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Community-based governance in social-ecological systems: An inquiry into the marginalisation of Landcare in Victoria, Australia

Colliver, Ross (2012) Community-based governance in social-ecological systems: An inquiry into the marginalisation of Landcare in Victoria, Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Environmental governance regimes affect the adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems. By enabling actors with differing knowledge, values and interests to understand complex problems, agree on solutions and integrate their actions, network forms of governance increase adaptive capacity, but are they able to influence the agenda and approach set by higher levels within governance regimes? This research investigated the influence of Landcare Networks within natural resource management (NRM) in Victoria, Australia. Landcare groups are voluntary associations through which private landholders cooperate to improve their local environment, and Landcare Networks are federations of those local groups. In action research over twelve months, peer groups of staff and members of management committees of Landcare Networks met to improve the effectiveness and influence of Networks in landscape change.

Participants identified a breakdown in collaboration between government NRM staff and Landcare Networks. Regional NRM bodies, located between state government agencies and Landcare Networks, treated the latter as implementers of government priorities, rather than decision-makers at landscape level. Participants attributed this marginalisation to a policy of targeting public investment to biophysical priorities, and to differences in assumptions of agency. Participants assumed that community action was essential to landscape change; staff in government programs seemed to participants to assume that government initiatives drove change. Analysis of peer group discussion identified a governance practice rooted in a discourse of community action, facilitating action in relationships of mutual responsibility and seeking to maintain the momentum of change across the social-ecological system.

The process of inquiry in action led participants to examine and change some of their assumptions, a change theorised as a process of reframing in which doubt leads to examination of failure and a search for more effective action. This suggests that ii communities of practice contribute to reframing within multilevel governance regimes, alongside mechanisms such as shadow networks and bridging organisations. The findings also confirm participatory action research as a methodology for investigating governance regimes while enabling action to improve them.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Supervisor(s): Moore, Susan
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