Regardless of the biophysical environment, the one constant is that we are working together and involving people in river and riparian management. This means that we need to invest in listening, understanding and developing joint solutions to problems and challenges, as without this ‘social’ investment there is little likelihood that a project will succeed.

People need to be able to relate to information so that it has meaning for them in their day-to-day lives, this means that we need to merge science and experience to create understanding.

In Australia we have tended to place higher importance on technical or scientific ‘knowledge’, yet the term can be used much broader to cover the knowledge gained from experience. This type of knowledge can be described as ‘cognitive’, that is, knowledge based on what we define as ‘rational’ or ‘logical’. However, this ‘cognitive’ approach to knowledge goes against the reality that most people make decisions on emotional rather than rational grounds.

In most situations it is how someone feels about their land and river that motivates them to act. Feelings are what drive people to relate to their environment in many different ways, for example, through song, dance, drama and poetry. The implications of this for maximsing outcomes in natural resources management is that we need to acknowledge these other ways of ‘knowing’ our land and rivers, and incorporate them into our decision making frameworks.

Profit, Proof, People, Place and Promise

By using a framework called the ‘Five P’s’ it is possible to incorporate the many different factors and experiences that impact upon a person working in natural resources management. The Five P’s stand for: Profit, Proof, People, Place and Promise and were developed to highlight the full range of factors that impact on natural resources management decision making. It is a framework that can be applied at a number of different levels by people working in catchment management and with rural industries.

Building Capacity

‘Capacity’ has been a rather ill-defined concept, mainly because it encompasses a range of interrelated elements such as knowledge, skills, networks, norms and values, leadership, etc. Generally, capacity can be defined as an ‘ability to act’.

The ability of individuals and organisations to influence ‘good’ outcomes depends on the extent to which they understand the underlying processes, and have the skills, capabilities and motivation to influence these processes to achieve desired outcomes.

Research has identified 35 ‘dimensions’ of capacity that were commonly identified from the case-study regions around Australia to be important influences on the capacity of regional NRM groups and individuals to effect ‘good’ riparian management. These dimensions encompass issues such as the socio-economic and biophysical context, community values and perceptions, communications and empowerment, the riparian rehabilitation program design, and the way the program delivery is managed.

Capacity assessment tool

Using data gathered from the research project, a ‘capacity assessment tool’ was developed to help program managers, officers and policy makers ‘step through’ and think about capacity issues. The tool can also be used to monitor and evaluate ‘capacity’, or as a facilitation tool to help communities and program managers to identify priorities for capacity building programs.