Working with the Public
Fundamental characteristics of successful natural resource management are flexibility and adaptability. Because we live in a dynamic and ever changing world, with climate change, population growth, political fluxes, and social change, to name a few, we cannot expect that our management approaches today will be successful ten years from now.
Adaptive management is something that may be difficult for the general public, since community members often want to know management plans of the future, and are uncomfortable with the possibility that MPA boundaries may be redrawn, or that new restrictions on fishing activities may be imposed. It is important to manage expectations early in the process ,so that the public is aware that adaptive management is part of a sound management approach, and that it is critical when dealing with the threat and impacts of global climate change. Below are some key considerations for gaining community support, and for preparing the general public for future changes in both management and ecosystem or habitat responses.
Engaging Community Leaders
It can be very helpful to identify individuals in the community who are well respected and able to represent the problems and solutions that the community faces. These leaders can become champion’s of the ‘cause’ and work to get local support and even support the engagement of poorly represented groups. Local leaders are often very effective in getting difficult stakeholder groups engaged because they are trusted and understand what is important to the community members.
Understanding Adaptive Management
Building the foundation for adaptive management such that public resistance to change is minimized, begins with familiarizing the public with the need for adaptive management. The earlier the idea of adaptive management is introduced, the more likely the public will be receptive when it comes time to make changes to management activities. Providing information to the public about the dynamic nature of natural systems, and the need to manage accordingly, prepares them for what to expect in the future. This type of information can lay the groundwork for necessary management changes arising from the impacts of global climate change.
Socializing Adaptive Management
It is never too early to begin communicating with a broad range of stakeholders and community organizations about what is happening with the natural resource, what is expected to happen, and how managers plan to address anticipated problems and changes. Even at the earliest stages, individuals and groups can be consulted and brought into the loop. If done well, it is possible to engage the public, empower them, and help them to become a part of the solution. At a minimum, the public needs to understand the problem (e.g., coral reef decline), and that it may take a variety of management strategies to try to slow or halt the stressors to the system. The more the public understands the problem, the more likely there will be support for management activities that address the problem. For more information on communication, refer to the Communicating Resilience section of this toolkit.