Getting started: a case study in community-based adaptive management or 'learning by doing'

[Chapter 4 in: Allen, W.J. (2001) Working together for environmental management: the role of information sharing and collaborative learning. PhD (Development Studies), Massey University.]

Getting started: a case study in community-based adaptive management or 'learning by doing'

Time period in which main work on this issue carried out:

Jul- 94 Jan- 95 Jul- 95 Jan- 96 Jul- 96 Jan- 97 Jul- 97 Jan- 98 Jul- 98 Jan- 99 Jul- 99 Jan- 00

Allen, W.J., Bosch, O.J.H., Gibson, R.G. & Jopp, A.J. (1995) Co-learning our way to sustainability: Integrating local and scientific knowledge through an evolutionary research approach to support land management decision-making. Paper presented at Malama Aina 95, 1st International Conference on Multiple Objective Decision Support Systems (MODSS) for Land, Water and Environmental Management, Honolulu, Hawaii, 23-27 July 1995.
[A later published version of this paper can be found here.]

This chapter provides the background to the start of the wider case study reported in this thesis. This can be seen to have begun with the two-year Hieracium Management Programme (HMP), a participatory research initiative to help address the issue of an invasive weed (Hieracium spp.) in the grazed tussock grasslands of the South Island high country. The first version of a framework (ISKM) that can help the introduction of an adaptive approach to more closely link management and research is outlined, along with a framework for researching the facilitation of its implementation. Supporting material is presented that addresses challenges of sustainability and the emerging paradigms of research that are emerging in response.

Any discipline which is concerned with rational intervention in human affairs ... must both establish theory and engage in practice. Theory and practice will exhibit a groundless relationship, each generating the other, with neither being prime. This mutual development of theory and practice calls for action research in real situations, research in which the researcher has to allow the situation to take him (her) where it will, research whose focus is the change process itself rather than some hypothesis under test. (Checkland 1985b p. 821)

The beginnings of this thesis inquiry can be seen to have emerged from the Hieracium Management Programme (HMP). This programme involved a two-year research and development initiative in the tussock grasslands of the South Island which began in mid-1994 to address the problem of an invasive weed (Hieracium spp.) in the grazed tussock grasslands of the South Island high country (mountains) of New Zealand.

It is particularly appropriate to use an agricultural example to highlight issues in natural resource management, because as Dahlberg (1979) points out, agriculture represents the basic interface between people and their environment. From this perspective, the grasslands of the South Island high country present a number of advantages for those concerned with the improvement (or evaluation) of research and development (R&D) programmes. The high country comprises a microcosm of the major resource management issues surrounding extensively grazed ecosystems worldwide. Today, there is a pragmatic recognition of the worldwide trend towards a more holistic, multi-use, multi-value view of such extensively grazed grasslands. Grazing has increasingly become a variable component or even been abandoned in some areas, a change that highlights the diverse values that these grasslands are now expected to serve. In New Zealand these not only encompass traditional pastoral considerations but extend to national aspirations concerning issues such as indigenous Maori land rights, preservation of biodiversity and natural landscapes, sustainable management, tourism, and recreation.

Moreover, the economic and ecological sustainability of at least one-third of this region has been questioned by a recent governmental review. Concerns included land degradation, weeds (particularly Hieracium spp. - an introduced forb), pests (particularly rabbits) and the ability of farmers to manage for market and climatic variability (Martin et al., 1994). In terms of issues relating to achieving sustainable resource management, the South Island high country not only encompasses a wide range of contrasting situations, but also is increasingly characterised by conflicts over resource use between different interest groups. In addition, even as changing social and economic policies continue to shape resource development opportunities, the move away from centralised planning by government is increasingly requiring communities to deal with their own social, economic, and environmental needs on a regional basis. (Allen 1997 pp. 630-31).

The degree of the Hieracium problem is well set out in the following paragraph by the research leader, Dr Ockie Bosch, and other members of the HMP programme. Their assessment of the problem also encapsulates the need for a new R&D model capable of engendering a more collaborative approach to overcome environmental problems.

Over the past four decades Hieracium species have spread significantly throughout much of the high country, and appear likely to continue to increase at the expense of both native biota and introduced forage species (Scott 1984). They are most common on pastoral lands, and have a detrimental impact on farming enterprises through an associated decrease in productive capacity. Conservation values are threatened in a similar manner ... Against this background, it was evident that a new approach was required to deal with the challenges that Hieracium posed to sustainable land management. Such an approach required a greater emphasis on linking research with management and policy, and on maximising the use of current community knowledge. (Bosch et al. 1996b p. 161).

Hieracium Management Programme

The starting point for this proposed new approach emphasised an adaptive management process to more closely link research with management and policy. The key to this approach was the recognition that the development of sustainable management (e.g. grazing) strategies requires an emphasis on experimental rather than descriptive ecology, and that this could not be achieved by scientists working in isolation from the community. This is well set out below in this excerpt from an early research strategy presentation:

Given the climatic and ecological variability of the South Island high country, it is physically impractical to undertake a rigorous experimental approach to test different grazing regimes under all the different environmental conditions. A more practical approach involves forming partnerships with land managers to extend research across many different situations in the high country. What farmers do as they normally manage their land, observe what happens and adapt their management accordingly is little different than the approach taken by the experimental scientist who applies different treatments under different conditions and measures the outcome. Through this informal 'experimental approach' land managers have built up a vast amount of knowledge through years of experience. ... Involvement of land managers in the research process will lead to improved bi-lateral communication, and an improved perception by farmers, researchers and other stakeholders of the ecological, economic and sociological problems in the high country. This will not only help ensure that future research is relevant, but will encourage land managers to take ownership of the research, ensuring the direct use of results by the grazing industry and conservation managers. (Bosch 1994 pp. 5-6).

Accordingly the HMP research proposed to integrate existing local and scientific knowledge into an accessible and user-friendly decision support system (DSS), containing both management guidelines and supporting ecological information. This involved a three-step process of: i) accessing existing farmer and science information through the use of interviews and questionnaires; ii) synthesising and developing a draft DSS; and iii) using this material to underpin workshops (or community dialogue processes) that would more actively involve farmers and researchers in developing the structure and content of a first version DSS. The programme staff comprised Dr Ockie Bosch and myself. Other researchers were contracted to the programme as necessary. The HMP was guided by a steering committee comprising three scientists (including Dr Bosch) and three farmers. My own role in the first year of this programme involved me as a co-opted member of the steering committee, and also in capturing and synthesising information provided by farmers. The latter activity extended to developing a first framework of a DSS to display this information. The workshops were subsequently held during the second year of the programme.

Simultaneously, a linked research programme (also led by Dr Bosch) was involving researchers and farmers in the development of condition assessment models for measuring (monitoring) and interpreting vegetation change (see With the development of these two components -- an integrated knowledge system and user-friendly monitoring tools -- the research team (perhaps naively) thought that the hardest work of establishing the conditions for a community-based adaptive management programme, which would enable the use of local knowledge and the adoption of a continual enhancement process to information management, would have been achieved. Instead, the search for ways to support such a programme continue today, and the action-research-based exploration of the social and institutional issues involved has provided ample grounds for this thesis inquiry.

A framework for change

What was significant about this research programme in terms of action research methodology was the Programme Leader's (Ockie Bosch) insistence and support in documenting the research ideas and approach from the beginning of the programme, rather than is more usual to wait until the research is completed before writing it up. As Peter Checkland points out, the phrase 'action research' is, of course, a useful cloak for interventions which amount only to action: 'To do better than this it is essential to declare in advance the methodological framework which the research will follow. Only by doing this can explicit lessons be extracted, a point much neglected in the literature of social science' (Checkland 1985b p. 821). In an earlier paper, Checkland (1985a p. 758) suggests that in doing this it would be useful to make a distinction between, on the one hand, a basic set of ideas, and on the other, an approach for applying those ideas in some organised way to some particular area of application (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1. General framework for action research (from Checkland 1985a p. 758)

In this research framework, F is a framework of ideas and concepts; M is a methodology -- the way of applying these ideas and concepts; and A is the area, or case study, they are applied to. In his paper, Checkland notes that A is indicated without sharp boundaries to remind us that, when A is about human affairs, the application of F through M may lead us into byways not initially expected. In this thesis, F started with the outlined research steps, M represents a number of participatory approaches (interviews, workshops, steering groups, etc.) which were employed, and A is the area of application -- the case studies described here.

Two papers were written during this initial year of our research which documented our ideas and approaches. The first was Bosch et al. (1996a) and this is reproduced in this thesis as Appendix I. The second, Allen et al. (1995) was written for presentation at Malama Aina 95, First International Conference on Multiple Objective Decision Support Systems (MODSS) for Land Water and Environmental Management. Honolulu, Hawaii, 23-27 July 1995, and forms the main body of this chapter. This paper was subsequently revised and published as:

Allen, W.J., Bosch, O.J.H., Gibson, R.G. & Jopp, A.J. (1998b) Co-learning our way to sustainability: An integrated and community-based research approach to support natural resource management decision-making. Pp. 51-59 in Multiple objective decision making for land, water and environmental management.( Eds: El-Swaify,S.A. & Yakowitz, D.S.) Boston, USA: Lewis Publishers.

What is central to this thesis, in all of these papers, is the outline of a series of steps to facilitate the identification and introduction of sustainable land management practices (Allen et al. 1995, Bosch et al. 1996a; Allen et al. 1998b). This framework for adaptive management can be seen to be the forerunner of what became ISKM (Integrated Systems for Knowledge Management), and the development of this approach is shown as the thesis progresses, serving as one measure of the learning involved during the course of the case studies.

In its initial form the ISKM framework emphasises the integration of local and science knowledge as a starting point for problem solving, with the need to start with by gaining local knowledge. The importance of putting information in context through the use of community dialogue, or learning, processes is acknowledged. Thus although these early ISKM versions are characterised by a DSS as the central output (e.g. Figures A2 & 4.3), they do acknowledge that an information system cannot be simply regarded in terms of its transfer component, but is rather a wider social system. The ongoing requirements for learning posed by adaptive management are provided for by the inclusion of steps for integrating new science findings and land-manager-based monitoring and adaptive management.

The accompanying paper in this chapter also sets out many of the supporting ideas and concepts which underpin the ISKM framework. The difficulty of defining sustainability is acknowledged, rather it is suggested that a learning process is required which involves finding out about complex and dynamic situations, followed by taking action to improve them and evaluating the results of this action. Sustainability, as Sriskandarajah et al. (1991) point out, becomes a measure of the relationship between the community as learners and their environments, rather than an externally designed goal to be achieved.

The growing trend towards taking a more holistic, multi-use, multi-value view of our natural resources is noted. In turn, it is suggested that this requires new approaches for linking research with management and policy. The traditional linear transfer of technology (TOT) model (Figure 4.2) of research and development is observed to struggle in enlisting the active co-operation of the communities they were supposed to serve in this new age of sustainability. It is suggested that a more appropriate model can be developed by seeing research, dissemination (technology/extension) and users as forming elements of a larger knowledge system (Figure 4.2). It is pointed out that this system can be best viewed as a 'social' system through which people interact to develop knowledge and worldviews.

Figure 4.2 Different approaches to extension: (A) TOT model; (B) A knowledge system emphasizing more interactive flows of information (Adapted from Roling 1988 p. 202).

Within this wider view of how we could go about things, this chapter points out that fragmentation of both local and science information, and its resulting inaccessibility, is a major barrier which has negative impacts on its subsequent use. This highlights the problem within science whereby new research continues to be undertaken, without the adequate documentation and structuring of the results of research already undertaken. The use of hypertext based decision support systems as a focal point for structuring this existing knowledge is suggested. However, it was considered that these should be seen as ongoing, and developed with more involvement from the community as a way to increase relevance and user confidence.

Finally this paper, rather optimistically perhaps, concludes with a vision of an expanded process of monitoring and adaptive management which includes the community learning, not only different land uses, but also about policy initiatives. More accurately, it is also acknowledged that such a participatory research initiative 'places new demands on individual land managers, the community and science to learn together how to best manage (our natural resources) in a sustainable manner'.

See also the following paper which represents the remainder of this chapter: Allen, W.J., Bosch, O.J.H., Gibson, R.G. & Jopp, A.J. (1995) Co-learning our way to sustainability: Integrating local and scientific knowledge through an evolutionary research approach to support land management decision-making. Paper presented at Malama Aina 95, 1st International Conference on Multiple Objective Decision Support Systems (MODSS) for Land, Water and Environmental Management, Honolulu, Hawaii, 23-27 July 1995.
[A later published version of this paper can be found here.]


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