Wrapping the first draft of my PhD in its wordy entirety, I’ve been musing over what recommendations can be drawn from the last 3 years of intensive research on community environmental restoration in New Zealand. Here are some preliminary thoughts.
Recommendation #1: Investigate volunteer motivation
We need studies on what drives volunteers to join groups and then dedicate themselves, sometimes for decades, to environmental restoration. Once we understand this, we’ll have clearer picture of what it takes to make projects successful and resilient. Findings will also help cash-strapped partners use their limited human and financial resources more efficiently to help groups.
Recommendation #2: Explore the wider context for community-led restoration
A more critical focus is required on the socio-cultural and economic factors that shape projects and their outcomes. The availability of funding, group demography, governance (e.g., informal vs incorporated societies), and relationships with project partners are all likely to play a part, but we don’t really know how.
Recommendation #3: Quantify community group outcomes
We really have no idea what community groups contribute to conservation at a local, regional or national level, and we really need to know because – biodiversity is still declining as is freshwater quality. If groups contribute as much as my study indicates, then that’s a good case for more resources to be targeted at community conservation.
Recommendation #4: Strengthen cohesion between groups
At least 540 community groups are involved in environmental restoration projects throughout New Zealand, with several notable examples of collaborations between multiple groups and their project partners. The question is what are the conditions conducive to developing and implementing successful, large scale, multi-group projects?
Recommendation #5: Improve data quality
Some professionals are deeply sceptical when it comes to the quality of volunteer-generated data. Critical areas deserving attention include drivers influencing community groups’ selection of monitoring methods (e.g., how and why bird counts are modified by groups?), and groups’ quality assurance and quality control procedures for their monitoring programmes. Collectively, groups produce enormous amounts of data but it’s hardly used beyond their own projects.
Recommendation #6: Enhance groups’ technical skills
Groups need better access to cost-effective learning opportunities to strengthen their technical skills, especially for designing and implementing monitoring programmes. Input from professional scientists would lead to greater confidence in data collected both by groups and other data end users.
Recommendation #7: Assess the potential for volunteer water quality monitoring
In the USA, long-term volunteer water quality monitoring programmes successfully engage the community in scientific research. Similar approaches could be trialled in New Zealand where water quality programmes involving volunteers collecting data for wider use are rare.
Recommendation #8: Investigate iwi-led restoration
It is likely that many iwi-led environmental restoration projects weren’t included in my study owing to the types of databases accessed for contact details and the use of an online questionnaire as the main data collection method. Investigating the socio-cultural and environmental dimensions of iwi-led restoration will shed light on how mātauranga [traditional knowledge] guides decision-making. Findings are also likely to highlight best practice for partnering with restoration-focussed iwi in order to maximise outcomes for biodiversity, water quality and the communities that depend on those resources. The structure for research of this nature exists under the current Vision Mātauranga framework (MBIE 2014).
Recommendation #9: Quantify engagement
Strengthened community engagement in science, conservation, and water quality are all desired outcomes of current projects (MBIE et al. 2014; DOC 2013; MfE 2013). However, processes relating to, and outcomes resulting from, engagement are rarely explicitly measured. A method for evaluating the effectiveness of processes used for enhancing community engagement that includes volunteer recruitment and retention is required to support current programmes and future initiatives.
Recommendation #10: Develop a framework for growing citizen science in NZ
Last, but not least, a strong commitment is needed to support and grow citizen science in New Zealand particularly by central government and resource management agencies. At the same time, leadership is required. Dedicated Citizen Science Associations in the USA, Europe and Australia are formulating best practice for designing and implementing citizen science projects, adding depth to scholarship, building international collaborations. They provide a practical model for us to follow – it’s really time we joined the party!
Department of Conservation 2013. Statement of Intent 2013–2017. Wellington, New Zealand, New Zealand Department of Conservation. 52p.,
Ministry for the Environment 2013. Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond. Wellington, New Zealand, Ministry for the Environment. 58p.
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment 2014. Te Pūnaha Hihiko Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund Investment Plan 2015 Wellington, New Zealand, Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. 11p.
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education, Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor 2014. A Nation of Curious Minds: A national strategic plan for science in society. Wellington, New Zealand Government. 52p.