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NRM Programs tackle complexity

NRM (natural resource management) is complex, and complex problems usually require complex solutions – but they needn’t be complicated.

Simple frameworks or models can be very effective in managing complexity; as long as they are built on rock solid logic and well-considered principles. Designing programs, beginning with an integrated portfolio of projects, is an example.

Individual projects can foster change in how we manage natural resources, and they can improve the condition of the environment. But, even a very good portfolio of individual projects can only go so far – for two main reasons:

  • Different approaches. A number of interlinked projects and initiatives are often needed, each tackling a different facet of the challenge in a different, yet consistent and supportive, manner. Programs may be as simple as a series of projects working as a team, in a planned and coordinated manner and contributing to, or complementing, each other.
  • Different people. The full gambit of resources needed for comprehensive approaches are rarely found in a single group – research, extension, regulation and communications people are often in different units for a start. Partnerships are needed to plan and organise the collaboration necessary for effective outcomes – and programs are a good way to form and manage partnerships for a common purpose.

NRM Program Framework – essential elements

Observing and helping to design, build and manage programs has led me to develop a simple framework to assist. Many of the programs I have dealt with have involved changing resource use or management to better sustain our environment, whilst also being profitable in terms of personal and financial well-being.

The framework has several uses. It is:

  • A checklist of components – prompts to review if all relevant facets have been considered. Not all elements are needed in every program, but it is worth the effort of considering them and asking if they are needed or can be sourced completely independent of the program.
  • A neat way to summarise and explain a multi-faceted program. The summary can be brief notes or even a simple chart; as a graphic or in tabular format.
  • A tool to map out and plan the partnerships required for success – illustrating how different players are contributing to an overall outcome. A simple graphic summary can help partners see immediately where they fit, how they contribute, and who else is involved.

The eleven elements of the framework fall under six broad themes:

  • Understanding the resources, their use and management, and subsequent issues.
    • Resource Data – extent, condition and trend.
    • Knowledge – research, reports, models, principles and guidelines.
  • Working out what to do, and who to involve.
    • Planning – priorities, risks, plans, policies and frameworks.
    • Partnerships – facilitation, collaboration and coordination.
  • Sharing information, understanding and motivational ideas.
    • Communication – consultation, events, media, publications and web-sites.
    • Extension – trials, demonstration, training, workshops and field days.
  • Helping resource managers to get started or to maintain commitment.
    • Incentives & Assistance – funds, equipment, technical advice, services, materials and labour.
  • Statutory oversight or action by authorities and/or community organisations in times of emergency.
    • Direct Response – dealing with incursions or emergencies such as bushfires or floods.
    • Regulation – inspections, codes of practice and enforcement.
  • Program management and review.
    • Monitoring – surveys, monitoring, analysis and reporting.
    • Improving – evaluation, revision and revival.

NRM_ProgramEssentials_Summary

Design Tips for NRM Programs

The above is probably more than enough for most readers – but if you would like more information, please read on for some tips on how to pull the elements together.

The essential ingredients for a NRM program are:

  • Resource Data – extent, condition and trend. Perhaps even more important than having sound data on the resources under management is being clear on the information needed for management or decision making. Begin with the uses of data or questions to be answered and work back to determine the minimal data requirements.
  • Knowledge – research, reports, models, principles and guidelines. Conducting research and converting data, information and observations into knowledge is a first step, prior to processing it for greater understanding; which can be applied by developing models, guidelines or key principles for management. Knowledge management – the mining, development, integration and sharing of insights from different sources may need special attention, especially to determine what people want to know and to synthesise knowledge for them.
  • Planning – priorities, risks, plans, policies and frameworks. Working out what should be done, and how to go about it, must be undertaken to meet goals of technical robustness and stakeholder commitment. The ‘what’ is easier if there is good technical understanding and engaged resource managers. The ‘who and how’ can be more problematic at the operational and resource management levels.
  • Partnerships – facilitation, collaboration and coordination. Very little can be achieved in NRM by working in isolation, yet the opposite, engaging with EVERYONE, may be equally unproductive. Choose partnerships carefully and put effort into managing them. Documentation can help; e.g. memorandums of understanding or signed commitment to a program plan.
  • Communication – consultation, events, media, publications and web-sites. Wherever possible, make communication a two-way affair. Programs trying to drive change can focus too much on giving information and overlook the often more difficult challenge of continuing to listen and learn.
  • Extension – trials, demonstration, training, workshops and field days. Helping people to understand and accept that a problem exists can be a starting point for NRM extension, before sharing information and knowledge so managers may own the issue and develop their solutions.
  • Incentives & Assistance – funds, equipment, technical advice, services, materials and labour. Changes often begin with a small step. It can be crucial to help managers determine how they will proceed and to help them take that first step. Some desired practices may not be financially viable without ongoing support or incentives.
  • Direct Response – dealing with incursions or emergencies such as bushfires or floods. Risk management planning should result in resources and protocols being in place to deal with incidents, be they pest or weed outbreaks or related to major climatic/weather events.
  • Regulation – inspections, codes of practice and enforcement. Involving resource managers in the development of codes of practice and regulations can help shift the regulatory effort to inspections or audit activities, instead of enforcement.
  • Monitoring – surveys, monitoring, analysis and reporting. Monitoring program performance should provide ‘real time’ feedback to help program managers make prompt adjustments for smooth implementation; as well as long term monitoring to see if planned outcomes eventuate.
  • Improving – evaluation, revision and revival. Program investors and managers can reflect upon evaluation reports and determine what, if any, changes to make for subsequent operations.

NRM_ProgramEssentials

For ease of discussion, the elements are presented as separate topics but, in reality, the boundaries are often not clear and activities may be a blend of different elements. Sometimes a single action may align with different elements – e.g. environmental monitoring could fit under resource data, research or monitoring. The purpose, or purposes, of the activity will guide where it is best assigned under the framework.

The ideas in the framework have come from working with research and NRM organisations across Australia. My thanks to all those who have helped along the way. There is nothing new in the activities the framework describes, just the structure used to analyse them. I find it useful and hope others may as well. If you have any thoughts, suggested enhancements or queries, or perhaps some feedback after having applied it, please get in touch.

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