Pillar 1 – Community Involvement:
Identify the target audience

Quick tips:

  • Focus early on effectively identifying the range of individuals and organisations who represent the target audience for a demonstration reach. Use existing networks to identify the target audience.
  • Early engagement with community champions and long term residents in an area can help build local relationships and trust, as well as assist in community participation and ownership.
  • Consider the lessons learnt in identifying and engaging with target audiences which are outlined below. These relate to expectations and perceptions, effort and time, adaptability and flexibility, diversity and complexity, and understanding and awareness.

Demonstration reaches aim to address multiple management issues, and this means that the notion of the ‘community’ is complex. The numbers and types of participants and stakeholders will depend on the size of the reach and the variety of issues that need to be addressed. The potential target audience could encompass any individual, group and organisation with a direct or indirect interest or role in management of a demonstration reach. This may include local, state and federal government agencies, private landholders, Indigenous communities, fishing clubs and Landcare groups, schools, service clubs, and business, interest and industry groups.

It is important to recognise that members of a target audience will each have their own interests and perspectives; understanding these is an essential step in developing the most appropriate approach to communicate with them. It is critically important to identify the correct people to contact with respect to stakeholder groups, and especially Indigenous communities. Use of champions and high profile people can be valuable, increasing profile and interest. Long term landholders who have lived in an area for many generations should be involved and managed carefully, since they will have a wealth of knowledge.

During the development of demonstration reaches, emphasis should be placed on effectively identifying the target audience by using existing networks and ensuring adequate promotion of the project in the community that invites participation from stakeholders who represent the community. Strong community ownership, participation and empowerment is essential in all aspects from the development of strategies and plans, implementation of works and monitoring the outcomes. Without this genuine, continuous and diverse involvement, a community can view a demonstration reach as a government agency driven program that they are not strongly and personally invested in. This approach also helps to create community capacity and maximises the chances of empowering the community to become stewards in the long term. Broad community involvement also increases the potential to diversify funding options through partnerships with local industry, the community and government.

Relationships and trust must be developed and maintained throughout the project. It is important to acknowledge that there can be a significant ‘lead in’ time to building community understanding and support for the proposed activities.

Branding can help build local recognition (Photo -Fern Hames)
NFS team members during Native Fish Awareness Week 2010. Photo: Fern Hames

Lessons learnt

Some of the lessons learnt in relation to target audiences are summarised below.

Expectations and perceptions

  • In the early stages of initiating a demonstration reach, some community members may have existing broader frustrations about river management or particular organisations. This may result in an unwillingness to participate in project activities. Be mindful that this may change as people begin to see onground works being implemented and are encouraged by the participation of others within the community. The involvement of school students in activities can often lead to subsequent participation by their parents.
  • Managing expectations can be difficult, but is essential to ensure ongoing community commitment to the project.
  • Common areas where expectations need to be clearly stated include:
    • that long timeframes are required to demonstrate a positive improvement in river health.
    • ecological knowledge is imperfect and being open and honest about this builds trust.
    • acknowledging past mistakes (e.g. desnagging, poor practices in willow removal etc) and that NRM is a constantly evolving field.
    • highlighting that while monitoring and demonstrating ecological benefits is one aspect of demonstration reaches, other aspects such as building relationships are very important too.
    • activities need to be realistic and achievable from the outset.
    • establishing and clearly communicating a shared vision can help maintain focus and scope
    • identifying some early short term and achievable goals help in getting people and groups engaged.
  • Differences in interests of stakeholder groups and perceptions that particular rehabilitation actions may have negative impacts on them, can lead to conflict and opposition. Clarity and communication are key.
Dewfish demonstration reach member Kevin Graham (Photo – Fern Hames)
A range of stakeholders inspecting a fishway (Photo – Fern Hames)

Effort and time

  • Adequate resourcing and commitment to community engagement for the implementation of demonstration reaches is needed.
  • Negotiations between stakeholders and the community can be lengthy, detailed and require significant effort.  Sometimes external expertise can be beneficial.
  • Effective engagement needs to be persistent and ongoing.  Community engagement often grows exponentially, starting slowly as trust and relationships are built, and developing into involvement and ownership of the project. This is where dedicated staff and funding to undertake such roles is valuable in providing connections across all aspects of the demonstration reach.
  • Resources and investment to monitor engagement efforts also need to be included in planning and budgeting to allow for the adaptive management of community engagement.
FishCare volunteers at a field day in Dubbo (Photo -Tony Townsend)
A fishing club monitoring water quality along the Namoi demonstration reach (Photo – Anthony Townsend)

Adaptability and flexibility

  • It is important that demonstration reaches are flexible and adaptable in their planning and implementation. Robust planning, underpinned by good science is vital to guide the delivery of projects, as participants can change over time, potentially leading to loss of momentum and support. Unforseen problems such as drought or flood can affect the success of onground action as it can slow progress and impact negatively on community morale.
  • There is also a risk of burn out for some participants, especially community champions, and this needs to be anticipated and managed effectively. Community champions will change over time, and engagement approaches should remain inclusive to encourage nurturing of new, emerging champions.
  • Vandalism of signage, habitat works and tracks, as well as theft can be an ongoing issue for some sites. Responses to this have required consideration of the practical aspects (e.g. more robust signs; or less robust, cheaper, readily-replaceable signs) as well as the human aspect (e.g. analysing the causes of the vandalism and actively engaging with that sector of the community to build advocacy and ownership for the site).
A planning exercise with stakeholders during a site visit (Photo – Fern Hames)
Inspecting a site affected by drought (Photo – Fern Hames)

Diversity and complexity

  • All sites and communities are different and it is important to understand the variety of community issues and concerns, and how these fit into and influence management options.
  • All stakeholders will have their own personal motivations, which can be complex and difficult to understand. Multiple perspectives bring great value to projects, and understanding these is essential.
  • In divided communities, there is a risk of perceived or real ‘take over’ of events or entire projects by interest groups with a single agenda, potentially in conflict with the project’s aims. It is important to maintain focus, and regularly reflect on the agreed shared vision.
A field day with multiple stakeholders (Photo – Fern Hames)
An onsite field visit to discuss rehabilitation works (Photo – Wayne Tennant)

Understanding and awareness

  • Lack of understanding of some stakeholders can hamper agreement on, or support for, activities. This can include:
    • Local landholders not understanding the benefits of proposed activities (e.g. willow removal, riparian fencing or resnagging), the current status of a waterway or the level of intervention required.
    • Some stakeholders believing that simply adding more fish to a river by stocking will achieve a net increase in fish abundance and diversity.
  • Recognising the multiple perspectives of all stakeholders and building an understanding of multiple benefits from rehabilitation actions across a range of areas including environmental, social and economic, can be powerful. For example, highlighting to a landholder that offstream watering points are good for the river and his cattle.
Inspecting rehabilitation works (Photo – Tony Townsend)