Cabbage tree/ Ti kouka/ Cordyline australis in fragrant flower.

Cabbage tree/ Ti kouka/ Cordyline australis in fragrant flower.

The Institute of Sustainable Development defines socio-ecological resilience as “…the ability of an individual or system to combat adversity, deal with difficulties and otherwise bounce back and progress”.

To this, Walker et al. (2001) add “…retaining essentially the same function, structure, feedbacks, and therefore identity” which is pertinent given the application of this theory to community environmental groups. The impetus for this post is connected to research findings by myself and Australian Landcare where the majority of groups are surprisingly long-lived. In NZ, nearly 80% of groups (n=296) have endured for more than 6 years, while in Australia, most groups fitted into the 10-20 year bracket (n=653). Adversity in the form of funding shortfalls for groups seems universal and are voiced strongly by my questionnaire participants. However, this clearly doesn’t stop groups from achieving their objectives although it may curtail their achievements and limit project expansion.

In addition to the questionnaire, I’ve been sporadically interviewing members of three community groups to build a clearer picture of group dynamics and the groups’ environmental activities. While each group has a different ecosystem focus, being well-established (10+ years) was a criteria for their selection. Each has diverse representation on their committees and each has been through a process of re-focussing that has arguably strengthened the group’s purpose and outcomes. Though it’s early days, I suspect that each demonstrates what Allen et al. (2002) put forward as features of effective group functioning. These include (1) strong internal cooperation; (2) good communication; (3) dual emphasis on group development processes and achieving tasks, and (4) good connections to external groups and organisations.

While these features are very general they still provide a useful framework for project partners to use for better understanding what role they can play in supporting groups. Handford (2011) sums up that community groups’ supporters (whether from agencies, science providers or businesses) need to “…understand their role to mentor, support, encourage, link, facilitate and generally be a minder. They are helping groups to establish and maintain their own capability – rather than getting too involved themselves”. While more funding for groups would be welcomed, increasing the investment in community groups as Handford describes is another critical step toward improving conservation outcomes.

Handford, P. (2011). Community Conservation in New Zealand: Towards a shared approach. Wellington, New Zealand: World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

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