5 Type and degree of community engagement
5 Type and degree of community engagement
The appropriate level of community engagement and type of involvement vary according to the nature of the species, population or ecological community being recovered, the interests of stakeholders, and the threatened species manager's capacity to support the project.
5.1 Weighing up costs and benefits
Before any community engagement activity is planned, thoroughly investigate the positive and negative aspects of involving volunteers. This includes the costs of management and planning time. Working well with the community is mostly about relationships and people management; these require time and effort.
There can be great advantages to involving the community in projects, but such projects should not be entered into lightly. For example, short-term projects which do not plan for and support longer-term community engagement and real conservation outcomes often lead to cynicism and loss of community respect, and can do more harm than good. Early identification of the most appropriate type and degree of engagement is crucial.
5.2 Management time and effort
Before working with the community, examine your own time and resource constraints. Consider issues such as:
do you have time to commit to supporting the community in their efforts? This could include training, answering regular inquiries, supervision, providing information and feedback, attending meetings out of normal work hours, aiding in project administration (see 'Ways of engaging the community'
for further information).
do you have support from your manager to commit the necessary time and effort?
do you have access to funds to enable the project to proceed?
does your timeline for project completion allow for the considerable time required to develop a relationship with the community and to engage them in the project, then work within their slower timeframes?
is there a mechanism for providing ongoing support to groups or individuals who may become involved in a project?
5.3 Matching the details of the plan with your community
Factors that should be considered when deciding on the type and degree of community engagement in species recovery actions include:
the sensitivity of releasing knowledge on threatened species site locations
privacy and access concerns arising from land tenure issues
the appeal of the species to the local community, ie likelihood of community support
occupational health and safety issues associated with a proposed action
time and cost constraints preventing effective community engagement
local issues and concerns which need to be overcome to allow the proposed action to proceed
the technical expertise required to carry out the proposed action and the ability of the community to obtain the necessary skills and understanding
the reality of obtaining appropriate licensing approval for less skilled community support
the stability of the community over time.
If any of the above issues exclude you from carrying out certain community engagement actions, remember that they usually do not limit all activity. For example, communication activities are usually of great benefit even if no on-ground works are developed or site specifics are not released.
Communities with the following attributes are often more easily involved in recovery projects:
locations with relatively small populations, a strong sense of community and some long-term stability
a relatively cohesive and consistent general ethic or attitude, without a significant 'rogue' element
areas where there is a common love or concern to galvanise thought and action
regions where the land in question is the responsibility of the community and will be retained within families over generations
actions that relate to activities on the land of individuals in the community.
It is not always possible to realise all the above, nor should a project idea be instantly abandoned if it does not fit these conditions. However, projects which can incorporate or work towards some of the above conditions are likely to more easily engage the broader community and be successful.
5.4 Components of successful community engagement activity
There are certain aspects of a community, a project or an associated issue that lend themselves to more effective community engagement. Remember that these are generalisations only.
The public responds particularly well to projects which:
involve 'cute and cuddly' fauna, 'beautiful' animals such as butterflies or frogs, or plants such as orchids. Also, because of the number of bird watchers in Australia, there is normally considerable support for bird projects. This does unfortunately lead to a bias towards recovery of certain species, but also allows for use of a 'flagship species'
focus on species which can be found and recognised in the neighbourhood, as they are more 'real' to the public and often create a greater sense of local ownership
recognise the efforts that they have already made
centre on a species not negatively associated with any other significant community issue of concern
address community concerns regarding the species in question or associated issues
centre around a clearly definable and easily understood problem and associated response
include actions over a small area, as these are easy for people to understand and see the results of
begin as a community initiative rather than being forced into community thinking
involve the community from the earliest planning stage of the project, along with all other relevant land managers and agencies
involve actions requiring less skilled labour, but where training, social opportunities and some variety of activity are also available
provide some degree of flexibility for long-term project management to allow for changes in social interests and circumstances
can demonstrate to the landholder or community how the conservation activity can directly benefit them, such as productivity outcomes or financial gain
devolve some funding and actions to private and public landowners to enable practical actions that encourage long-term changes in management and conservation of threatened species to be implemented.
Page last updated: 05 September 2012