- Top of page
- Implementing Engagement in the Native Fish Strategy
- Supporting Information
Key distinguishing features of the Native Fish Strategy were genuine, targeted partnerships and effective, planned engagement that aimed to inform, involve and empower relevant stakeholders. Engagement programmes were developed and coordinated at a Basin-wide scale, but diverse engagement activities were adapted and implemented in a local context by dedicated coordinators.
- Top of page
- Implementing Engagement in the Native Fish Strategy
- Supporting Information
The Native Fish Strategy (NFS) aimed to restore native fish populations in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) back to 60% of pre-European settlement levels within 50 years (MDBC 2004). To achieve this, the NFS worked across all levels of government (federal, state and local government agencies) and involved multiple stakeholders, including natural resource managers, Landcare groups, fishing clubs, Indigenous communities and landholders. The involvement of multiple stakeholders allowed the NFS to transfer its research outcomes into local plans and on-ground actions to support native fish recovery across the Basin.
The transfer of research outcomes into policy decisions is best achieved by building and maintaining relationships with key individuals and stakeholders through a range of face-to-face activities such as meetings, workshops and field days (Gibbons et al. 2008). Shared participation in such events by local and scientific communities also supports further progress, through new understandings and solutions (Pretty 1995). In Australia, the review of a decade of funding through Landcare and the Natural Heritage Trust endorsed the empowerment of regional communities as the best way to deal with environmental degradation (Smith et al. 2005). Although genuine empowerment, and control of decision-making by local communities, is recognised and often articulated as the aim of many engagement programmes, few genuinely deliver this in practice (Ghimire & Pimbert 1997).
The International Association of Public Participation (‘IAP2’) spectrum of engagement recognises that differing levels of engagement are legitimate depending on the context (IAP2 2004). The spectrum ranges from the simple one-way information flow of ‘Inform’, through increasing levels of stakeholder participation in ‘Consult’ and ‘Involve’ to genuine partnerships and high levels of stakeholder participation in planning, decision-making and implementation in ‘Collaborate’ and ‘Empower’. For some contexts, ‘Inform’ will be appropriate and sufficient. To achieve ownership, advocacy and long-term behavioural change, empowerment will be the aim. The NFS applied this approach when planning engagement activities, to provide people with information, involve them in activities, consult them on relevant issues and empower them to make well-informed decisions for their own local waterways and beyond (Table 1 provides examples of the range of NFS activities within each of these engagement categories).
Table 1. Examples of activities delivered by the NFS across the IAP2 engagement spectrum
Factsheets, reports, scientific papers, books, websites, media releases, radio programmes
Field days. Presentations to local groups and national forums, workshops and conferences
Cultural site assessments prior to undertaking works
Community consultation on signage content, style and locations
Values consultation in establishing Demonstration Reaches
Schools, community groups and landholders involved in revegetation, alien fish removal and ‘clean-up’ days
Fishing diaries and fishing competitions
Participation in Demonstration Reach project reference/steering groups and oral history projects
Working with natural resource managers, Indigenous communities and local governments to develop regional strategies and plans
Involvement by individuals and groups in planning and implementing complex events such as NFA Weeks and field days
Active contributions in Demonstration Reach reference/steering groups
Participation in oral history, art and music projects
Agencies developing natural resource strategies and plans
Community members taking up Demonstration Reach concepts and developing ongoing processes
Riparian landholders making decisions about their property now and into the future
Schools developing curricula
Indigenous communities becoming involved in oral histories, story sharing and establishing Landcare groups
Fishing clubs and industry groups becoming involved in decisions around fish habitat, conservation and natural resource management and implementing a range of advocacy actions.
This article documents the engagement philosophy, approach, successes and lessons learnt during a decade of NFS implementation. It is intended that this will assist others to achieve effective partnerships and engagement for rehabilitation or biodiversity programmes. The NFS demonstrated that active investment and effort, along with genuine, full-spectrum engagement does enhance programme success.
Implementing Engagement in the Native Fish Strategy
- Top of page
- Implementing Engagement in the Native Fish Strategy
- Supporting Information
From its beginning in 2003, the NFS identified the importance of engaging people in delivering positive outcomes for river health and native fish populations. The NFS was based on Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) (now Murray-Darling Basin Authority; MDBA) values and principles of integrated catchment management. This approach was ‘a process through which people can develop a vision, agree on shared values and behaviours, make informed decisions and act together to manage the natural resources of their catchment’ (MDBC 2004). The founding values and principles made regular reference to partnerships, relationship building and engagement, including with Indigenous communities. This approach was integral to the NFS, which was developed through extensive consultation with government agencies, interest groups and individuals, particularly in regional areas, with a commitment to working together to achieve a clear set of shared objectives (Koehn & Lintermans 2012).
Engaging with people was made easier by the ‘hook’ of fish and peoples’ connections with native fish, which then became a cornerstone of successful engagement (Fig 1). For some people, the rivers and fish were their livelihood, for others they offered a recreational, cultural or spiritual connection to their environment. Aiming to ‘bring back native fish’ was an easily recognised, common and shared vision across the Basin.
Figure 1. Engaging with people has been integral to implementing the Native Fish Strategy, which itself was developed through extensive consultation with government agencies, interest groups and individuals. Here, Hollands Creek Demonstration Reach Community Reference Group members are pictured learning about stream ecology. (Photo: Fern Hames).
Download figure to PowerPoint
Communication and engagement was a priority of the NFS, with dedicated investment. This included full-time NFS Coordinators, working groups and taskforces (including the Community Stakeholder Taskforce; CST) and seed funding for Demonstration Reaches (Koehn et al. 2014). In addition, approximately $100 000 was allocated annually for specific communication and engagement activities and resources, including production of written materials and implementation of Native Fish Awareness (NFA) weeks and tours.
The NFS was delivered by a network of people across the MDB. A small team of MDBA staff coordinated the delivery of the engagement (as well as other) programmes, while each Basin jurisdiction (Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia) employed a dedicated NFS Coordinator who facilitated NFS programmes and activities. NFS Coordinators were an integral part in the uptake of the NFS, playing an important role in maintaining and improving coordination of native fish management within and across Basin state agencies. They met regularly and worked together to share information and develop Basin-wide plans for engagement, carefully adapted to their local contexts. Coordinators also worked across all levels of the community, including key sectors such as recreational fishers, commercial fishers, the irrigation industry, nongovernment organisations, schools and Indigenous communities. Coordinators acted as knowledge brokers, engaging with a variety of stakeholders and working directly on numerous projects, embedding fish into wider catchment management programmes.
Locally, NFS Coordinators worked closely with members of another NFS group: the CST, which comprised representatives from a range of stakeholder groups. CST members met regularly, participated in local and Basin-wide activities and brought a range of perspectives to NFS discussions and planning. They also advocated for the NFS and its objectives in their respective industries and communities, bringing another level of credibility to the NFS message in those local contexts. The involvement of non-government personnel in the CST gave the NFS more unrestricted access to stakeholders, as CST members could express views free of prescribed government policies and positions.
Examples of activities the NFS delivered across the engagement spectrum are provided in Table 1, and further explored by the case studies below (also see http://www.finterest.com.au).
Figure 2 provides an assessment of the success of these forms of engagement. It also provides an assessment of the extent of reach with relevant audiences, transferability of knowledge to relevant people and value for money for each of our key NFS activities. This assessment is an expert view by the NFS Coordinators, based on their extensive and long-term experience. Development of this figure involved considering each jurisdiction's experience, developing an agreed Basin-wide ranking for each category and reporting on the level of success (1: some achievement, 2: good solid achievement or 3: substantial and consistent achievement) for each field. It is important to acknowledge that each engagement activity of the NFS had different aims and objectives, which dictated the focus of engagement methods, and that the activities were at various stages of their implementation. An activity may only have substantial achievement in one or two methods; however, this does not mean that the engagement activity failed. The variation in success across the activities also highlights areas for future focus for each engagement activity of the NFS. Variation also occurred across the Basin, depending on local contexts and focus (solid fields in the figure represent strong Basin-wide agreement and consistency in the assessment of success, and grey areas represent variability across the Basin). There was generally a high level of consistency in approach and achievements, especially for programmes such as Demonstration Reaches, an engagement highlight of the NFS. This assessment indicates that the NFS was particularly effective at informing people and in its transferability. We also believe that the clear emphasis of the NFS of empowering, involving, consulting and collaborating compares favourably in comparison with many Natural Resource Management (NRM) programmes. These observations were supported by the findings of the five-year review of the NFS, which indicated its communication and engagement activities were highly valued by stakeholders (Cottingham et al. 2009) and by a comprehensive survey about the NFS with NRM practitioners, scientists and community members (Barrett et al. 2013).
Figure 2. Basin-wide assessment of achievement in different forms of engagement, transferability, reach and value for money, for key areas of NFS engagement. Black sectors = Basin-wide agreement. Grey sectors = variability.
Download figure to PowerPoint
Unfortunately, a consistent and comprehensive approach to quantify the number and range of stakeholders and participants involved in the broad range of events and activities under the NFS umbrella was not established at the programme's start. This limited the ability for rigorous analysis. However, the NFS Annual Implementation Reports, internal CST reports and NFS Coordinator jurisdictional reports did provide additional levels of detail of activities. These reports highlighted the engagement activities across the Basin and show, for example, that the NSW Coordinators engaged with 95 stakeholder groups and the Victorian Coordinator 100 across the life of the NFS, including all levels of government agencies, community groups, recreational fishers, Indigenous communities and landholders. We reflect here on some of the key areas of NFS engagement, describe their history and provide some illustrative case studies.
Native fish awareness week
As the NFS was being developed, public consultation meetings were held across the Basin to discuss the draft strategy, understand community priorities, identify opportunities for future engagement and, most importantly, build community ownership of the NFS. A public comment period also helped shape the NFS (Koehn et al. 2014). Once the NFS was released and jurisdictional NFS Coordinators were employed, the approach to engagement broadened. From 2004, annual one-week tours were undertaken by MDBC (now MDBA) staff, the CST and NFS Coordinators. These focussed on particular areas within the Basin using a range of events, including presentations at forums, meetings, field days, works inspections (Figs 1 and 3) and school activities. This provided an important opportunity to engage with local stakeholders, including local government, NRM staff, fishing clubs and the broader community. Meetings and events recognised and celebrated local achievements, and discussed local priorities for action in native fish recovery and habitat rehabilitation. These annual tours, which became known as Native Fish Awareness (NFA) Week, provided an effective method of raising awareness of the NFS, enabling transfer of research outcomes and deepening the understanding by NFS members of local issues (Fig. 2). The tours also built relationships and strengthened communication within the NFS team.
NFA Weeks between 2004 and 2009 involved the entire NFS team touring a specific area within the Basin. In the early years, brief reports were compiled including itineraries and limited quantification of attendance at events. These reports help us chart the growth of NFA Weeks. For example, during the 2005 tour of the Darling River area, there were eight site visits, 12 presentations and meetings, and four media interactions. By the 2008 tour, through Central-west NSW, there were 28 visits and meetings, liaison with 12 local councils, agencies and Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), four school visits and 42 media items produced.
The cost-effectiveness of such a delivery format was reviewed, with a new approach trialled in 2010 and 2011 to extend the reach of the NFA Week message more effectively, while building on past successes. These NFA Weeks involved a Basin-wide launch at a key site attended by the entire NFS team, who then returned to their own jurisdictions, where NFS Coordinators and CST members hosted local activities. This approach enabled engagement with a much larger and more diverse audience, and a greater diversity of events, targeted at local issues. During 2010 and 2011, the NFS Coordinators produced detailed jurisdiction NFA Week reports that documented engagement. In 2010, a total of 41 events were organised with over 1800 participants across the Basin, with a significantly increased media activity of over 50 press articles and nine radio broadcast pieces. In 2011, there were 43 events, connecting with over 2500 people. New events included art, music, story sharing, book launches, sign launches and more creative activities with students (see http://www.finterest.com.au). As the level of activity increased, so too did the use of all forms of media, with over 140 items (e.g. print media articles, television interviews, radio programmes and online media) recorded during the event.
NFS workshops and forums
During the decade of the NFS programme, 11 workshops were held to address specific native fish management issues within the MDB. The workshops presented the most up to date science and knowledge in the fields of the key NFS priorities and clearly demonstrated the value of bringing together a diversity of scientists, managers and interest groups to understand each other's perspectives, learn from each other and identify shared recommendations for future actions.
The workshops addressed issues including thermal pollution, management of fish translocations and stockings, downstream movement of fish, management of Murray Cod, native fish habitat rehabilitation and management, native fish and wetlands, alien fish, emergency response management (two workshops), information systems and Demonstration Reaches (two workshops). Most workshops produced proceedings with management recommendations (see http://www.finterest.com.au).
Annual NFS Forums were also held from 2007 to 2011. Their objectives were to:
- present new results from NFS research projects
- achieve a broad understanding of the outcomes and progress of research and adoption projects and programmes within NFS
- provide a forum for active engagement between members of the stakeholder groups implementing the NFS
- provide a conduit for cross-fertilisation of ideas regarding the implementation of the NFS including future priorities for research and on-ground management.
Participant feedback demonstrated that these forums were an extremely important and effective method of engaging a wide range of representatives within the NRM field. Approximately 150 participants attended each forum, including state, federal and local government staff; scientists from government, universities and consultancies; NRM staff; Indigenous representatives; key interest and industry groups; CST and NFS members. Relationships were built, then strengthened. Sharing and learning from each other's experiences proved invaluable, particularly through panel discussions and more informal settings. The forums, and their published proceedings, provided a key method of disseminating and transferring the results of NFS projects into policy and operations, acting as an annual report card on progress, celebrating key successes, facilitating future collaborations and identifying clear directions for the future (Fig. 2 and http://www.finterest.com.au).
Demonstration Reaches are larger-scale river reaches or wetlands where multiple management interventions are undertaken to showcase the cumulative benefits of river rehabilitation for native fish populations (Barrett 2004). They represent a coordinated approach to native fish rehabilitation, with an emphasis on strong community involvement. Demonstration Reaches aim to build partnerships, encourage a strong sense of stewardship for native fish in the community and generate greater interest and involvement in habitat protection and rehabilitation.
To effectively illustrate their achievements, Demonstration Reaches needed to be publicly accessible and were therefore selected close to larger towns. Communities already demonstrating advocacy for natural values provided fertile ground for Demonstration Reaches and improved the likelihood of long-term support and success. Demonstration Reaches addressed complex management issues and also recognised the complexity of the relevant ‘community’. Stakeholders included agencies with a direct role or interest in the project, local Indigenous communities, fishing clubs, Landcare groups, schools, service clubs and individuals including landholders (see Namoi and Dewfish Demonstration Reach case studies below). The key was to identify and invite participation from all relevant stakeholders, develop and maintain relationships, and involve and partner with as many people as possible. Stakeholder and community meetings and workshops, held early in the Demonstration Reach projects, identified the many values, threats and issues and actively developed an agreed shared vision and action plan.
Demonstration Reaches involved the community in all stages. The aim was to include key stakeholders in initial site selection, decision-making and direct participation in management actions, monitoring programmes, promotion and communication (Figs 1 and 2). This was achieved via project Community Reference Groups or Steering Groups, Waterwatch water quality monitoring, alien fish monitoring programmes (including carp fishing events), active participation in field days and revegetation projects, and promotion/communication opportunities. The latter activity included local market stalls, school activities, development of signage and input to fact sheets, posters, websites and oral history projects (including videos).
In addition to the rehabilitation benefits, Demonstration Reaches also modelled the outcomes of effective engagement. NRM managers and community groups in several sites recognised the successful principles, techniques and tools and applied them to other projects and river reaches (see case studies below).
Demonstration Reaches were an engagement highlight of the NFS, delivering fully across the engagement spectrum, reaching targeted audiences and achieving high levels of transferability (Fig. 2). Detailed information is available for engagement undertaken within the Demonstration Reaches (see http://www.finterest.com.au).
Over the 10 years of the NFS programme, seven Demonstration Reaches were established, varying in size, complexity and long-term success. The smallest was Hollands Creek Demonstration Reach in Victoria (20km), and the largest was the Brewarrina to Bourke Demonstration Reach in NSW (207km). Several have substantial ongoing funding and support and are particularly well recognised. The Dewfish Demonstration Reach won the 2013 United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award for Biodiversity, the 2012 Australian Riverprize and 2012 Banksia Award for Water. The Katfish Demonstration Reach won the 2011 South Australian Premier's Natural Resource Management Award.
Demonstration Reach partnerships brought advocacy, ownership and also investment. In NSW, the Bourke to Brewarrina Demonstration Reach and the Namoi Demonstration Reach engaged 50 groups, reaching approximately 4290 people, with 27 reports and publications and 62 media items produced. In the Dewfish Demonstration Reach in Queensland, 70 partners are directly involved. These connections also supported substantial leverage. The MDBA initially provided Demonstration Reach seed funding of $200 000 each year to each jurisdiction, with a requirement that at least half of the funds be applied to monitoring and evaluation. Over the life of the programme, each jurisdiction received around $500 000 for Demonstration Reaches. These funds generated powerful additional support; for example, in Queensland's Dewfish Demonstration Reach, an extra $1.5 million in cash, more than $1.6 million of in kind support, and more than 3000 volunteer days were invested in the project. Partners in the Katfish Demonstration Reach in South Australia have invested an additional $2.25 million to the project, and in 2014/2015, another $44 million is committed to this project.
Case Study: Transferability of Demonstration Reach principles
- A community group from Nundle in north-west NSW applied lessons from the Namoi Demonstration Reach to engage the local community to establish a rehabilitation reach on the upper Peel River. The group undertook woody weed management and native revegetation, and used field days, workshops and information sessions to engage and empower the local community, who worked together to improve access and use of the river.
- A local champion involved in the Ovens River Demonstration Reach in north-east Victoria took the same approach to other creeks in the district, establishing a vibrant Restoring Our Waterways group, auspiced under the Wangaratta Urban Landcare group.
- Four Victorian communities supporting nationally threatened Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) in their local creeks applied rehabilitation lessons from the Hollands Creek Demonstration Reach, linking together to share stories and learn from each other.
Recreational fisher engagement
Recreational fishers were identified as key stakeholders who would significantly benefit from the research and on-ground works programmes of the NFS. Their engagement and involvement in the NFS was considered essential to its success. Typical engagement with fishers included presentations to fishing clubs, fishing competitions, fishing diaries, articles in fishing magazines, oral histories, revegetation projects and alien fish removal activities such as carp musters (see Connecting Anglers with Conservation and Namoi Carp Muster case studies).
Case Study: Namoi Carp Muster
The Namoi Carp Muster in NSW was a successful collaboration between the Namoi Demonstration Reach and the local fishing club. Held annually for six years, recreational fisher participation in catching and removing carp doubled from an initial 300 in the first year to over 600 fishers in 2012. Such events provided an excellent platform to inform participants of local native fish issues. Strong relationships with fishing club members were established, resulting in involvement with on-ground works within the Demonstration Reach.
These activities were all successful at informing and involving recreational fishers in aspects of the NFS. However, despite some of these successes, there were gaps in our connections with this sector, due to the very wide range of recreational fishers’ motivations, their sometimes limited understanding of the role of habitat in supporting their fisheries and variable ways in which they connect with each other. This was identified in a review of NFS engagement (Sefton & Associates 2010), and more active effort was made to involve and empower this key stakeholder group. In 2011, two projects addressed this. Firstly, an oral history project ‘Talking Fish’ collated stories associated with 12 rivers around the Basin, focussing on recreational fishers (Frawley et al. 2011, see http://www.finterest.com.au). The stories were woven into radio programmes, a website and a booklet for each river. The project reinforced the value of fishers’ stories and supported many valuable connections (Fig. 4).
Secondly, NFA week events targeted recreational fishers, including launches of the ‘Talking Fish’ booklets and events with the theme ‘Habitat makes fish happen!’, such as fishing clinics, research forums with information on issues of interest to fishers and tree-planting days. This focus on fishers established and strengthened key relationships, with the NFS contributing to the development of new fisher engagement initiatives across the Basin, including participation in and sponsorship of the 2012 National Recreational Fishing Conference and involvement in a Basin-wide ‘Fishers for fish habitat’ series of workshops (http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/habitat/rehabilitating/fishers). These workshops followed on from successful fisher forums held in NSW since 2009. There are now substantial partnerships between recreational fisher groups and programmes such as the Fish Habitat Network (see http://www.fishhabitatnetwork.com.au/) in many parts of the Basin, facilitating information flow and supporting opportunities to further engage this sector nationally (Fig. 2).
Case Study: Connecting anglers with conservation
A particularly successful example of recreational fisher engagement occurred in Victoria, where there had been historic conflict between trout anglers and scientists working to protect the small, nationally threatened Barred Galaxias (Galaxias fuscus). Following the 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ wildfires, which incurred substantial human tragedy and environmental impacts, anglers and scientists worked together to rehabilitate Barred Galaxias habitat and initiate collaboration on more substantial projects. This was achieved by connecting key people at the right time, committing to open dialogue and positive action, actively acknowledging differences and focussing on commonalities, seizing the opportunity presented by the historical moment, and sharing and celebrating shifts in the relationship (Hames 2012) (Fig. 4). The engagement with the local fire-affected community also provided a strong story of how a small, threatened freshwater fish became a powerful symbol for recovery (Hames 2012).
Figure 4. Dr Tarmo Raadik, scientist studying the nationally threatened Barred Galaxias, and Mick Hall, Australian Trout Foundation (ATF), at the launch of the Goulburn River ‘Talking Fish’ booklet, at Barred Galaxias habitat in Marysville, site of ATF revegetation action. NFA Week, 2011. (Photo: Fern Hames).
Download figure to PowerPoint
As traditional custodians of country, with strong commitments to fish as cultural totems and to cultural water flows (Ginns 2012; Trueman 2012a,b), Indigenous communities were a key partner in many NFS projects. Engagement took many forms, as this was an area in which context and localism played an even stronger, more important role than in other community sectors. We also aimed at empowerment and partnerships, rather than a one-way path of informing, although this was often difficult in areas where historic dispersal of people from country meant local Indigenous people were difficult to identify (Fig. 2). Local politics within Indigenous communities also challenged efforts to maintain focus and continuity. Limited resources also meant long-term, regular and frequent engagement, essential in this sector, was difficult to achieve.
Successful partnerships with Indigenous communities, however, were a highlight of the NFS engagement programme. Through positive engagement and interaction between the NFS Coordinators, the CST and the Indigenous community, the NFS was able to seek advice and guidance that helped facilitate improved connections with many Indigenous communities and outcomes on projects that truly benefit the whole of the community. At the request of local Indigenous communities, we filmed Elders’ stories of the rivers and shared the resulting films back with their own communities. Indigenous people contributed to other, Basin-wide oral history projects such as ‘Talking Fish’ (Fig. 5). Cultural site assessments were included in on-ground works programmes (e.g. see Namoi-Gamilaraay case study). An Indigenous ‘Talking Circle’ was installed in the Dewfish Demonstration Reach. Traditional Owners routinely delivered ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies at key events, meetings and forums. NFA Week events included meetings at Indigenous community centres, ochre art projects, revegetation activities by Indigenous work crews, activities with Indigenous Landcare groups, and traditional canoe cutting and net weaving as part of a Traditional Ecological Knowledge sharing day.
Figure 5. Uncle Wally Cooper, contributor to the Murray River ‘Talking Fish’ booklet, launched at Yarrawonga in NFA Week 2011. (Photo: Fern Hames).
Download figure to PowerPoint
Genuine effort to work together with local Indigenous people was particularly important in projects such as the Brewarrina fishway in NSW, completed after a decade of extensive consultation with the Ngemba Traditional Owners and designed to blend with the heritage-listed Indigenous stone fish traps downstream of the weir (NSW DPI 2011).
The NFS declared its commitment to respect for Indigenous culture by including a large Indigenous painting of native fish and the key MDB rivers across the back of the NFS team shirts (Fig. 6).
Case Study: Namoi-Gamilaraay
Cultural awareness and understanding was an important component of successfully implementing the Namoi Demonstration Reach in north-west NSW, recognising the strong connection the Gamilaraay people have with the local environment. A range of engagement activities involving local Indigenous communities focussed on cultural survey training, implementing on-ground activities and building cultural awareness amongst local stakeholders. Relationships were established with the Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Namoi Aboriginal Advisory Committee, as well as the Namoi Catchment Management Authority, TAFE, and a local archaeologist, who all assisted in identifying and surveying sites within the Demonstration Reach.
Collaboration with these groups enabled sharing agency knowledge about the Demonstration Reach project aims, objectives and outcomes, while past and current Indigenous use of the reach was identified and used to guide management actions. This information was displayed on interpretive signage using Gamilaraay language and local commissioned art to raise cultural awareness along the reach. This knowledge transfer helped strengthen relationships with, and empower, the local Indigenous community. The Local Aboriginal Land Council also trained in plant propagation and implemented a riparian and aquatic revegetation programme at priority sites along the Demonstration Reach.
Publications and resources
Many NFS resources were developed to address a range of audiences and learning styles, with a focus on disseminating information, engaging stakeholders and transferring research outcomes (Fig. 2). Early resources, such as fact sheets, provided key messages about the objectives of the NFS. Other printed resources included research reports, scientific papers, annual implementation reports, forum and workshop proceedings and an extremely popular book; Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin, which distributed over 30 000 copies across the Basin (Lintermans 2007) (see http://www.finterest.com.au). The book's success generated similar regional publications, e.g. Fishes of the Goulburn Broken Catchment (GBCMA 2010), using information from Linterman's book.
Given the wide range of audiences and engagement approaches, many other resources were also developed, to form an engagement ‘toolbox’. This toolbox included a quarterly electronic newsletter, websites, videos, PowerPoint presentations, pull-up banners for specific projects, display tanks for live fish, student activity resources and art materials. Branded NFS team T-shirts and jackets bearing key messages such as ‘Bringing native fish back’ and ‘Habitat makes fish happen’ identified NFS members at events (see http://www.finterest.com.au).
Demonstration of survey techniques, particularly electrofishing, was very powerful and immediately connected people with the concept of their local waterway as habitat for fish (Fig. 7). Audiences were also fascinated by radio tracking, a fish lift in operation or a Williams’ Carp Separation Cage (an instream device which exploits the jumping behaviour of carp to enable the separation of carp from native fish and the removal of this introduced species; see NFS project summaries this edition). A small, portable model of this Carp Cage and a model vertical slot fishway provided extremely useful tools for demonstrating the elegant technology as well as starting conversations.
Engaging for the future – school activities
To effectively integrate the NFS into rural and regional communities across the Basin, it was critical to engage the next generation of fishers, environmentalists, NRM managers and landholders. Information and activities aimed at engaging children across all ages became a key element of the NFS (Fig. 2). Practical and interactive materials and activities were developed, including large three-dimensional fabric fish (Fig. 8a), fish role-play head dresses, games (Fig. 8b), activity sheets, stickers and posters. These were regularly used at field days, workshops and school ‘River Rallies’ and ‘Freshwater Fish Circuses’ or in association with the Demonstration Reaches (e.g. see Dewfish Schools case study). Through consultation and collaboration with the NFS Coordinators and the CST, many schools developed sequential programmes around river health, held overnight expeditions to study local rivers and threatened species, ran river clean-up days and became involved in regular removal of alien fish such as Eastern Gambusia (Gambusia holbrooki) from their local waterways.
Figure 8. (a) (top) Fabric fish used in school activities, Central Murray Environment Festival, 2008; (b) (bottom) School activities, Flowerdale Primary School, NFA Week 2011. (Photos: Fern Hames).
Download figure to PowerPoint
As successful as these materials and events were at engaging and informing students across the Basin, the ad hoc nature of delivery meant impact was limited. In recognition that integrating information and activities into the standard school curriculum would have a longer-term influence, the Sustaining River Life education package was developed with assistance from ACT Waterwatch and RiverSmart Australia and in collaboration with school staff. Sustaining River Life is a management, sustainability and environmental package assisting students to develop awareness, knowledge and skills about waterways and the environment. It provides activities and lesson plans to implement in the classroom or the field, with a strong connection to Demonstration Reaches. The package was distributed Basin-wide in both hard and electronic copy and linked to a dedicated website (http://www.sustainingriverlife.org.au). The significant interest and successful uptake of Sustaining River Life will help leave a lasting legacy of native fish and river health information across the Basin.
Case Study: Dewfish Schools
Initial development of the Dewfish Demonstration Reach on the Condamine River in Queensland saw good engagement and uptake of the project by local landholders and key stakeholders. The challenge came in trying to build on this initial success and get additional people involved. The Condamine Alliance NRM group project officer and NFS Coordinator began providing project information sessions at the local school. Students told their parents about the project and a new phase of successful engagement began. The local school won the National Australia Bank Schools Impact Award for their partnership with the project. As part of the establishment of a new Demonstration Reach in the headwaters of the Condamine River, an education unit, compatible with the new national school curriculum, has been developed and delivered to students and, consequently, the broader school community.
- Top of page
- Implementing Engagement in the Native Fish Strategy
- Supporting Information
The NFS aimed to connect people to MDB fish issues and its objectives, to support uptake of research outcomes and to build ownership and advocacy amongst relevant stakeholders and communities. This required a planned, targeted approach; mindful of the lessons from previous NRM engagement programmes, and recognising that effective engagement is best delivered using multiple approaches across the engagement spectrum (IAP2 2004; Gibbons et al. 2008).
More recently, it has been recognised that effective science engagement requires movement from a ‘deficit model’ that assumes a low level of public understanding or awareness, to models based on framing science to align with diverse values and attitudes of multiple social groups, and which enable people to take personal ownership of issues and necessary actions and behavioural change (Hill et al. 2012). Stakeholders expect engagement methods that are collaborative and which consciously embrace cultural and knowledge diversity. Credibility and legitimacy of the information are also crucial in effective engagement, along with the opportunity to explore and develop a shared vision (Hill et al. 2012). This indicates our approaches over the past decade have aligned with current best practice engagement, having delivered collaborative engagement, involved and enabled culturally diverse groups, all built on solid foundations of demonstrated science. Overall, the success of the NFS engagement strategy was due to several key components: a consistent, coordinated approach; space for adaptation to local contexts; authentic engagement with multiple approaches; resourcing of a wide range of activities and a strong commitment to genuine communication and dialogue (see Supplementary Table S1 for summary of lessons).
Consistency and coordination
The NFS was delivered by a wide network of people, all working on commonly agreed actions with consistent key messages. MDBA staff supported Basin-wide coordination and regular connections between jurisdiction-based staff. NFS Coordinators and CST members met regularly (in person and via teleconferencing) and also communicated regularly by email. The Basin-wide message recognised and reinforced that native fish, the threats to native fish, and the actions required to improve native fish communities, do not recognise state boundaries. Tangible tools including branded NFS shirts, worn by NFS people around the Basin, were distinctive, reinforced the clear message and also unified the team. For some projects, such as Demonstration Reaches, this Basin-wide message also helped provide a sense of being part of a greater whole. The regular contact amongst the network also provided extensive opportunities to share lessons.
Localism and context
Localism, the recognition of a local perspective in applying broader goals and objectives, has recently gained prominence, particularly in the MDB. Our focus on native fish resonated with rural and regional communities, establishing a connection with many stakeholders and enabling local exploration of Basin-wide issues. NFS Coordinators and CST members applied the Basin-wide messages in local contexts, recognising local priorities, perspectives and issues. This contextual approach enabled a closer connection and relevance for local people to the message and greater likelihood of understanding, acceptance and uptake. Involving local schools and community groups in projects also built strong local connections, interest and support, as did involving a local identity or ‘champion’. The role of the local jurisdictional NFS Coordinators was essential to the coordination, profile, information flow and transferability of the NFS and its research outcomes.
Local contexts also reinforced the need for a wide range of approaches and tools. This was partly reflected in the range of activities across the engagement spectrum (Table 1), but was also evident in recognising different perspectives and ‘language’ within those activities (e.g. Hames & Tennant 2009). This awareness of perspective and context supported a more thoughtful approach and more substantial engagement by stakeholders.
Much of the success of NFS engagement was due to a genuine commitment to communication, dialogue and establishing relationships using a combination of both professional and personal attributes. Professional behaviours included building and maintaining credibility through reliability, consistency, transparency and openness. Many personal values were essential, including trust, patience and persistence. The axiom ‘meet early meet often’ was the basis of many of the key relationships, enabling the establishment of a shared vision, which was most useful when formally developed, documented and reviewed. A documented vision was particularly helpful to maintain focus in groups of people with wide-ranging perspectives. This operated at several scales; the NFS had a clear Basin-wide aim of bringing native fish populations back to 60% of their pre-European settlement levels, and individual projects had local objectives.
Regular review also enabled an adaptive management approach and adjustment of plans and strategies, at both a Basin level (e.g. Cottingham et al. 2009) and local level. Development of Communication Strategies and Engagement Plans was useful for the process itself and for guiding reflection and change. Such documents identified priorities to guide a highly targeted investment of resources and effort. In addition, a mindfulness of change meant we could be responsive and ready to seize opportunities.
Opportunities sometimes meant making the most of having the right people, with the right skills, understanding and language, in the right place at the right time to achieve substantial change (Dedual et al. 2013). This included scientists who also fish connecting with recreational fishers; people with strong cultural awareness connecting with the right people in Indigenous communities; and people with an agricultural background connecting well with landholders. Personal skills were clearly important, as was having a shared language.
Using clear and common language was critically important in establishing genuine, two-way dialogue. Although one-way information dissemination was useful, true engagement via two-way dialogue was more powerful, where different perspectives were shared, understood and common visions identified, articulated and committed to. The ‘Talking Fish’ oral history project and the Demonstration Reaches provide good examples of where discussions between government and a range of stakeholders were essential for project success and where shared information will guide the future management of native fish and river health across the Basin.
Communication includes sharing and celebrating successes. NFS Coordinators delivered presentations on the NFS to a wide array of audiences at the local, national and international level, and sharing the NFS story was important in creating dialogue, while also gaining recognition of its achievements.
Celebrating success was epitomised by the awards for the Dewfish Demonstration Reach in Queensland and the Bowenville State School that received the NAB Impact Award for an outstanding school community partnership with the project. The awards reinforced stakeholders’ participation, enabled promotion of their investment and strengthened partnerships. The awards also generated interest from new partners and increased enquiries around waterway management, facilitating further transfer of lessons from the Demonstration Reach to other sites.
Incorporating these lessons into the implementation of the NFS increased the emphasis on empowerment and shifted effort from simply providing information to truly enabling agencies, relevant groups and key individuals, leading to more effective engagement and on-ground outcomes. We believe this genuine engagement resulted in effective ownership and uptake of NFS objectives. However, it is important to remember that improvements in understanding and engagement take time, just as habitat rehabilitation takes time and we must be mindful of the challenges experienced in the NFS engagement programme.
Several challenges were common to most projects. Engagement had to be dynamic and flexible and recognise that different approaches were appropriate for different communities. The needs and priorities of communities also changed over time and an adaptive response was essential, reflecting the adaptive management approach applied to NFS research and on-ground management programmes. However, it was also important to maintain focus and regularly reflect on the agreed shared vision. With differing community interests and values, it was important to acknowledge differences, while focussing on commonalities. The strong, effective communication skills of NFS Coordinators were often called upon to deal with such challenges.
High staff turnover in partner agencies sometimes demanded constant renewal of relationships and information flow, and the effort required to achieve this was sometimes underestimated. However, it was critical to maintain relationships and influence with key agencies, as a reluctance to partner due to misunderstandings of a project's objectives could restrict success. Maintaining regular, consistent feedback to stakeholders about the progress of NFS projects was critical, at both local and Basin-wide levels. Although acknowledged and understood by many, this required a high level of commitment and resourcing, which was a challenge to maintain.
The lack of an overall champion for native fishes has been identified as a factor that has limited the promotional opportunities and support for the NFS at the basin-wide and national scale (Koehn et al. 2014). At the local scale, champions were key; linking with relevant people in the community, driving actions, building credibility and profile and helping celebrate success in community-appropriate ways.
Overwhelmingly, the main challenge to effective engagement was that it was enormously time consuming, resource hungry and often difficult to measure. Effective engagement required a long-term commitment and persistent effort. As the profile of the NFS increased, it became harder to meet demands from stakeholders for information and engagement activities. It was important to prioritise, manage expectations and be clear about the best investment of effort and resources. The five-year review of the NFS recognised this issue of demand and recommended increasing the number of Coordinators to deal with existing commitments and future opportunities (Cottingham et al. 2009). The measurement of stakeholder engagement is an aspect that needs careful consideration and inclusion in all such programmes in the future. While many programmes automatically include ‘engagement’ components, those involved often do not genuinely understand what this should encompass, nor do they have the particular skills to implement or evaluate them effectively.
For the future, we need to recognise the lessons from the NFS engagement programme. The legacy of the NFS will mean that many agencies and communities have adopted sound river rehabilitation and native fish recovery practices (see http://www.finterest.com.au), but their capacity to maintain that commitment and to continue to improve or share new knowledge is uncertain. Maintaining the connections and sharing of engagement practice amongst the ‘NFS Family’ (including MDBA staff, NFS Coordinators, CST and NFS group members) would be beneficial and keep the sharing ‘alive’ and dynamic. The decade of activity in the NFS has resulted in a substantial network of people, many of whom will continue to work in this space, but this will drift over time, and it is hoped that future practitioners will heed our lessons and also develop engagement programmes which are well resourced, better evaluated and more integrated.
We must acknowledge that substantial and long-term investment is necessary to achieve effective engagement and to achieve a more rigorous approach to monitoring and evaluation. Longer-term effort results in more substantial and powerful relationships and more enduring uptake and action. There are three fields in which investigations in, or monitoring of, engagement in such programmes would be beneficial. These encompass reaching audiences, understanding motivations and assessing the level of behavioural change.
Firstly, it is important to understand how people hear about the key messages of a project. From an investment perspective, it is important to understand the relative effectiveness of different forms of communication in reaching the audience. We recognise that peer-to-peer word of mouth is often the most powerful form of message delivery, but understanding the best way to deliver the message to those influential ‘carriers’, as well as other message pathways, is critical. Such assessments can be guided by a substantial body of research on social network analysis (e.g. Watts 2004) and can be achieved by, for example, online or face-to-face surveys (Cardona-Pons et al. 2010),
Secondly, we need a deeper understanding of people's motivations around interactions with rivers and native fish issues, to gain insights into how best to approach engagement and potentially shape changes in behaviour. Analyses such as those by Arlinghaus et al. (2007) and Fedler and Ditton (1994) provide good guidance on how to improve our understanding of motivations by recreational fishers and should also guide how to explore motivations in fields such as water use, riparian rehabilitation and alien fish management.
Thirdly, the real success of our engagement in NRM will lie in behavioural changes, which are likely to take time. Long-term monitoring of engagement success can assess changes in attitudes, effective uptake and the underlying, enduring outcomes of NRM programmes. Although this occurred in the NFS (e.g. a Hollands Creek Demonstration Reach social survey was undertaken), progress was modest.
The intrinsic involvement of many stakeholders in the NFS and the use of many engagement methods built an understanding and advocacy for the programme. Community interest was also supported by the strong connections that exist between people, fish and rivers. The interactions between communities and their local rivers are important; the connections and feedback loops should be considered in any ongoing and future studies of these complex aquatic and social communities around the MDB. Any changes in ecosystems must clearly consider the role of people (Ghimire & Pimbert 1997); people are one of the species in the system, affecting the system and part of the ecosystem pressures, drivers and processes. ‘Natural’ processes can no longer be separated from human-induced changes, as they are more strongly interconnected than has previously been accepted (Schluter et al. 2012).
Given the close interrelationships between people and the natural system, it is vital to include people more intrinsically within programmes similar to the NFS. This requires a shift from assessing their response as an external observer of NRM programmes or as simple drivers of impacts on a resource system, to their key role within the system itself with multiple interactions. Explorations of socio-ecological systems elsewhere, such as by Arlinghaus et al. (2013) and Hunt et al. (2013) for recreational fisheries, provide useful guidance for studies in socio-ecological freshwater ecosystems in the MDB.
The role of interconnected, integrated socio-ecological systems suggests other questions. We have recognised the importance of long-term effort in both riparian rehabilitation programmes and in the building of stakeholder partnerships. We have recognised the synergies between long-term monitoring and evaluation of asset condition and the need for long-term monitoring of social responses and changes in behaviour. There are also synergies in the important role connectivity plays in functioning freshwater ecosystems; in effective, connected, healthy human communities living along healthy rivers and in the connectivity and feedback loops between the social, ecological and political aspects. Future programmes supporting native fish populations and healthy rivers would be wise to explore these synergies and connections. Meaningful exploration of motivations and perspectives of stakeholders and the complex system interactions will ensure ‘deep success’ and long-term uptake and advocacy by agencies, stakeholders and river communities.