Cultivating Communication: Participatory Approaches in Land Restoration in Iceland
Brita Berglund, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Agricultural University of Iceland
Lars Hallgren, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Ása L. Aradóttir, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Agricultural University of Iceland
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Stakeholder participation in environmental management is increasing. Staff of environmental agencies, however, often lack training in communication and in conducting participatory processes. Their interpretation of “participation” is of interest because interpretation affects how participation is practiced. We explored how participation was interpreted within the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland and how the interpretation affected how participation was carried out in two land restoration projects. Our methods included semi-structured interviews with agency staff and involved stakeholders, participant observations, and document review. The findings showed that participation was seen as a method to accomplish the agency’s tasks, and the focus was primarily on the outputs, or products, of the participatory processes. This interpretation worked well and created positive outcomes as long as process factors, such as interaction with other stakeholders and shared influence, were adequately attended to and joint gains were assured, but other stakeholders expressed dissatisfaction when they were not. We conclude that, although tangible outcomes are necessary for environmental agencies, maintaining a balance between product and process focus in participatory projects is important for optimal results. To increase their ability to deal with process factors, environmental agencies, and ultimately environmental management, would benefit from enhancing their personnel’s understanding of participation, and capacity to conduct participatory processes. To facilitate participation, this understanding should also be integrated in the institutional framework the agencies work within.
environmental management; influence; interaction; interpretation of participation; joint gains; land restoration; participatory approaches; participatory processes