Pillar 1 – Community Involvement:
Establish infrastructure and governance

Quick tips:

  • Establishing the right infrastructure and governance from the start of a demonstration reach is critical.
  • An organisation (e.g. an NRM group) must take prime carriage for the planning and implementation of the project.
  • The type of governance structure will vary between demonstration reaches and should be compatible with the existing structure and processes of the agency taking prime carriage, however it must encompass all stakeholders who will drive and participate in the demonstration reach project.
  • A project manager is vital to the short term development and long term success of a demonstration reach representing the “glue” that keeps the project together.
  • Key people who drive the establishment and implementation of demonstration reaches, particularly project managers, need sound communication skills.
  • It is recommended that key groups such as steering committees and advisory groups are established to ensure sufficient and broad stakeholder and community consultation.
  • Knowledge transfer between those involved (project managers, steering committees, advisory groups) is very important so that all the elements of the program link closely (onground works, community engagement, research).
  • Terms of Reference for committees and groups can be very useful since they help in planning of specific actions, they clarify roles and functions which can minimise the risk of future conflict when people have different perceptions of what they should be doing.
  • Implement a plan for succession to minimise potential loss of corporate knowledge, connections and momentum.

Coordination is required for all aspects of a demonstration reach – from community involvement, planning, implementation of actions and monitoring. To achieve this, an appropriate organisational structure must be established, the character of which will be driven by the specific context, the scale of the site, complexity of issues, community size and funding.

For example, some large complex demonstration reaches could include steering committees, community advisory groups, working groups, expert panels and project teams. Other smaller reaches may establish small steering committees or a community advisory group and a project team. Whichever structure is established, it is essential that there is a mechanism for all stakeholders to contribute to management decisions. Developing clear terms of reference (see Example 2a below) for committees and groups can clarify their role and minimise any potential confusion or conflict. It is also important that sharing information across groups on relevant issues is effective and efficient.

Click the tabs below to explore key infrastructure and governance considerations when establishing a demonstration reach.

Prime carriage

A demonstration reach project requires an organisation to take prime carriage of its implementation. Two models have operated within the existing demonstration reaches – with government NRM agencies (South Australia, New South Wales and ACT) or CMAs/NRM groups (Victoria and Queensland) fulfilling this role. Given the long-term aim of demonstration reaches being ‘owned’ by a local community, the preferred model is likely for CMAs/NRM groups to drive them.

Project manager

Experience from existing demonstration reaches has shown that a dedicated project manager makes a significant difference to the chances of a demonstration reach being successful. This position should be fully focussed on the demonstration reach project, rather than juggling multiple other roles. This person is responsible for managing the varying and often disparate projects required to deliver the desired ecological outcomes of the demonstration reach.

Having a sole contact has also proven to alleviate community confusion about the project and whom they should contact. It would be preferable for the project manager to live within or near to the local community and the agencies involved in the onground activities. This provides an enhanced opportunity to build close relationships and to respond more easily to specific onground issues. If this is not possible, however, it must be recognised that additional effort will be required for travel and to develop strong community ties.

The tasks of a project manager are wide and varied and may include:

  • prepare and coordinate the development of planning documents
  • negotiate, monitor and report on the timetable for implementation of the various implementation activities to ensure integration
  • advise the Steering Committee (see below) of any risks, gaps or opportunities and provide advice on how these might be dealt with
  • undertake community awareness activities to encourage participation and adoption of river rehabilitation actions, including interacting with media
  • liaise with an array of community members, contractors involved in implementing works, scientists guiding planning and undertaking monitoring etc
  • develop project briefs and applications for external sources of funding
  • prepare tenders and contracts for funded projects
  • chair any associated groups formed within the project such as community advisory group, scientific advisory groups, and report back to the steering committee
  • prepare milestone reports and updates and disseminate these

To undertake these tasks effectively, a project manager must have particularly strong organisational skills. Comprehensive engagement skills are also essential to effectively communicate and understand the perspectives of a broad range of groups and individuals which represent the community.

The Dewfish demonstration reach team celebrates awards (Photo – Greg Ringwood)

Depending on funding availability and scale of a demonstration reach and required works, a dedicated project team may be employed. Planning, coordination and implementation of multiple interventions at numerous locations within a reach over time, can represent a significant workload.

Experience has shown that the project manager tends to be the glue that keeps a project together, and keeps momentum going. With no project manager, dissemination of information and promotion of activities and achievements will decline, and community interest will wane. This will reduce the likely long term success of a demonstration reach.

Succession planning

Succession planning for project managers in particular is critical. Given the broad range of potential responsibilities and roles of a project manager, it is very difficult for a replacement to be able to take on these duties rapidly. During this transition phase, there is a potential for loss of momentum in a project and a failure to achieve milestones, which is magnified if a position is vacant for a period of time.

Project managers hold significant corporate knowledge associated within their reach including communities and partnerships between organisations. Emphasis must be placed on sound and comprehensive record keeping, to minimise the risk of loss of information. The creation of databases, which may include works planned and completed, key community contacts, budgets, upcoming events, ideas, concepts and potential sources of funding etc should be undertaken as part of the project management. It should also be recognised that comprehensive record keeping assists in development of milestone reports, and broader dissemination of achievements.

Branding can also play a role in minimising impacts of succession, where different staff are identifiable when they wear recognisable demonstration reach attire.

Steering committees

Significant and meaningful stakeholder consultation is needed right from the start. The broad community must feel directly involved in the early planning phase, including development of a vision and issues that need to be addressed. A steering committee can help achieve this, and potentially may include:

  • Government representatives (Commonwealth, state and local)
  • Regional NRM groups or CMAs
  • Research bodies (universities, consultants etc.) – including specialist
  • Indigenous community
  • Community groups (Landcare, Bushcare etc.)
  • Recreational fishers
  • Industry and business
  • Schools and educational institutes (e.g. TAFE).

The steering committee should aim to include representatives from the lead agency/group, funding bodies and jurisdiction fisheries and conservation management agencies. It should be small enough in membership to allow for efficient decision-making and ease of convening regular meetings. The frequency of meetings will depend on the tasks involved and tend to be most frequent at the development and planning stage. The committee would be responsible for all major decisions in the process and could call on technical expertise as required.

Participation of key representatives on a steering committee can strengthen linkages with other associated local programs. A steering committee which encompasses a range of skills, perspectives and experience can provide strong guidance and support for a demonstration reach.

Community advisory group

In addition to a steering committee, it may be valuable to establish a community advisory group to comprise members of a cross section of the local community. Such a group would strengthen the potential for community awareness and support for fish conservation and habitat rehabilitation. There must however be recognition that community members can vary in their capacity to participate in such groups.

A community advisory group can provide a more informal avenue to share information, discuss issues, priorities or concerns with the local community, and highlight linkages with specific local NRM programs. These views can then be reported to the steering committee and it is important that there is effective communication between this group and the steering committee, which can be achieved if there is overlapping membership such as the project manager.

Identifying and seeking support of local champions within the community can be valuable. The participation of those with a significant standing in the community can create momentum and promotion of the project. Ultimately, this group should be chaired by a member of the community, rather than a government or agency representative. In the early days of establishment, there may need to be a transitional arrangement, where experienced staff provide support and guidance and build capacity. The group may choose any title it desires.


The Hollands Creek demonstration reach and Ovens River demonstration reach established community reference groups, while the Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach established a community network.

Hollands Creek demonstration reach community reference group (Photo – Fern Hames)
Local champions in South Australia Henry and Gloria Jones (Photo -Jonathan McPhaill)

Scientific advisory group

Expert scientific and technical input may be needed during key stages of the demonstration reach, such as the identification and prioritisation of threats to native fish and in the planning and implementation and monitoring results of interventions. It may be valuable to establish a dedicated group comprised of aquatic ecologists as well as specialists in fields relevant to the remedial works undertaken such as geomorphologists, engineers or biometricians.

Providing knowledge on the fish community present in the reach, their current status, threats and basic ecology of fish species at the planning stage may be one of the core functions of such a group. The demonstration reach project manager would act as executive officer, thereby providing a link between other relevant groups and committees.

Given the inclusion of rigorous monitoring in demonstration reaches, scientific advisory groups would play an important role in the development and implementation of a monitoring and evaluation plan. Other approaches include contracting particular experts to provide advice and input.


The Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach established a specialist monitoring and evaluation subgroup to guide and review their M&E plan.


2a – Terms of Reference for the Scientific Advisory Group and Community Reference Group for the Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach

The role of the Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach ‘Scientific Advisory Group was to provide expert scientific advice to guide development and review of monitoring and evaluation of the UMDR project.

The group will:

  • Identify and agree on appropriate monitoring and evaluation targets to measure the progress of the UMDR project in accordance with NFS guidelines.
  • Provide advice during the development of methodology for a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation plan for the UMDR project, including data capture and analysis of techniques in-line with NFS guidelines.
  • Review the progress of monitoring and evaluation activities and make relevant recommendations for improving any aspect/s of the monitoring and evaluation activities at nominated stages.
  • Identify linkages between the on-ground NRM related rehabilitation activities and the results of monitoring and evaluation studies and provide recommendations towards future work associated with the overall UMDR project
  • Review and provide comment on any output/s and presentation of outcomes of monitoring and evaluation activities.

The roles of the Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach Community Reference Group were to:

  • Facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information between community based individuals, groups and organisations, with the UMDR project manager (and appropriate agency representatives as seen appropriate by the group)
  • Inform representatives of the community reference group of existing and potential future actions being undertaken toward UMDR targets.
  • Identify on-ground issues within the UMDR and continually review potential opportunities to source funding to remedy the issues.
  • Identify and continually review opportunities for community engagement opportunities, including sources of funding to assist with engagement activities, within the UMDR.
  • Provide an open forum for raising ideas for ways in which community members can play an active role in ‘championing’ the UMDR or parts thereof, within the bounds of the UMDR plans of action (Implementation, CEPA, Carp Reduction and Monitoring and Evaluation).
Burra community meeting discussing erosion priorities. Photo Siwan Lovett
Conversations between stakeholders are vital to keeping demonstration reaches functioning well. Photo Siwan Lovett