Six reasons not to engage: confrontation, compromise and the commons
Environmental advocates have experienced a frustrating honeymoon with deliberative governance during the past two decades. Across Australia, environmentalists are turning from collaborative governance in favour of community action and mobilisation. This strategic reorientation is evident in national and international efforts to halt dangerous climate change, the successful community-led campaign to control land clearing in Queensland and in grassroots campaigns to halt the release of genetically engineered food crops. It is also reflected in the obstacles to effective community engagement in regional natural resource management planning exercises currently occurring around Australia. Environmental policy processes are increasingly framed around claims of environmental democracy. Plans, strategies and decisions are considered legitimate and their prospects of successful implementation purportedly enhanced if community members are actively involved in policy setting. This involvement takes the form of consultative committees, public hearings, submissions and other community engagement mechanisms. Recent research suggests conservation groups prioritise strategies other than community engagement in the forms most commonly practised for six rational reasons. They appear to consider community engagement an inadequate basis for conserving the commons because of the: (1) lack of true consensus and reciprocal compromise in multi-stakeholder decision-making; (2) inability to recognise and deal with conflict; (3) capture of the community engagement discourse by power elites in government and industry; (5) inequity and inequality of access to community engagement and decision-making processes; and (6) failure by government agencies to involve stakeholders in all phases of an adaptive management cycle. These explanations for non-engagement highlight opportunities for government, industry and community to enhance collaborative environmental strategies.
International Conference on Engaging Communities