Community groups, mostly of made up of volunteers, drive a major part of the conservation effort in New Zealand. Almost all work is carried out in partnership with one or more project supporters – agencies, contractors, science providers, businesses to name a few. How groups and their members are valued determines the nature of the relationship with their project partners.
If for example the main motivation for employing volunteer labour is for cost cutting – and volunteers can deliver an estimated $3-$4 for every dollar of agency funding spent for the same task, then for example logistical challenges around volunteer management can dominate the agenda. Tangible outputs such as volunteer hours are easy to place a dollar value on to; but it’s not worth trying to monetise for example, volunteers’ ‘connections to place’ and the knowledge that often brings with it. An acknowledgement of a far wider benefits – tangibles and intangibles, should be integral to any agency – volunteer / community group relationship. It’s hard however, to find mention of these wider benefits informing strategies to engage with, and support community groups in agency documents.
The Department of Conservation is promoting a collaborative model to underpin work with volunteers and community groups. How much consideration is given to processes of engagement and support and not just outcomes sought? In this respect, it’s worth looking at what motivates members of the public to volunteer, as Measham and Barnett (2001) did. They found three main social reasons, namely contributing to the community, social interaction and personal development, and three environmental reasons, namely learning about the environment, environmental stewardship and having an attachment to a place. The blend of social and environmental concerns is embedded in many groups’ objectives and vision statements and shapes the work they do.
It is easy to lose sight of the broad scope of activities groups undertake if groups are just seen (and valued) through a practical work lens. Because the volunteers that make up community groups are simultaneously part of our society and our surrounds, they need to be valued as such.
Measham, T.G., Barnett, G.B., 2008. Environmental Volunteering: Motivations, Modes and Outcomes. Australian Geographer 39, 537–552