6 Planning before and during development of community actions
This chapter deals with issues that need to be considered in the planning, preparation and development of recovery activities or projects.
A checklist of things to consider when developing community engagement activities is included in Appendix 5 (appendix506348.pdf 17 kb).
A list of potential funding sources to support community groups in conservation projects is available in Appendix 6 (appendix606348.pdf 64 kb).
6.1 Community group composition and project design
When considering a project with a community group, there are several factors that can influence the style of project and your approach to working with the group in question. These include:
- cultural issues (multicultural/Aboriginal)
- restraints on resource access for the community
- group dynamics/agendas
- group member lifestyles
- group member interests and ethics
- group capacity, knowledge, skills and training needs
- group insurance or incorporation needs
- animosity or mistrust resulting from past experiences
- the group's ability to actually influence the issue at hand.
All these things should be considered as a part of a stakeholder analysis before approaching the group (See 'Setting out the actions for community engagement'.)
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6.2 Non-English speaking communities
Working with communities from non-English speaking backgrounds can require special consideration. Often the approach may be the same as for general best practice community engagement, but consider and address cultural and language barriers first:
- ethnic communities are not a homogenous group - there are as many social and cultural differences in these groups as in others
- wherever possible, try to work with non-English speaking background organisations when designing your project
- learn about the community in question and issues that are of importance to them - ideally, bring in individuals with cross-cultural knowledge and understanding to facilitate smooth communication and implementation
- learn about ethnic groups' differing attitudes and connections to the environmental and physical landscape before trying to engage with them further
- ethnic landholders may work in intensive agricultural and horticultural industries with significant natural resource management issues, but, like people of English speaking background, may not historically have been involved in sustainable management discussions
- some migrant-based communities carry an imported suspicion or distrust of government which must be handled carefully
- language and literacy skill levels can bea barrier to participation, but can be overcome - avoid information-heavy approaches, which require high levels of English proficiency
- like some groups from English speaking backgrounds, not all non-English speaking groups are particularly literate, even in their own language - use face-to-face communication as much as possible to help create a connection with the community and enable more effective communication
- intergenerational and familial relations often play a big role in non-English speaking communities, and can be important when identifying the decision makers in a community and appropriate lines of communication
- the role of women can vary greatly, again influencing the target audience and power brokers within the community.
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6.3 Consider connections with other species conservation work
Often small changes to a project can improve conservation outcomes and encourage the community to act for more than one threatened species. Consider other threatened species or communities found within the same habitat or under threat from the same activity as the species in question. Speak to existing recovery teams or experts to identify potential or known priority actions for those species, and consider possibilities for a cooperative approach.
Be aware, however, that this approach can sometimes complicate projects, diluting their focus and confusing the public. In multi-species projects, it may be useful to promote one species as a flagship. The project management team can work to develop a project with outcomes for a number of threatened species but may only use one to raise awareness of threats and provide justification for the project activities. Under these circumstances, ensure that the community group involved is still clear about the reasoning behind project activities. The latter issue should be managed by the community member(s) on recovery or project management teams.
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6.4 Consider connections with other natural resource issues
Ways in which species recovery actions can help to address other natural resource management issues in a region, and vice versa, should be considered. A useful way of engaging a community group in a project is by addressing another issue that already concerns them.
In these circumstances it is usually valuable to promote a project as a threatened species project. However, in some regions where threatened species conservation is not strongly supported or the species is not publicly appealing, it may be most effective to use the broader natural resource management issue as the key driver for community engagement.
Many threatened species projects focus on threat abatement and management, often addressing issues of community concern such as habitat quality or weed invasion. Remember, however, that threatened species projects usually also require some specific and targeted actions such as monitoring and adaptive management. Even if the project driver is another natural resource management issue, include the necessary activities that are specific to your threatened species in the final project design.
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6.5 Changing behaviour
Many conservation activities are based on a required change in human behaviour. To bring about this change, the following ideas should be considered:
- recognise that positive behaviour will facilitate more learning and motivation than criticism
- focus on positive actions to inspire desired behaviour
- use personal gain to sell desired behaviour - the most effective behavioural changes are likely to be those where immediate economic or social outcomes for the individual can be shown
- focus on behaviour rather than values
- greater success will come from using benefits to the community as the primary engagement tool for changed behaviour, with the related environmental benefit used as reinforcement
- address external influences before challenging local behaviour
- successful community engagement will be more likely if efforts are made to identify and manage external factors influencing behaviour, independent of community feelings, preferences and perceptions
- desired behaviour should, where possible, be observable - if others cannot see the desired behaviour in use, the community will be less likely to adopt it, and it will be harder to monitor its uptake.
Some excellent models are available for voluntary behavioural change, such as the 7 Doors model by Les Robinson - see www.enabling-change.com.au/7_doors_page.html (see Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb) for publishing details).
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6.6 Capacity building
This is a term that is often used but poorly understood. Any project team aiming to work with the community should attempt to increase the capacity of a group to carry out similar or ongoing projects with decreasing support or supervision. Efforts should be made before or during project development to identify opportunities to develop capacity.
Capacity can include:
- knowledge, eg development of technical understanding or research skills, or knowledge of funding and other processes
- networking, including developing partnerships and support networks, and understanding the regional significance of group activities
- management, including training in project management skills, and monitoring and evaluation
- leadership, including administration, facilitation and conflict resolution skills, engagement in regional planning, and project development
- ownership, eg community pride, local interest in the issue, ongoing management of the issue, development of local industry.
The capacity of a group to engage in a project may be limited by issues that do not relate to the project, such as poor social cohesion or having no local childminding facility. These issues cannot always be addressed through your project, but should be identified as early as possible and considered during project planning, and efforts should be made to address these barriers where possible.
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6.7 Training considerations
When working with threatened species or ecological communities, there are often specific procedures that must be followed to minimise impacts on the species in question and to allow for adequate collection of scientifically meaningful data. In addition, licences may be required for some practices, which will set out which activities can be conducted and what degree of supervision will be required.
When you assist community groups to practise appropriate techniques, train their members and help them plan properly for projects, the community can become a model for peer groups or even professional organisations.
- there may be some activities which cannot be delegated entirely to community groups because of training, knowledge, licensing or occupational health and safety (OH&S) issues
- there are, equally, a number of guidelines available for groups which can be combined with adequate training and understanding from the community to enable responsibility to be delegated to the community
- it can be helpful to optimise community input by identifying simpler, labour-intensive tasks where group training and effort provide reinforcement and quality control
- some aspects of training, supervision, education and publicity can be delegated to community members, subject to periodic quality auditing by the project or recovery team.
Some of the technical and procedural guidelines useful for groups include:
'Threatened species survey and assessment guidelines' (currently in preparation by DEC) will also be a useful resource once published.
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6.8 Volunteer management and policies
Most organisations or agencies that work with volunteers have policies and procedures that define roles and responsibilities to reduce the risk of harm to volunteers as well as the liability of the organisation. Ensure that any existing and relevant volunteer policies are followed or developed specifically for the project if necessary, and that appropriate insurance coverage is held by the group or partners.
A volunteer policy is likely to cover topics such as:
- information about the organisation, its purpose and type of work it conducts
- why volunteers are involved in the organisation
- volunteer recruitment and management procedures
- the rights and responsibilities of volunteers
- the rights and responsibilities of paid staff
- dispute resolution procedures
- OH&S procedures, such as risk assessment
- evaluation processes.
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6.9 Occupational health and safety (OH&S)
OH&S considerations are vital when working with volunteers. There is a considerable body of legislation and case law setting out the liability for agencies and organisations.
Conservation Volunteers Australia (see www.conservationvolunteers.com.au) has determined 10 key things to consider when dealing with OH&S:
- Risk assessment See section 6.10 below for more information
- Volunteer registration This should be used to collect important information such as contact details and emergency contacts, as well as pre-existing medical conditions which may impact on involvement in the activity. Where needed, a strategy should be developed with the volunteer to address these issues.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) Volunteers should be provided with critical PPE, eg safety glasses if using brush cutters. Other less vital equipment such as sunscreen and gloves should, wherever possible, be supplied by organisers, or volunteers asked to provide their own. Volunteers without adequate PPE should not be permitted to take part in activities.
- Documentation Record and file all paperwork such as volunteer registrations and attendance, risk assessment forms and incident reports.
- Volunteer induction and training All volunteers should be informed of their roles and responsibilities, the activity to be completed, key contacts and reporting requirements, safety procedures and risks and anything else relevant to the site or task. It is also important to discuss risk assessment with volunteers before undertaking an activity. A checklist for volunteer briefings has been included in Appendix 7 (appendix706348.pdf 14 kb).
- Emergency response plan Establish procedures in the event that something goes wrong. These should include responsibilities, first aid response, communication methods, geographic location and directions, escape routes, and evacuation. Make sure that more than one person is trained and aware of the planned responses.
- Mission statement Use a group or project mission statement to provide a framework for assessing the appropriateness of tasks and volunteer involvement.
- Safety policy and procedures Develop a clear understanding of what work is to be carried out and what is not, who is responsible and how it will be done.
- Safety leadership Make sure there is adequate and effective site supervision.
- Incorporation and insurance Check that the activity to be undertaken and all participants are covered by appropriate insurance. Encourage groups to become incorporated to reduce personal liability.
Further information is available in the Conservation Volunteers Australia toolkit, In safe hands - a safety management toolkit for community groups in practical conservation (See Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb) for more details).
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To show that you have considered and appropriately managed any hazards and risks, use the following forms or others from your organisation:
- a risk assessment checklist (see Appendix 8 (appendix806348.pdf 43 kb))
- risk management matrices
- safety standards for common practices.
These forms merely formalise what should be commonplace planning for any project, and need not take a lot of time to complete.
For more information on risk assessment, see Running the risk? A risk management tool for volunteer involving organisations on www.volunteeringaustralia.org - click on 'Publications' then enter the title into the search engine (see Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb) for publishing details).
Waivers and disclaimers can carry weight in court if correctly worded, but should not be relied on to replace appropriate risk assessment and OH&S procedures. Ideally, groups should seek legal advice when developing volunteer sign-in sheets and disclaimers.
For further information on OH&S legislation and liability, speak with the OH&S officer from your organisation or that of a partner, or check the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission website.
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Page last updated: 28 February 2011