too – then we can see how important such
features can be in rethinking development policy and practice more widely.
5. Conclusion
What does the high reliability approach add to our understandings of how pastoralists confront
uncertainties, and especially those generated by animal diseases? After all, we have known for a long
time that pastoralist networks and relationships matter in these production systems, and that these are
based in kinship, cultural and broader political factors and contexts (Scoones et al., 2020). Such
networks and relationships become all the more important as conditions of uncertainty increase. So
what is new here, and if new, why do these insights matter for development, now and in the future?
Necessarily speculative, four sets of insights follow:
5.1. Networks are key to differentiating complex systems
Pastoral systems are complex and the high reliability approach highlights the importance of positions
and relationships in different networks that ensure the continuous provision of key services, espe-
cially under uncertain, turbulent conditions. The three networks discussed here highlight different,
but complementary, roles; although of course there is no presupposition that networks across different
contexts will be the same.
5.2. High reliability professionals are at the centre of these networks
In the high reliability approach, prices, technologies, livestock and other network components are
mediated through the actions of real-time reliability professionals and their networked relationships –
in this case centred on responding to livestock disease, the chilres, AHA and CAHW. If we had
High reliability knowledge networks 17
focused how reliability is generated in other areas of pastoral production, other networks of reliability
professional could be identified. For instance, ‘scouts’ – often on motorbikes and using mobile
phones – have an important role in assessing grazing and water availability, including the impact of
insecurity, before livestock are moved. While such professionals may hold often exclusive and highly
gendered positions in local society, the relationships that they are the centre of are key to generating
reliability, and everyone benefits from the provision of stable livestock services and outputs.
5.3. Network knowledge is unique in the complex system
The knowledge of networked professionals for ensuring real-time service provision under difficult
conditions consists of skills, expertise and situational awareness rooted in their networks and their
relationships. To label this knowledge as ‘indigenous ecological knowledge’, ‘traditional local
knowledge’ or ‘ethno-veterinary knowledge’ does not go far enough to capture the networked
professionalism spanning the three networks identified; a feature present, we suspect, in other
pastoral systems and development contexts as well.
5.4. High reliability networks have a major, but under-acknowledged, role in and for politics
Political relationships, both formal and informal, are central to pastoral settings, affecting the power
relations central to network functioning. That said, the high reliability approach demonstrates
a complexity that is more granular. For example, one reason why the political network here was
smaller and more case-specific might be because the other two networks provide the infrastructure
that is needed so that the political network can be drawn upon as and when required.
Reliability therefore can be seen as the networked capacity to mobilise knowledge to confront
uncertainty and avoid ignorance. Our analysis suggests that the approach pursued in this article
connecting high reliability management approaches with social network analysis – can have wider
relevance for development.
First, our findings suggest a new way of thinking that puts uncertainty – and in turn reliability – at
the centre of analysis and action for development. Second, there are methodological implications that
highlight the need to go beyond snap-shot survey assessments to look at relationships within
networks in order to explore complex development settings. Third, there is a need to recognise the
roles of particular individuals – here identified as ‘reliability professionals’ – within development
practice, and the importance of supporting their roles and capacities in addressing inevitable
uncertainties and sources of ignorance. Fourth, networks – formal and informal, temporary and
more permanent always overlap and intersect, and effective action emerges from this interaction.
This has implications for project design, for example, seeing ‘the project’ not as a stand-alone
network, but inevitably integrated into local, more embedded networks of knowledge and practice,
as in the case here. And finally, our findings confirm that both the constitution of networks and their
functioning is highly contingent on politics, including in how relationships are constructed, how
individual high reliability professionals operate and how knowledge and in turn action to respond is
mobilised under conditions of uncertainty.
Given the significance of uncertainty and ignorance in development challenges – in everything
from responses to pandemic diseases to infrastructure development to humanitarian and disaster
responses to addressing climate change – greater attention to knowledge networks as routes to
assuring high reliability in development could pay real dividends.
18 A. Tasker & I. Scoones
4. 2009 represents the most recent whole-county cattle data available.
5. The PDS project was implemented by Veterinaires Sans Frontieres Germany (VSF-G), using a form of ‘participatory
epidemiology’ led by a Community Disease Reporter (CDR).
6. The agro-veterinarian is a locally-recognised role that includes the provision of livestock advice, and the sale of medicines
and feedstuffs.
AT undertook the field research and quantitative network analysis with funding from the Uk
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/J500173/1). The data that supports the findings is
available on request from the author; this data is not publicly available due to participant statements
of consent for sharing. Fieldwork was supported by Vétérinaires sans Frontìeres Germany (VSFG)
and research assistants, Abdoub Guyyoo, Yarra Adano, Solomon Oba and Martha Galgalo. The
network analysis and writing of this paper undertaken both by AT and IS, and was stimulated by
interactions with Emery Roe over many years. The writing and publication of the article was
supported by the ESRC STEPS Centre (, Grant: ES/R000158/1) and the European
Research Council Advanced Grant to the PASTRES programme (, Grant: 740342).
This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/J500173/1,ES/R000158/
1]; European Research Council Advanced Grant [740342].
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Alex Tasker
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High reliability knowledge networks 21
... These knowledge-brokering and real-time management practices involve drawing on social networks-among kin, clan and other relationships-making use of the ubiquitous mobile phone, and if not, sending out messengers on motorbikes into the rangelands to garner information. Pastoralists therefore must both continuously scan the horizon for future threats and understand the realities on the ground in real-time in order to manage mobilities (Tasker & Scoones, 2022;cf. Roe et al., 1998). ...
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Today there is a disjuncture between migration flows that are complex, mixed and constantly evolving and the emerging global migration governance paradigm that seeks to impose clarity, certainty, regularity and order. Addressing the gap between policies and realities, this article explores lessons for migration policy and governance from mobile pastoralists’ experience. Using examples from human migration flows within and between Europe and Africa and insights from pastoral systems from India, Italy and Kenya, the article identifies important similarities between international migration and pastoral mobility. We focus on four interconnections: both international migration and pastoral mobility show multi-directional and fragmented patterns; both involve multiple, intersecting socio-economic, political, cultural and environmental drivers; both must respond to non-linear systems, where critical junctures and tipping points undermine clear prediction and forecasts, making social navigation and reliability management more useful concepts than risk-based prediction and control and finally for both uncertainty is not conceived of as a state of crisis but an inherent feature, pregnant with possibility and hope. Building on these four points, and drawing from pastoralists’ experiences, we propose some methodological, practical and policy reflections for bridging the disjuncture between migration realities on the ground and global migration governance policies and discourses.
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Over the past two decades, the rangelands of Eastern Africa have experienced sweeping changes associated with growing human populations, shifting land use, expanding livestock marketing and trade, and greater investment by domestic and global capital. These trends have coincided with several large shocks that were turning points for how rangeland inhabitants make a living. As livelihoods in the region's rangelands transform in seemingly paradoxical directions, away from customary pastoralist production systems, greater insight is required of how these transformations might affect poverty and vulnerability. This article reviews the state of what is known regarding directions of livelihood change in the rangelands of Eastern Africa, drawing on case studies of structural change in five settings in the region. It considers the implications of long-term change, as well as the emergence of very different livelihood mixes in pastoral rangelands, for efforts to reduce poverty and vulnerability in these places.
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Sustainable agrarian development has emerged as a key agenda in many recent global development dialogues, owing to its intimate links with rural development. Agrarian development paradigms, however, mostly root for technocratic solutions (agro-systems’ modernization), overlooking the social dimension (social networking/learning) of agricultural innovation. In view of the above, this reflective article summarizes existing worldviews on the role of farmers’ social networking/learning on agrarian development, with special emphasis on India. Cyclic interactions between water (irrigation), food (agriculture) and energy have led to dire socioenvironmental crises (e.g., groundwater depletion, energy shortage, irrigation systems’ failures, food insecurity, livelihood loss, etc.) in India that demands focused policy interventions. Under the circumstances, participatory action via farmers’ social networks provides an effective tool to harnesses resilience. With illustrative examples from India and the world, the study demonstrates that social learning is key to adoption of new paradigms (new technology/crop/cropping methods, etc.). Dissemination of new knowledge/idea is fundamentally keyed to extent of farmer-to-farmer interaction (friendship-/peer-advising network). In the process, the study highlights key barriers to establish functional networks among farming communities. Particular emphasis is laid upon the Water Users’ Association in India, to enumerate growing concerns around farmers’ involvement in Participatory Irrigation Management schemes. Pitfalls in existing network literature are highlighted, ranging from sampling issues to unaccounted effects of “unobservable” variables. The final section attempts to outline certain strategic interventions that might be pursued at the policy level to harness social capital. Overall, the study was a plea to the concerned authorities, research bodies and stakeholders in India, to forge substantive collaborations for new knowledge creation in the theory and practice of social networking/learning and identify contextualized means to integrate them in the development matrix.
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The digital revolution and the ongoing dissemination of mobile phones carry several prospects for smallholder farmers in sub‐Saharan Africa. Food insecurity and low dietary quality remain major issues among African smallholders. Mobile phones could potentially facilitate access to food markets and thus improve food security and nutrition, but research on such types of effects remains scarce. In this study, we analyze whether mobile phones improve dietary quality among pastoral communities in Northern Kenya. We use six rounds of household panel data covering the period between 2009 and 2015. During this period, mobile phone ownership in the sample increased from less than 30% to more than 70%. Regression models with household fixed effects allow robust estimation while reducing potential issues of unobserved heterogeneity. The estimates show that mobile phone adoption and use are positively and significantly associated with dietary diversity. The effects are particularly large for frequent mobile phone users. We also examine the underlying mechanisms. Mobile phone use improves dietary diversity mainly through better access to purchased foods. These results encourage the promotion of mobile phone technologies as a valuable tool for nutritional improvements, especially in remote rural settings with poor access to food markets. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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Camel health management has implications for public health and camel product trade. After liberalization of the veterinary service, current camel health management in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALS) of Kenya and its implications for public health is not known. This study investigated camel health management and its implications on zoonoses and food safety in Isiolo County, Kenya. Semi-structured questionnaires were administered to 150 households, 15 agro-veterinary shops, 15 community-based animal health workers (CBAHWs) and 10 veterinary officers to collect information on camel health management. The main occupation and source of household income for the pastoral communities is camel-keeping (45.3%). Pastoralists self-medicate camels and other livestock (45.8%), which can lead to between over-dosing, under-dosing or wrong drug use. The CBAHWs, traditional animal health service providers (TAHSPs), government veterinary officers and private veterinary officers play a minimum role. Private veterinary services have not taken root in the ASALs. The sources of knowledge and information on the veterinary drug to use are experience (57.4%), non-governmental organizations (NGO) (41.1%) or CBAHWs (32.1%). The majority of pastoralists (72.5%) do not keep camel or other livestock treatment records. The constraints in purchasing veterinary drugs are expensive drugs, accessibility to drugs and availability of money. Pastoralists refer to veterinary drugs by their brand names but not by active ingredients. As reported by pastoralists, focus group discussion and key informant interviews, antibiotics used were adamycine (33.3%), ampicilline (26.7%), penicillin (14.4%), tetracycline (12.2%), amoxylin (11.1%) and penstrip (2.2%). The common camel diseases were trypanosomiasis, brucellosis, mastitis, diarrhoea, worm infestation, camel pox and tuberculosis. The public health risk factors were the presence of veterinary drug residues in camel products and development of resistant zoonotic organisms/diseases. It was concluded that current camel health management has serious implications for public health and food safety, and hence the camel product trade.
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Building resilience at the local government level will require governance which is able to respond to the growing threats of climate-related risks, while transforming the vulnerabilities of the most marginal populations. This paper considers the influence that social networks have on knowledge exchange and adaptive governance for improving the ability of local governments to build resilience to floods. Using two local government case studies in South Africa, this paper found that the structure of social networks had an effect on the ability of local governments to transform flood vulnerabilities in informal settlements. In the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality, poor connections among actors resulted in the formation of institutional silos, limited knowledge-exchange processes and inhibited flood risk governance. In the Mossel Bay local municipality, strong social ties facilitated cohesion amongst actors, supported knowledge sharing and benefited flood risk governance. This paper demonstrates how effective social network structures in local governments can stimulate adaptive risk governance, and contribute to the development of coping, adaptive and transformative capacities.
Participatory epidemiology programmes aim to collect data by engaging local communities in knowledge sharing around livestock health. Critics of participatory approaches often cite the extractive nature of data collection and unequal power relations between researcher and researched as at odds with the original vision of participatory programming. This paper starts from the position that rural livestock owners are situated within multiple overlapping webs of relationships through which they exchange disease information and access resources. Participatory programmes are suggested as weaving new threads into these wider networks in a process that may be accepted or rejected by indigenous actors. Qualitative interviews were used to gather empirical data on the exchange of information around livestock health knowledge through indigenous relationships and a Participatory Disease Surveillance (PDS) programme within a Gabra pastoralist community in Northern Kenya. Subsequent analysis identified four pathway typologies; this paper provides a qualitative comparative analysis of each to explore the nature of participation within the study population. The paper concludes that social science approaches have a key role to play in understanding how relationships within and between indigenous and development actors can influence participation in development projects.