Voices of the Volunteers: An Exploration of the Influences That Volunteer Experiences Have on the Resilience and Sustainability of Catchment Groups in Coastal Queensland

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Fien, John
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Warburton, Jennifer
Rickson, Roy
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2004
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Abstract

Research was undertaken for this thesis to uncover characteristics of resilient volunteers and stewardship groups, both of which are a major element of the social mobilisation strategy used in Australia to manage natural resources. The ability of volunteers and groups to overcome problems, deal with new issues as they arise, and keep going under pressure is termed 'resilience'. A 'resilience management' approach to natural resource management uses the idea of 'adaptive change' or panarchy to understand the development of resilience and thus, sustainability in human communities. According to this theory, sustainable communities are both changeable and stable, adapting to new situations as they arise. The research approach used in the study is called 'phenomenography'. It is an interpretive approach, based on the central assumption that there is variation in the ways in which people experience the same phenomenon. Phenomenography was used to see if lessons about resilience and sustainability could be learnt from catchment volunteers. All participants were 'catchment volunteers' working along the east coast of Queensland. They were drawn from a variety of organisations and programs including Landcare; Coastcare; Bushcare; Greening Australia; Waterwatch; treeplanting groups; and Integrated Catchment Management Committees. A total of 26 personal and group interviews involving 85 participants were conducted. Interviews comprised a series of semi-structured questions that were tape-recorded, then transcribed verbatim. Through a process of comparing and contrasting themes in the transcriptions, six conceptions emerged. These were: catchment volunteering was experienced as seeking and maintaining balance; developing/maintaining an identity; empowerment; learning; networking; and sustainable. Analysis of these themes was used to develop a model of catchment volunteer experiences depicting relationships between conceptions (termed the 'Outcome Space' in phenomenography). In this study the Outcome Space emerged as a set of scales, signifying the importance of keeping a balanced perspective on volunteering - a balance between things such as personal goals and organisational goals; between dedication to an unpaid vocation and family life; and between social benefits and environmental benefits. From the Outcome Space, several conceptual and practical outcomes were developed. These included: a typology of participation based on volunteer experiences; a table describing forms of empowerment in catchment volunteering; a table listing drivers for catchment volunteers; an illustration of Holling and Gunderson's adaptive cycle as it applies to stewardship groups; a table of factors that enhance the resilience and sustainability of stewardship groups; a model of the relationship between external pressures and resilient, sustainable stewardship groups; and guidelines for developing resilient sustainable stewardship groups. These outcomes contribute to an understanding of individual, group and community level responses to environmental issues; and how resilience can be developed in volunteers and stewardship groups and programs.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Australian School of Environmental Studies
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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.
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Subject
volunteer
volunteers
volunteering
voluntarism
stewardship
NRM
natural resources
natural resource management
Australia
Australian
resilience
resilient
resilience management
adaptive change
panarchy
phenomenography
environment
environmental
sustainable
sustainability
community
communities
landcare
catchment management
participants
participation
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