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Improving the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian forest management

Dare, MA 2011 , 'Improving the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian forest management', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Community engagement (CE) is an integral component of modern forest
management. Providing opportunities for dialogue between forest managers and
those community members impacted by or interested in forestry operations, CE
enables the inclusion of diverse public values and priorities in decision-making.
This thesis examines current CE practice within Australian commercial plantation
forest management. In answering the research question, “How can the theory and
practice of community engagement in Australian plantation forest management
be improved?”, several important observations regarding the effectiveness of
current CE practice are made.
Some 65 key informant interviews were conducted with a range of forest
managers and community members. Research was primarily undertaken in
Tasmania and Western Australia, although further interviews were conducted in
New Brunswick (Canada) to help identify similarities in forest management
practices and identify key learnings. The interviews highlighted the diversity of
CE approaches used within operational forest management decision-making.
Major findings include that CE is a well-established norm within Australian
commercial forest management, with techniques ranging from basic one-way
informing techniques to collaborative management committees. However, while
CE is well accepted and adopted by forest managers, their approaches to, and the
extent of CE utilisation are often limited. Operating within a highly regulated
environment, forest managers frequently apply narrow forms of CE to seek
compliance with various regulatory mechanisms (e.g. legislation, codes of
practice, forest certification). Such practices are rarely informed by the underlying
theoretical and social considerations of CE, including inclusivity, representation,
power, and trust. Requirements for CE within current regulatory frameworks do
little to improve CE practices, nevertheless there is evidence that the reporting
process associated with forest management governance (in particular forest
certification) is helping to improve CE practice and understanding within the
industry. Continual documentation and review of CE processes is promoting a more reflexive approach to forest management, encouraging forest industry CE
practitioners to think back on CE activities and learn through experience.
Effective CE is often thought to be vital in the achievement of a ‘social license to
operate’. This research, however, indicates that operational forms of CE have a
limited influence on achieving a social license to operate. This is due to the often
significant influence of other factors, including the prevailing governance
frameworks, the media, and the broader socio-political context of forestry. While
operational CE can help to ensure a localised social license to operate is obtained,
more effort in understanding, and if necessary overcoming, these limiting factors
is required in order to achieve a broader social license to operate.
This thesis is presented as a series of papers which collectively provide a broad
picture of current CE practice within commercial Australian plantation forest
management. Grounded in the commercial reality of modern forest management,
the thesis aims to present a realistic picture of current CE practices and provide a
rational and feasible guide to improved CE practices.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Dare, MA
Keywords: public participation, plantations, social research, community involvement
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