Community support is fundamental to the success of any regional water quality management strategy . To ensure community support, the community must be engaged to the extent that they have true influence over water quality management decisions and thus a stake in maintaining outcomes and actions. However, whilst community engagement must involve more than a mere consultation, it is not realistic to involve everyone in every decision. The challenge is to involve the right people at the right time to maximise involvement in the decision-making process without getting ‘bogged down’. There are some critical points within the NWQMS framework where community involvement is essential.
Identify the community
A broad definition of ‘community’ includes all of the people who might have an interest in water quality management in your region. Examples of community members include: landholders; research bodies; industry representatives; community members and interest groups; educational institutions; and all levels of government agencies and environment groups (links to the websites of many of the groups represented in the list above).
Understand the community and how it works
Some possible mechanisms for doing this are to:
- map how the different parts of the water quality community fit together and information flows within the region and use this map to identify the best way to engage people through their exisiting networks;
- identify mechanisms for obtaining technical input;
- determine if there is a need to enhance or formalise existing networks;
- determine the level of involvement people want;
- establish community objectives for being involved in water quality management and identify ways to meet these objectives; and
- determine current levels of community understanding of water quality issues.
The Coastal CRC’s Enabling Adaptive Management website shows the mapping of the community in the Mackay-Whitsunday region and tools for improving alignment amongst regional agency programs and activities (including water quality).
During the consultation/participation process, all participants should feel that their input has been used and valued. The following measures can be taken to help achieve this desirable result:
- provide adequate background information to overcome ‘information inequality’
- use a range of mechanisms so all interest groups feel they have had equal opportunity to participate at the level they want to
- maintain contact with all stakeholders including those with strongly opposing views
- ensure that community input is not only reflected in the final product but that it is obvious that it has been incorporated and
- make sure the participants feel adequately thanked and their objectives have been met
A wide range of techniques are available to assist with community participation and it is important to choose the right one for the situation. The Coastal CRC has developed the Citizen Science Toolbox to help those involved in community participation choose the best available tool(s) ( Coastal CRC ).