8 Implementation and maintaining partnerships
As a project idea or community relationship becomes established, some common barriers may become apparent. As always, prevention is the best policy and there are often many things that can be done to identify these potential problems and address them before they arise.
For a checklist of things to consider, see Appendix 12 (appendixtwelve06348.pdf 19 kb).
8.1 Managing community expectations
One important issue to address when working with the community is to manage expectations to minimise misunderstandings or changes in thinking. To manage community expectations:
- ensure that your aims and motivations for the project are clear and in line with those of the community
- communicate clearly and regularly with the community on the intentions and outcomes of the project, and encourage them to provide feedback on their experiences and opinions
- provide clear definitions of project aims, expectations and timelines, and ensure that these are understood by all
- while remaining positive, ensure that the community understand the real situation including possible failure or barriers to success, to avoid undue optimism or disenchantment
- do not promise anything which cannot be delivered
- make every effort to provide a consistent recovery team or state agency contact for the community group
- ensure that any necessary project changes are discussed with the group before they are made, and that the community group understands and supports the changes
- conduct all project activities with the support of all members of the group if possible, and certainly with a majority
- design the project to achieve set goals over time to help the community map and monitor progress
- provide some flexibility for long-term project management to allow for changes in social interests and circumstances.
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8.2 Maintaining community support
The maintenance of interest and involvement of the community over time is one of the hardest things to achieve when working with the community. The following tips may help:
- Motivation for ongoing engagement requires the continued stimulation of the community. This can be achieved through involving community members in designing and managing the project; or encouraging development of new skills, a variety of group activities, and continuity of purpose so the group still see the project as being worthwhile and successful. Involvement must be physically, intellectually and emotionally rewarding.
- Ongoing support must be provided to the community if it is expected that community members will provide ongoing support of their own.
- Ensure that group or project management is undertaken by several members so the project's continued existence is not reliant on one or two individuals.
- Where groups rely on one or two leaders it is critical to undertake some succession planning to ensure that a budget is allocated to support future activities, project management is well documented, collaborative relationships are maintained and the purpose and requirements of the project are clear to new group leaders.
- Design the project with milestones or goals, and in stages so each stage is separate and self-sufficient, allowing for the possibility of future loss of support. In that way if, for example, only stages one to three of a five-stage project are achieved, the project is not a failure and efforts can go into reigniting support for the remaining stages over time.
- Where possible, engage the community in the broader recovery planning framework or with a wider network of conservation organisations, to provide additional layers of support, stimulation and input.
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8.3 Dealing with loss of community support
Community support is, of course, not guaranteed and is often cyclical depending on external factors such as economics and climate, reliance on the time and efforts of one or two key people, or just the natural cycle of group membership and focus.
Some of the issues identified in loss of community support include:
- burn out of key leaders who are generally the most active, involved in multiple ventures and pressed for time
- demands of full-time work and other time commitments
- economic hardships requiring a greater commitment to financial matters
- changes in community attitude towards the issue or to volunteering
- an aging community of volunteers, or other demographic changes in the community over time
- lack of future leaders in a group to ensure continuation of effort
- personality clashes with current leaders resulting in loss of community support
- loss of vision for the project and poor understanding of its purpose and value
- disillusionment due to poor management of community expectations, apparent lack of progress or the overwhelming scope of the issue at hand
- lack of social fellowship and group activities through the project
- scarcity of ongoing funds resulting in disjointed group activity
- loss of patience for bureaucratic red tape
- insufficient support from project partners.
8.4 Project management when support is lost
Well-planned projects can still result in the failure of continued community engagement. The following suggestions will help you continue to manage your project once community support wanes:
- Attempt to determine the central reason for the group's loss of support. If it can be addressed by you or with your assistance, take action.
- It may be beneficial to reach into the wider community, beyond the core group who have been involved in the project. So long as this is done with the support of the group, it may provide an avenue for future community assistance or re-inspire the group to further activity.
- Revisit the project and consider whether it can be scaled down to meet existing capacity and interest. Determine the priority activities that must be continued where possible, such as monitoring. Talk through the options with the group and attempt to gain support and commitment for the implementation of just a few key actions.
- Continue to communicate with the group, its individual members or the local community where possible in an effort to maintain a presence within the community and work towards rebuilding the project for the future.
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8.5 Bridging the gap between community and management
While you may be well versed in the requirements and language of bureaucracy, many community groups do not use the processes or words used in large organisations or agencies. Efforts should be made to:
- ensure that the roles and responsibilities of all project participants are clear and well understood
- help the community to understand the official and scientific processes that must be followed and why, and how that affects the community's freedom of action and your ability to influence such processes
- work with the group to help its members understand the need for strategic and thorough planning, strict quality control and audits
- remember that the community do not have the same resources, time and funds as you do - equally, the community should understand your limited budgets, workloads, management and reporting requirements
- ensure that the community understands the language used by avoiding jargon and checking that first principles are clear before discussing technical information
- remember and accept that community members do not always think analytically or logically as most managers do, and that emotions will often play a key part in community decision making
- attempt to understand the group and members' motivations, interests and methods of group organisation and management
- recognise the difference between government agencies or larger organisations and most community groups (hierarchical versus flat structures) and the effect that may have on your project management
- use clear, conclusive and current science and do not confuse the group with conflicting opinions and advice - if there is uncertainty, make efforts to explain the validity of the proposed action, devoid of any political or bureaucratic bias
- make sure that the group understands what information it needs to carry out their project, how to ask for it and where to go to obtain it
- avoid data overload - ensure that information you provide to the group is relevant, well organised and clearly explained
- accept less than perfect scientific design and data gathering, at least initially, to allow for community skill levels and interest
- wherever possible, allow for flexibility in project design and implementation.
Finally, be aware that you can often provide something which may be lacking within the community - organisational skills, motivation, background knowledge, vision, and analytical and logical judgement.
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8.6 Valuing and managing community input
A fine line must be walked between assuming community understanding and knowledge, and appearing disrespectful and presumptuous of their ignorance. The best solution is to simply maintain clear and respectful lines of communication, developing good relationships and trust over time.
Valuing community input is best done by:
- respecting the knowledge and experience in the community group, much of which has been learnt through experience over generations - failing to recognise the community's understanding and perspective of ecological concepts can create resentment
- acknowledging community efforts and input at all times
- making efforts to address the concerns or interests of the group by incorporating them into your project design
- ensuring that the project design involves some mechanism for two-way learning, eg assessing and learning from traditional methods of habitat management and comparing them with scientific best practice.
Managing community input is best done through:
- ensuring that a mechanism is developed for handling intellectual input from groups - such input must be treated appropriately relative to cultural requirements and its validity and bearing on the project
- developing a clear chain of command regarding sign-off, responsibilities and so on - ensure that the group understand the need for such controls, and make sure that the controls are adhered to
- being clear from the beginning about the mechanism for project development and amendment
- helping the community to understand that threatened species projects should not be conducted outside the agreed framework of recovery teams or conservation guidelines
- maintaining control over how and when project activities are initiated to ensure their effectiveness for species recovery.
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8.7 Dealing with disputes
In any project involving multiple stakeholders from varying backgrounds and interests, it is probable that disputes of some nature could occur. The following are some suggestions for handling such situations:
- identify formal and informal dispute resolution processes
- identify and consider using culturally appropriate forms of dispute resolution (eg in the case of Aboriginal groups, meeting on Country)
- be prepared to assist and possibly resource an appropriate independent person or body to facilitate resolution of the dispute
- do not impose unrealistic timeframes for resolving community disputes - effective resolution takes time
- in the case of disputes between Aboriginal groups, do not become involved as they need to be resolved at the community level.
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Page last updated: 28 February 2011