The Marshes Approach consisted of seven stages, many of which provided opportunities for the primary researcher to reflect on the results, and to seek clarification from the participants about the accuracy of the interpretation of their implicit understanding. Importantly, during the 6 month period of data collection, the primary researcher was predominantly based in the Coonabarabran Area Office of DEC.
In stage one (6 weeks) the first author participated in day-to-day management activities of the Marshes, working as a volunteer of DEC. This allowed familiarisation with the study area and its issues, and gave time to identify potential participants for the study and to gain their trust.
In stage two, each manager was interviewed twice. During the interviews, managers were asked to describe the “Marshes system”. They were encouraged to draw a boundary around the parts of the system that they felt were most relevant to the conservation of the Marshes. In all cases, the managers took a broad system view. They did not consider the ecological components of the Marshes in isolation to the physical, social, political and economic components.
In both interviews, the interviewer (first author) used open-ended questions to begin construction of a conceptual model to describe the Marshes system. As the interviewee talked, the researcher built up a rough structural diagram of the topic that was being discussed, with preliminary causal links between different variables (i.e. a detailed spidergram). This enabled an initial exploration of some of the complex feedback effects that were occurring in the Marshes socio-biophysical system (similar to the approach used in Vennix 1996).
At the beginning of the first interview, the participants were invited to discuss what they considered to be the most important issues and aspects of the Marshes system. In the second round of interviews (1-3 weeks after the first round), the managers were shown data generated from the first interview, and a list of all topics discussed by the participants. They were then asked to elaborate on one of the topics, or discuss another topic, which had not yet been considered. By the end of the second interview, the raw data consisted of two sets of detailed spidergrams per individual (except in one case where two participants had been interviewed together at the same time as their second interview). As the overall intention was to capture the understanding of the managers, discussions up to this point had not been led in any particular direction, and no assumptions by the researcher had been made about what constituted the most important or relevant issues affecting the Marshes.
The third stage centred around a workshop (20th July 2004) with the aim of gaining deeper insights into the operation of the Marshes system. An attempt was made to identify changes which had affected the conservation or management of the Marshes in both positive and negative ways. At the beginning of the workshop, four underlying convictions from which the workshop could progress were presented (see results). These convictions were based on information already derived from interviews, and managers were asked if they agreed with them before the workshop commenced. The workshop was facilitated by B. Newell and separate notes were taken by both I. Fazey and K. Proust to ensure that the discussion was adequately captured, and to reduce any bias in its interpretation.
In stage four, a preliminary conceptual model was built which integrated components of the data from individual interviews and from the workshop. The model was built by the primary researcher and provided the basis for stage five where, in a third round of individual interviews, the managers were asked to comment on the initial conceptual model, clarify issues discussed in earlier stages, and remove or add information that was either lacking in emphasis or was considered to be unimportant.
In stage six, all information was distilled and integrated to produce a set of tentative hypotheses (CLDs) that explain why there appears to be so little positive conservation action in favour of the Marshes. This was based primarily on the preliminary conceptual model, the researchers’ understanding of the participants’ perceptions and the feedback from individual managers in stage four. In stage seven, the sections of the results (including the CLDs) were discussed at a final meeting with all participants to ensure that their implicit knowledge had been articulated accurately. This included the language used and relative emphasis of different aspects of the managers’ knowledge and perceptions.