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Planning thrives on participation

PICTURE: The suns rays produce many contrasting shades of green at Munibung Hill  Credit: Samantha Doove.

Munibung Hill is an area of ‘land owned by both private interests and council. There are many stakeholders who see the site as significant for the area in terms of its contribution to local biodiversity, history, culture, and recreation. Yet housing developments continue to eat away at the edges of this diverse and valuable landscape, with unknown consequences.’

‘How can we ensure the effective management, preservation and sustainability of this unique social-ecological system?’ asks Samantha Doove, in: Could Participatory Management Save Munibung Hill? – a paper written as part of the 

‘Broadening participation is one of seven ecological principles for the resilience of ecosystems. Participation refers to the active engagement of stakeholders in defining a problem, setting goals, planning and monitoring. The benefits of actively engaging a broad range of stakeholders could benefit the sustainability of an ecosystem like Munibung Hill in several well documented ways.’

[Editor: Here is an extract from the Stockholm Resilience Institute paper about social-ecological systems.

A resilience approach to sustainability focuses on how to build capacity to deal with unexpected change. This approach moves beyond viewing people as external drivers of ecosystem dynamics and rather looks at how we are part of and interact with the biosphere – the sphere of air, water and land that surrounds the planet and in which all life is found. One of the main ways in which people depend on and interact with the biosphere is through their use of different ecosystem services, such as the water we use for cooking and drinking, the crops we grow to nourish ourselves, regulation of the climate and our spiritual or cultural connections to ecosystems. People also change the biosphere in a myriad ways through activities such as agriculture, and building roads and cities. A resilience thinking approach tries to investigate how these interacting systems of people and nature – or social-ecological systems – can best be managed to ensure a sustainable and resilient supply of the essential ecosystem services on which humanity depends.

For a popular summary of the book “Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems”, published by Cambridge University Press (2014) visit: The 7 principles.   The principles are considered crucial for building resilience in social-ecological systems and discuss how these principles can be practically applied. The seven principles are:
1) maintain diversity and redundancy,
2) manage connectivity,
3) manage slow variables and feedbacks,
4) foster complex adaptive systems thinking,
5) encourage learning,
6) broaden participation, and
7) promote polycentric governance systems.]

Returning to the paper by Samantha Doove. …  Participatory decision-making has many advantages. 

One of them is trust, notes Samantha. ‘Broad participation can build trust between stakeholders. This trust not only creates better working relationships, stronger communities and less conflict, but it leads to greater acceptance of management strategies and increases the legitimacy of the program.’

Another is you are more likely to end up with enhanced management plans. Broad stakeholder participation brings together both scientific and experiential knowledge and varied perspectives (ecological, social, and political) needed to manage complex social-ecological systems like Munibung Hill. This could be in the form of indigenous knowledge, historic perspectives or community science and observation.  The link between information gathering and decision making is strengthened.

A third advantage can be described as social learning. Social interactions between stakeholders gives rise to social learning via the sharing of knowledge, the application of these learnings and reflection on their effectiveness. Workshops, focus groups and scenario building are just some of the forums that could facilitate this multidirectional information flow.

A fourth is Monitoring.  Involving local people in the ongoing monitoring and data collection of ecological systems can be just as reliable as professional monitoring, can build a partnership between stakeholders and facilitates learning. The system’s capacity to detect, respond to and absorb disturbances is improved through multi-stakeholder participation.
A community that is engaged in the creation of management strategies will be attuned to disturbances and able to quickly feed this knowledge back into on the ground management systems. 

Does a site like Munibung Hill lend itself to the monitoring of its ecosystems by the very people who visit and use the site regularly?

The announcement by Council in early 2021 that a Management Plan for Munibung Hill was being compiled has been a positive one. Community feedback was requested via an online survey. [Editor: The survey attracted almost 400 submissions which indicates how much interest there is in seeing Munibung Hill protected and conserved for future generations.]

Early and ongoing participation from a broad range of stakeholders, learning from each other, trusting each other and collaboratively developing a management plan will preserve Munibung Hill’s ecology well into the future.
How to apply resilience thinking, Stockholm Resilience Centre TV – 48,593 views on YouTube / Jun 29, 2015.