Social and organisational issues with adaptive management for environmental management

[Chapter 8 in: Allen, W.J. (2001) Working together for environmental management: the role of information sharing and collaborative learning. PhD (Development Studies), Massey University.]

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., Kilvington, M.J., Harley, D.G. & Brown I. (2001) Monitoring and adaptive management: resolving social and organisational issues to improve information sharing. Natural Resources Forum


Although the HMP concluded in June 1996, its work carried on within the expanded tussock grasslands research programme which still emphasised the need for adaptive management and ISKM as a framework. However, despite the availability of an Internet-based Management Information System (MIS) and monitoring tools for measuring community species in the tussock grasslands, these tools are not being used. This chapter highlights an ongoing participatory inquiry process into this lack of use. This, in turn, illustrates the difficulties with implementing environmental management technologies -- which often have a significant public-good component. It highlights the need for a more co-ordinated approach to implementing adaptive management involving agencies, researchers and land managers, and draws attention to some of the emerging social and organisational issues entailed. Some solutions to overcome these problems related to information sharing are then suggested.

Placing the spotlight on technology and information call us to refocus our attention on the capacities of individuals, organizations, and networks, as only these can implement and institutionalize sustainable practices. (Anderson 1999 p.137).

As outlined in Chapter 5 the original HMP programme concluded with the development of the first versions of ISKM, and first working versions (of an Internet-based MIS for Hieracium and vegetation condition assessment models for tussock grasslands) of the technical components proposed for the implementation of this approach. During the next two years (June 1996 to June 1998) alternative funding from local regional councils provided for continued work on the development of the vegetation condition assessment models. Also during this period the Ministry for the Environment funded a major extension exercise which involved the use of field days to introduce and 'extend' these models to high country farmers. These field days were co-ordinated by a farmer-based community group, and jointly run by scientists and farmers.

During the same period, as indicated in Chapter 7, the Department of Conservation (DOC) also initiated the development of an expanded version of the Internet-based MIS to develop a Conservation MIS for the tussock grasslands as a whole. Additional funding was also provided by the Office of Crown Lands, whose role it is to administer the Crown leases which are held over much of these lands. Funding provided by the Ministry for the Environment also enabled local landholders to participate in this project.

From June 1998 to June 2000, science support for both the vegetation condition assessment models was primarily undertaken by the Tussock Grasslands Research Programme. This was the main research programme in the high country during this period, and was particularly focussed on how to integrate production and environmental goals. The programme was funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) -- New Zealand's main government science-funding body -- and managed by Dr Ockie Bosch. The Department of Conservation has also continued concurrent funding for the Conservation MIS during this period.

Against this background the accompanying chapter paper focusses on the social and institutional considerations required to support the linked concepts of monitoring and adaptive management in the tussock grasslands, and more closely integrate the use and enhancement of the technical components with management. One of the key factors initiating this research was the acknowledgement that, despite the availability -- and promotion -- of the condition assessment models, few farmers were using them. Moreover, where they were being used by farmers, no sharing of the results was occurring. Another reason was that the development of the MIS was raising a number of non-technical issues, particularly related to sharing, acknowledgement and ownership of information.

To address these issues a number of workshops were held involving different stakeholder groups. In May 1997 and again in March 1999 two workshops were held to bring farming groups together with researchers and regional council staff to look at how vegetation monitoring was being used, and how it could be used including its links with the MIS. In December 1998 a workshop was held with a range of DOC staff from different levels of management to assess the Conservation MIS development and decide on future steps. My role in these workshops was as a facilitator.

The chapter paper was written as a collaborative reflective exercise following these workshops. This not only involved Ockie Bosch, Margaret Kilvington and myself as researchers, but also involved two other perspectives from people who have been closely involved with efforts (including the case study documented here) to implement monitoring and adaptive management practices in the tussock grasslands. These were Don Harley, who was a local landholder, and Ian Brown from the Otago Regional Council.

The paper summarises recent literature related to monitoring and adaptive management, and sketches out the background to the case study described above to provide a context. The paper also provides a diagram of what can be regarded as the third iteration of ISKM (see Chapter 8 for more detail). The main change is the inclusion of entry and contracting in the first step, which provides more instruction on the importance of stakeholder identification and building relationships for change as an entry to the process than has been evident in earlier versions.

Both sets of farmer workshops arose in response to the reaction of farmers to the local regional council's efforts to promote the use of a vegetation condition assessment model, and in particular the different perceptions that farmers had regarding the reasons that this monitoring should be undertaken. While some were clearly motivated by the idea that vegetation monitoring would provide more information to help them understand their resource base, others were less altruistic. For some it raised the possibility of a way to make money, perhaps selling the results back to local government for use in state-of-the-environment reporting. Others saw its potential as a good thing in terms of proving the 'sustainability' of current practices, while the alternative viewpoint was concern that it may only serve to highlight that current practices were unsustainable. In terms of sharing the results of on-farm monitoring data with third parties (such as local government agencies), a number of people were quite open in voicing their fears that their information might be used incorrectly, or against them, if released. Accordingly, these workshops developed from council's desire to address these factors and hire an outside facilitator to bring council, farmers and scientists together to discuss these things.

The subsequent discussion, outlined in the accompanying chapter paper, shows the outline of information flows that would enable an adaptive management approach to provide increased understanding and knowledge for the different groups involved. This is similar to ISKM, and in itself provides another validation of the research steps set out in this framework. However, it goes further and indicates the activities that remain to be done in this particular social setting for the process to become ongoing and self-improving. In particular, it highlights the need for clear protocols for information use to be developed as part of a process for building trust and confidence between information providers and users.

The importance of participation, adequate community forums where information could be discussed and the need for an MIS component to capture decision support material were reinforced during these discussion. And in both these and the DOC workshop attention was paid to the need to look at how improved information networks could be leveraged through the use of the Internet, including to those without direct computer or Internet access.

In the main, however, the DOC workshop concentrated more on development issues related to the Conservation MIS. As background to this discussion a number of factors which highlighted the Department's interest in supporting such a system were outlined (Unpublished minutes: Tussock Grasslands MIS meeting 8/12/98):

It was pointed out that the recent restructuring means that area staff now have more information needs/requirements to support them in areas where they now have more decision making powers. The users suggested above do not have ready access to a large body of knowledge (e.g. as is held by research libraries), nor do they have a lot of time to request, read and analyse information. This problem is made more extreme by the way in which new information is provided as individual pieces (e.g. scientific papers) and it is often difficult to see where this fits into the bigger picture. This highlights the need for this type of MIS, especially as the nature of the Department's work requires information to be integrated. Also, it was felt that there is a pressing need to improve ways of transferring knowledge from science to management.

Accordingly this system needs to help them access information faster, and avoid duplication of effort whereby different staff are looking for the same pieces of information. It needs to help people sourcing information (such as published papers) and put the resulting conclusions 'in context'.

This meeting also highlighted a number of points relating to information accreditation:

It was stressed that the information on this system needs to be credible, pointing out where recommendations are supported by recognised science results. It was felt that anecdotal comments needed to be clearly flagged as such. Similarly, while monitoring results from the farming community were recognised as a potentially useful source of new management information, these need some form of external accreditation. There is a need to spell out very clearly what filtering mechanism will be used in putting information up to ensure credibility.

Finally, those at the meeting talked about the needs for others to use and contribute to this system. These other users will include researchers, farmers, regional councils, and other interested agencies. It was felt that to fully involve such a range of groups in using and contributing to a shared system it needed to be renamed to emphasise its potential role in 'tussock grasslands management', rather than just 'tussock grasslands conservation'. Another suggestion made in this regard was to obtain a unique virtual domain name for the system that is independent of any one group. This was subsequently done, and the resulting renamed Tussock Grassland Management Information System can now be seen at .

Given their emphasis on improving the situation, the workshops themselves can be seen as collaborative or participatory exercises that implicitly integrate an action research process. Equally they can be viewed as involving a formative evaluation or, in the case of farmer workshops, as a conflict management exercise. The process encompasses a needs/capacity assessment or background study on the factors leading to the problems to be addressed. It asks the parties what success will look like, and how might we achieve and measure it? And, it acknowledges the need for ongoing evaluation processes to ensure continuous improvement.

Finally, these discussions also served to highlight a number of broader lessons that relate to how to address other social and organisational considerations that can affect the success, or otherwise, of such multi-stakeholder information networks. These included issues related to system ownership, and how to institutionalise the process, and the networks.

See also the following paper which represents the remainder of this chapter: Allen, W.J., Bosch, O.J.H., Kilvington, M.J., Harley, D.G. & Brown I. (2001)Monitoring and adaptive management: resolving social and organisational issues to improve information sharing. Natural Resources Forum)


* This paper was originally submitted in the dissertation as "submitted".


Back to Learning for Sustainability research index
This site is compiled and maintained by Will Allen (PhD)
( ).