Letters to the Editor: Stakeholder Engagement in EBM

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

The lead article in our October/November 2011 issue was on stakeholder engagement in EBM, including the potential benefits and challenges associated with such involvement. We received several responses, including the letters below.

On direct and indirect consequences of extensive stakeholder engagement

Dear MEAM:

The recent MEAM issue on stakeholder involvement raised a number of vital issues. I think we have all learned that an exclusively top-down, command-and-control approach to marine governance is unlikely to succeed. However, I think we are learning that Judith Layzer's sobering warning needs to be taken seriously as well. It is equally unrealistic to expect that making all governance exclusively bottom-up and stakeholder-driven will be universally successful.

This topic was the subject of a dynamic and well-attended theme session at the recent ICES Annual Science Conference (ASC). Many papers in the session presented case histories on how allowing the planning and decision-making process to become more inclusive of stakeholders might break management impasses that had impeded progress on sustainable use of marine ecosystems, sometimes for decades. This good news generated enthusiasm. However, a few papers presented experiences that suggested tempering that enthusiasm: inclusive governance has it own challenges - different challenges, but real ones.

The discussion session following the papers was probably the most dynamic I have seen in decades of attending ICES ASCs. No one argued that the top-down model was ideal. But both direct and indirect consequences of extensive engagement emerged from the discussion. Directly, the increases in transaction costs and time to reach outcomes from expansively inclusive governance processes are real costs, and sometimes allow situations that satisfy no one to persist because consensus cannot be achieved on what direction of change to follow. But we all know that, and it can be a price worth paying for a stable outcome at the end.

A more indirect consequence of making governance more inclusive also emerged from the discussion. "Governance" has many steps; in EBM, there are steps for information collection, review, and synthesis (I'll refer to these as "science" steps) and then steps to reach consensus on what to do, given the information (the "consultation and decision" steps). Inclusiveness rarely permeates all these steps at the same time and at the same pace.

In the mid-1990s, when Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans established what is now the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat to provide science advice to the consultation and decision steps, we made a commitment to make our process more open and inclusive to traditional and experiential knowledge. Although there were still rules of engagement to keep the process as impartial and evidence-based as possible, the science steps unquestionably were made much more inclusive of stakeholders. This worked well and the "science advice" was much richer for including the greater breadth of knowledge. However, many stakeholders remained unsatisfied with the roles that they had in other steps in the governance process. For fisheries issues, some biodiversity interests did not feel they were taken seriously in consultation processes, and lacked effective access to the decision steps. Fisheries interests certainly felt the same about processes engaged in establishing marine protected areas or identifying species for listing under the Species at Risk Act. They brought their dissatisfactions with their perceived roles in the other steps to the science processes where they did have access and status.

The consequences are easy to imagine. Even experienced meeting leaders could not keep partisan policy arguments from pervading what were intended to be policy-neutral evaluations of the information about complex ecosystem issues - what are status, trends, risks and threats? This could compromise the ability of the science steps to provide a universally accepted information basis that the consultation and decision steps could use to help resolve true differences among stakeholders on objectives and preferences for management actions.

These problems did not occur in every case, but they occur increasingly often. They are not a reason to turn our backs on inclusiveness in any of the steps. Done correctly, inclusiveness strengthens each step in governance. But there is a naivety to those who argue that just making some part of governance inclusive necessarily makes it better. Governance is complex. Its parts are all necessary and the steps have to work together effectively. Effective inclusiveness may be achieved in different ways in different parts of the overall process, and the whole has to evolve coherently to remain functional. We need to keep sharing experiences, as was done with the rich set of contributions in the previous MEAM issue. And we need to keep in mind there is no miracle solution out there to the challenges of ocean governance in an ecosystem context - not even stakeholder engagement.

Jake Rice
Senior national advisor for ecosystem sciences, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa, Canada. E-mail: ricej [at] dfo-mpo.gc.ca


In Palau, two types of stakeholder involvement in LMMAs

Dear MEAM:

In Palau we have two different stakeholder-involvement arrangements for locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) in each of the states that make up the Republic.

The first arrangement is where the state government (elected leaders) proposes the idea for an LMMA. A public hearing with all interested stakeholders is conducted to allow everyone to provide input before a decision is made. Although members of the community are the official resource owners, the LMMA is usually legislated and enforced by the state government with a director supervising the site's day-to-day operations.

The second arrangement is an attempt to co-manage LMMAs. States create an independent management board that comprises representatives of different stakeholder groups - including state government, traditional leadership, and the local community - to ensure collaborative decision-making.

Both of these arrangements have pros and cons and can work for different sites or communities.

One of the challenges involved with engaging stakeholders is that sometimes there can be a lack of "ownership" of problems, solutions, or ideas. This is very common and will often result in reaching a dead end. Our communities are divided by clans and families and for an idea to find root and grow, one must understand this social system and its history. The key to success in collaboration and community engagement is to identify the key people who head each clan or families that have strong influence. This is where engagement must begin.

A related challenge is that without wide buy-in for key management strategies - such as no-take zones or seasonal fishing of a key species - these strategies can seem imposed on a community. So it is very important that the community identifies its key natural resources, its vision for them, and what threats those resources face. At that point, solutions can be suggested along with examples of sites or communities that have faced similar threats. This process helps the community identify the solution with the best chance of success, and guarantees ownership of decisions even if sacrifices must be made by individuals or the community. It is clearly understood that it is for the good of their livelihoods.

Wayne Andrew
Delegate, House of Delegates (one of two houses in the Palau National Congress), Koror, Palau. E-mail: tpacmte [at] palaunet.com


On the importance of stakeholder involvement in EBM

Dear MEAM:

The following comments are derived from several decades of experience in applying the principles of EBM in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems in different regions and countries. I therefore believe that they are generally applicable to EBM:

  • Most integrated ecosystem management programs depend on the support of local communities for survival. At the same time, effective management, especially of non-locals, may depend on formal government recognition of the contribution that management of an ecosystem makes to human welfare through maintaining biological productivity. It follows that design and management in EBM must be both bottom-up and top-down.
  • Managers should understand the local communities and identify potential partners. They must listen to the many interests and seek ways to involve them as participants in resource management. It is recommended to build management partnerships using the collaborative management model, which is outlined in detail in Annex 1 of Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas (1999, IUCN, http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/mpaguid.pdf).
  • While marine conservation and sustainable use are sometimes seen as fundamentally different objectives, they are in fact intimately interrelated. Some attempts at EBM have failed because the main aim of management has been biodiversity conservation while that of the local community has been some level of resource use. Both aims should be reconciled within the ecosystem. There needs to be clarity from the outset about how the two sets of objectives relate to each other.
  • Local people must be deeply involved from the earliest possible stage if EBM is to succeed. This involvement should extend to their receiving clearly identifiable benefits - environmental and economic - from the managed ecosystem.

Graeme Kelleher. AO.
Senior advisor, World Commission on Protected Areas, Canberra, Australia. E-mail: graempa [at] home.netspeed.com.au

This content is part of a Top List!

The OpenChannels Team curates important content into Top Lists. Browse through the links below to see what other content is included in this Top List.