A Critical Analysis of Communicative Planning Theory as a Theoretical Underpinning for Integrated Resource and Environmental Management
Darryl Low Choy
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Regional natural resource management is increasingly being implemented through collaborative arrangements. Theoretically, collaborative arrangements draw together multiple stakeholders to achieve a holistic approach to management. However, there is no comprehensive underpinning theory to guide implementation. In response, the resource and environmental management literature has been dominated by the search for procedural theory. Encouraged by the history and experience the planning field has with decision-making in multi-stakeholder settings, planning theory - specifically communicative planning theory - has been encouraged as procedural theory for regional natural resource management. However, there has been limited empirical evaluation of this concept - particularly in natural resource management contexts. The aim of this research was to identify whether communicative planning theory represented an appropriate procedural theory to guide the implementation of regional natural resource management. This research addressed this aim through a comparison of the concepts and ideas comprising communicative planning theory with the forces shaping natural resource decisions and actions in practice within a collaborative approach to natural resource management. Qualitative research techniques were used to examine, in depth, a single case study of the implementation of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality in the Condamine Catchment. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-six stakeholders including mayors, farmers, members of non-government organisations, and representatives of State and Commonwealth agencies. The results of this research provide valuable understanding of how decisions are made and what role natural resource management objectives play within collaborative decisionmaking processes. This thesis builds theory relating to when, where, and if natural resource management objectives may be achieved through collaborative arrangements. Natural resource decisions and actions within the Condamine Catchment were shaped by three key forces. Firstly, the institutional arrangements that framed the collaborative approach influenced how organisational stakeholders would interact while undertaking natural resource management. Secondly, the structure of the decision-making processes influenced how decisions were produced. Finally, the characteristics (personalities, interests, agendas, and experience) of individual participants influenced the shape natural of resource decisions. Collectively, these forces discouraged the development of an integrated approach to natural resource management. Under the influence of these three forces natural resource management objectives played a secondary role to political manoeuvring within decisionmaking processes in the Condamine Catchment. Stakeholder agendas, motivations and interests became the primary concern as stakeholders implementing the National Action Plan became focused on controlling decisionmaking processes, instead of focusing on implementing natural resource management itself. Stakeholder relations were characterised by conflict as stakeholders competed for control of the decision-making processes. Communicative planning theory does not adequately identify or contend with the complex contextual forces shaping natural resource decisions within the Condamine Catchment. Nor does this concept offer clear direction on how to overcome the identified barriers to the development of an integrated approach to management. These research findings suggest that communicative planning theory does not represent an appropriate procedural theory to guide the implementation of regional natural resource management. Collaborative models of implementation are currently gaining dominance as the preferred delivery vehicle of regional natural resource management. This research implies that instead of searching for a meta-theory to guide implementation, the resource and environmental management field may be better served by developing a theoretical framework that makes practitioners aware of, and provides the tools to address, the context sensitive barriers that exist towards implementing natural resource management within multistakeholder settings. This research contributes towards the development of this understanding, and the tools necessary to unlock collaborative planning practice in individual settings.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Environmental Planning
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