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Community perceptions of collaborative processes for managing freshwater resources

Jim Sinner, Cawthron Institute
Philip Brown, Landcare Research
Mark Newton, Cawthron Institute


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Six of New Zealand’s 16 regional councils are trialling collaborative planning as a means of addressing complex challenges in freshwater management. Although some work has been undertaken to evaluate similarities and differences across those processes, the success or failure rests with the public’s acceptance of the processes and their outcomes. This is the first study to evaluate public perceptions of freshwater management in regions with collaborative processes. We surveyed 450 respondents in Hawke’s Bay, Northland, and Waikato, some of whom live in catchments in which collaborative processes are under way and some of whom do not. In addition to assessing awareness of the collaborative planning processes, the survey measured perceptions regarding the regional council’s management of freshwater resources, the extent of agreement regarding freshwater management among various interests, the fairness of freshwater management, and the extent to which respondents believe that their interests and concerns are included in freshwater management. We hypothesized that relative to respondents in parts of the region in which traditional processes are in places, respondents in catchments with collaborative management of freshwater resources would have more positive perceptions of management, agreement, fairness, and interests, even if there is low awareness that a collaborative planning process is under way. Survey results indicate that knowledge of collaborative processes is generally low and that living in catchments with collaborative processes does not impact respondents’ perceptions of management, agreement, fairness, or interests in Northland or Waikato. However, relative to Hawke’s Bay respondents living outside of the collaborative catchment, respondents living inside the collaborative catchment believe that the regional council’s freshwater management is better and fairer. Moreover, Hawke’s Bay residents living inside the collaborative catchment perceive less conflict over freshwater management than Hawke’s Bay respondents living outside the collaborative catchment. Further research is needed to identify the reasons for this regional variation.

Key words

environment; local government; natural resources; New Zealand; public perceptions

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087