Systems Approaches Enable Improved Collaboration in Two Regional Australian Natural Resource Governance Situations

Systems Approaches Enable Improved Collaboration in Two Regional Australian Natural Resource Governance Situations

Moragh Mackay (Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia), Catherine Allan (Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia), Ross Colliver (Training and Development Group Pty Ltd, Riddells Creek, VIC, Australia) and Jonathon Howard (Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/ijss.2014070101
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Natural Resource Management (NRM) in Australia is socially and ecologically complex, uncertain and contested. Government and non-government stakeholders act and collaborate in regionally-based, multi-scale NRM governance situations, but imbalances in power and breakdowns in trust constrain transparency and equity. Here, we report on an action research project exploring the potential of social learning to contribute to systemic change in multi-governance situations. We sought to understand practices and institutional arrangements in two regional NRM governance case studies in southern Victoria, Australia. Drawing on this research, we explore how social learning, with its foundation of systems thinking, has enabled improved collaborative processes and adaptive governance to emerge.
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Local knowledge and civil actor agency in natural resource management (NRM) planning and action can provide a counterbalance to State dominated decision making (Lane, 2003).

Ostrom (2000) shows that self-determination and self-regulation enhance citizens’ motivation to contribute to common good environmental outcomes, and that citizen’s intrinsic motivation and trust declines when government instruments such as regulation and incentives are felt to be too controlling, or to be devaluing local knowledge. Localised control of planning and decision making may be more functional than State control, and can be more just and equitable (Ribot, 2002). Indeed a number of authors suggest that co- operative, adaptive governance is more likely to lead to improved environmental quality because decisions are better informed and there is broader agreement on NRM outcomes (Allan & Wilson, 2009; Collins & Ison, 2009b; Head, 2007).

The current interest in, and opportunities for, civil participation in NRM have been inspired by a number of global trends. Firstly, reconnection with civil participation emerged from growing dissatisfaction with the limitations of democratic electoral processes to engage citizens in ongoing dialogue and deliberation (Head, 2007), particularly for under-represented minorities (Arnstein, 1969). Secondly, there has been renewed interest in decentralising aspects of governing, with the regional or ‘meso’ scale envisaged as an intermediary between local and state scales (Jennings & Moore, 2000). At regional scale, social connections and landscape identity have begun to underpin governance approaches attuned to ecosystems (Lane, Robinson, & Taylor, 2009). Thirdly there has been renewed interest in social democracy, known as ‘The Third Way’ (Giddens, 1998). This has a focus on blending social democracy with economic efficiency (Martell, 2004) and was given carriage in politics initially by social democratic parties in Europe and North America. This new democracy responds to the high cost of state sponsored planning processes and dissatisfaction with the neo-liberalists free-market philosophy and intends to achieve a compromise between these seemingly antithetic approaches (Ryan et al, 2010). From these three key influences has emerged more networked, multi-actor governance approaches to environmental management that have the capacity to modify regulatory control and top-down decision- making.

One key benefit of governance approaches that enable civil participation is that multiple actors can contribute both knowledge and resources to understanding and tackling NRM issues. The importance of this is recognised when considering the scale of response required to tackle resource depletion, landscape fragmentation and climate change (Bellamy et al, 2002; Yaffee & Wondolleck, 2003). Inclusive practices can reduce adversarial behaviours, increase opportunities for sharing responsibility and negotiating effective strategies for mutual benefit (Innes & Booher, 1999a; Yaffee & Wondolleck, 2003). However, governments have often failed to decentralise in ways that empower local and regional actors through genuinely inclusive practices (Taylor, 2009; (D r yz e k, 2009). Partnerships tend to operate as ‘vague entities’ where there is no genuine power- sharing collaboration (Head, 2009). This may be because there is insufficient institutional, social and human capacity within regional planning bodies and communities (Farrelly & Conacher, 2007), failure to discuss paradigms and assumptions openly (Poncelet, 2001) and/or reticence to reflect on institutionalised ways of operating (Allan & Wilson, 2009). As a result many state sponsored collaborative partnerships fall short of exploring and managing equitably the complexity inherent in NRM governance (Moore & Rockloff, 2006).

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