Meetings are not everyone’s cup of tea … especially when you’re not being paid to be there! So what does this mean for the collaborative governance processes which are now an important part of freshwater planning around New Zealand?

There are people like my father who just want to plant the plants, weed, and trap pests. He doesn’t want to have to organise volunteer days, go to meetings, or fill out funding applications. Luckily he has an ex-school teacher friend who does all that for him.

Then there are people like me — self-employed and interested in environmental issues, who would like to contribute but can’t afford a lot of time away from their business to attend meetings.

The people who can, and want to, attend meetings are either paid to be there, have a personal stake in the outcome, or have the time available to meet. At the moment, these tend to be the only people involved in freshwater collaborative governance groups.

I recognise that face to face, kanohi ki te kanohi, discussions are really important for building trust and relationships and working through problematic issues. But I wonder if there is scope to broaden the invitation for involvement to other interested people in a catchment and wider community.

One way to do this would be to use a Facebook group. I recently participated in a Facebook challenge which included these potentially transferable elements:

  • a knowledgeable leader of the group, who responds in a timely way, and takes every comment and idea on board
  • a defined period of time (no scope creep leading to more commitment than you originally signed up for)
  • valuable information provided to the group
  • questions can be asked at any time
  • it’s an easy and comfortable environment for sharing ideas, and receiving timely feedback on them
  • conference calls occur at set times (using Zoom) which are recorded and made available for anyone who can’t make the live discussion.

The benefits of including this type of process within a collaborative process would be to gain more representative input and achieve wider awareness of the local freshwater issues and solutions. It also has the potential to speed up the collaborative process, as recommended in the OECD review of New Zealand’s environmental performance.

The ‘OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: New Zealand 2017′ recognises the value of collaborative processes for securing support for reforms, raising awareness about water risks and costs, and increasing users’ willingness to pay and to handle conflicts. However, the report (from pages 191-192) also states:

“… there are concerns that the New Zealand collaborative governance approach in some cases may minimise, or at least delay, change for the following reasons:

  • Change is predicated on consensus, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • An imbalance of vested interests in collaborative groups and technical advisory groups can reduce the potential of collaborative governance groups to achieve ambitious water quality limits. Community members have to dedicate considerable time to the collaborative process. Added to this, collaborative group members are often exposing themselves to their community by fronting difficult conversations and solutions.
  • There is variable capacity of community members to understand and assimilate information that includes complex biophysical, cultural, social and economic data.

The success of collaborative planning processes will depend on many factors, including how well they are resourced, the range of skills and views held by the collaborative group and the timeframe of the process.”