In this age where there are so many channels for communication, what interests me is that nothing really beats face to face contact. While there is usually an information sharing component in the form of presentations, field trips and workshops, it’s typically the conversations that occur around these that are the most enlightening. Irrespective of the web-based networks that create ‘virtual communities’, there is still a strong need to create fora where groups can come together, refresh existing relationships to other groups as well as build new relationships with others.
With this in mind, how can groups work more effectively together? Most groups, for entirely practical reasons are focused on healing degraded sites within their local area – they may be completely unaware of other groups doing similar work nearby. So what benefits are there for groups in taking a sub-regional focus? This topic has been chewed around in some enlightening interviews with folk whom I loosely describe as ‘community supporters’.
As most groups draw from the same handful of funding sources, over-subscription is extremely common. For this reason, the Kiwi Recovery Group encourages community groups whom they work with to get together and make recommendations on how that funding should be distributed for that particular region. With this approach, there is simultaneous prioritisation process and peer review element that is directed by the groups themselves. At the same time, there is a close link between groups and scientists creating a mutually beneficial feedback cycle based on practical experience and observation in the field.
Another example is the Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum. This groups acts as an umbrella for several smaller Landcare Groups, all of whom share the desire to enhance habitat for kiwi. An important feature is providing a structure for groups to “…get together, report progress, share ideas and work cooperatively to increase overall effectiveness” and this they certainly have. Over the last decade, kiwi numbers have grown from a mere 80 to over 500 birds (Todd Hamilton, pers.comm). Being part of a recognised forum helps to leverage funding for individual projects.
Collectively, the goals put forward by community groups are hugely ambitious. Probing the varied community group organisational models sheds light on how groups work with each other and their partners. One thing is certain – with continual cuts to funding, groups need to find more efficient ways of operating. That said, with so many groups in for the long haul, adaptability is their strength. What new models for community group operation and cooperation may next evolve?