International natural resource governance trends highlight the increasing popularity of participatory and collaborative governance approaches, in particular community-based forms thereof. While the proponents of community-based governance contend that it is well suited to dealing with the issues that typify natural resource management (NRM), they provide little supporting empirical evidence. As the popularity of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) institutions increases, so too does the urgency of examining them. This thesis describes a novel transdisciplinary approach to examining, understanding and improving the ability of CBNRM institutions to promote and facilitate sustainable NRM outcomes.
Australias current regional NRM arrangements require CBNRM institutions in the State of Queensland to facilitate collaborative decision-making between all parties with a stake in the natural resources of their regions. The institutions are also required to promote and facilitate cooperation and collective on-ground action that supports sustainable NRM outcomes. This thesis research problem is framed by the widespread political and societal expectations that CBNRM institutions will accomplish these requirements, despite little being known about how they function, how they make decisions, and how they are governed. The expectations also appear to discount the social complexities associated with CBNRM institutions promoting and facilitating sustainable NRM outcomes. To compound the research problem, the theoretical discourses relevant to promoting cooperation, collaboration and collective action are fragmented among multiple social science disciplines and sub-disciplines, most of which tend to ignore each others work. These issues are explored in this thesis through a critical transdisciplinary social science study of the functioning, decision-making and governance of two Queensland regional CBNRM institutions.
The study combines critical ethnography with case study research. A transdisciplinary and deductive research approach is used to integrate interrelated and disjointed social science theory into a coherent and logical conceptual framework, the CIVILS framework, encompassing the following six dimensions: (i) culture; (ii) interpersonal relationships; (iii) values; (iv) institutional credibility; (v) leadership; and (vi) social identity. The six dimensions serve as theoretical lenses for examining, interpreting and comparing the two cases empirical results. The two institutions Boards of Directors served as the research informants. The empirical enterprise involved a 12-month longitudinal study that used mixed methods (i.e. a questionnaire survey; followed by three rounds of quarterly interviews with each research informant; and supplemented by participant observation and a review of select documentation) to collect qualitative and quantitative data. Source, method and data triangulation strategies added rigour to the research.
Examining the cases through the six CIVILS framework lenses, the thesis shows how social factors have contributed towards the two institutions emphasising NRM outcomes that promote improved agricultural productivity and profitability. The research findings indicate that the case institutions will not succeed in promoting and facilitating sustainable NRM outcomes unless they are able to balance their emphases on private production-based outcomes with meaningful public environmental, particularly ecological and biodiversity conservation, outcomes. Institutional knowledge-transfer and information sharing suggestions and recommendations relevant to each of the CIVILS dimension findings are provided to enhance the two institutions ability to promote and facilitate sustainable NRM outcomes. These include emphasising the need to: (i) embrace cultural diversity; (ii) encourage pro-environmental practice change; (iii) foster and embed environmental values that recognise the mutual causality of nature and the inseparability of humankind from nature; (iv) maximise opportunities for face-to-face interaction among resource users and between them and NRM science and technical professionals; (v) promote harmonious interpersonal relationships and a common identity through encouraging dialogue, discussion and respect between parties; (vi) ensure equitable stakeholder representation and legitimacy; (vii) promote accountability, transparency, fairness and justice; and (viii) seek, train, appoint and support inspirational leaders as change agents and mentors. The lessons, insights and recommendations contained in this thesis are applicable to CBNRM institutions throughout Australia, and internationally.
In summary, this thesis demonstrates the importance of learning from Australias current regional NRM arrangements. It also demonstrates the CIVILS frameworks theoretical and practical applicability, including its utility for examining institutional and governance aspects that traditional evaluations, audits and reviews do not normally consider. Finally, by demonstrating the value of transdisciplinary social science research for improving CBNRM outcomes, this thesis calls for an international research agenda that focuses on integrating research from multiple social science disciplines and sub-disciplines so that they may realise their collective contribution to transforming NRM institutions and their governance for the 21st Century.