Tropical Savannas CRC > Education & Training > PhD projects 2001-2007 > Community based NRM institutions

TS-CRC Student project - Community-based natural resource management institutions and their governance - Case study lessons and insights for informing institutional design and policy development

University of Queensland

Lionel Pero

Introduction | Community-based NRM in Queensland | Research aim | Approach and methods | Preliminary findings | References | Supervisors |


The past 30 years have evidenced a consistent broadening of scale and focus in the delivery of NRM programs in Australia . From the small-scale localised Landcare activities of the 1980s and 1990s, to the integrated catchment (watershed) management approaches of the late 1990s, and finally the current regional delivery of NRM through the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments’ National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP) and the Commonwealth Government’s Natural Heritage Trust Extension (NHT2) program.

The NAP is an eight-year $1.4 billion program initiated in 2000 to focus on the amelioration of dry-land salinity and the improvement of water quality by regional communities in 21 designated priority catchments (AFFA 2001).

The NHT2 program is a seven-year $1.8 billion program initiated in 2001 to fund the development and implementation of accredited regional NRM plans and investment strategies in Australia ’s 56 designated NRM regions. The NHT2 program also funds projects of a national, multi-scale and broadscale nature that satisfy its three primary objectives of:

  • Biodiversity conservation through the protection and restoration of ecosystems and habitats;
  • The sustainable use of natural resources to maintain and improve the productivity and profitability of resource-based industries; and
  • Community capacity building and institutional change to support stakeholders with the skills, knowledge, information and institutional frameworks necessary to implement the above two objectives (CoA 2004).

Together the NAP and NHT2 programs represent a $3.2 billion social experiment that places central and critical importance on the role of Australia ’s 56 regional NRM bodies and their regional communities for achieving the programs’ multiple objectives. The two programs are currently being implemented through the accredited regional NRM plans and regional investment strategies developed by the 56 regional bodies, in consultation with all relevant NRM stakeholders in their regions.

Community-based NRM in Queensland

In Queensland, the regional NRM bodies are tasked with preparing, implementing, monitoring, evaluating and reviewing regional NRM plans in collaboration with the Commonwealth and State governments (DNR&M 2002). The NAP Intergovernmental Agreement and the NHT2 Bilateral Agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government require that each of the state’s 15 regional bodies ensures that it:

“has a majority community membership, balancing production and conservation interests, and seeks effective participation and representation by relevant stakeholders including Indigenous interests, and local government, ...”(p.10, CoA 2002; p.17, CoA 2004).

Regional bodies have responded to these requirements by forming a range of community-based institutional and governance structures that variously combine the interests of primary production, community, conservation, Indigenous and local government. Through these structures, the regional bodies are required to facilitate the inclusion and participation by all parties with a stake in the natural resources of a region in collaborative decision-making and collective on-ground action that promotes sustainable NRM outcomes for their region.

Research aim

Given the diverse nature of the NAP and NHT2 objectives, this thesis examines whether community-based NRM institutions and their governance, as represented by Queensland ’s regional NRM bodies and their Boards, are able to promote and achieve the sustainable NRM outcomes expected of them by the two national programs.

Approach and methods

The research commenced with an extensive literature review to develop a transdisciplinary conceptual framework called the CIVILS framework (Pero 2005). The review considered the literature on international practice and the literature related to select areas of the following social science disciplines:

  • Behavioural science
  • Organisational science
  • Management science
  • Political economics
  • Social psychology
  • Cross-cultural psychology and
  • Environmental psychology

The acronym “CIVILS”, meaning “belonging to citizens”, was derived from the first letter of the framework’s six dimensions:

  • Cultural
  • Interpersonal
  • Values
  • Institutional credibility
  • Leadership
  • Social identification

The CIVILS framework identifies, explains and discusses six dimensions considered critical to understanding, improving and generally facilitating the successful functioning of community-based NRM decision-making. Pero (2005) describes the approach used to develop the CIVILS framework and explains and discusses it’s six dimensions in greater detail. While the conceptual framework has both theoretical and practical applicability, the research emphasises its practical diagnostic, explanatory and predictive capabilities. It does this by examining the functioning and decision-making of two Queensland community-based regional NRM bodies and their governance through the lenses of the six CIVILS dimensions.

An extreme case selection strategy was used to select the two Queensland regional NRM bodies. The strategy involved: (i) defining regional body criteria of interest (including: geographical location; physical area; regional population; funding allocations; NRM issues; and institutional and governance structures); (ii) arranging Queensland’s 15 regional bodies along a continuum according to the criteria; and then (iii) selecting the groups located at either end of the defined continuum. !

A 12-month longitudinal sampling strategy was initiated once the research cases had been selected. The strategy used mixed methods to develop an in-depth understanding of the functioning and decision-making of the two regional bodies. Data collection commenced with a questionnaire designed to establish a baseline profile and characterisation of the two Boards. The questionnaire was followed by three consecutive structured telephone interviews with each Board member at four-monthly intervals. The interviews sought to develop a better understanding of: the issues facing the regional bodies; their functioning and decision-making; and the Board members’ perceptions of their regional bodies, their Boards, and themselves as community members of the regional bodies.

The questionnaire and interviews constituted the primary data from which the research findings were drawn. They were supported by secondary data comprising personal observations made at all general and Board meetings and during all Board teleconferences. A third level of data comprised analysing select regional body documentation including: Board and general meeting information packs and minutes; and the constitutions and organisation performance reviews of the two regional bodies.

The interviews were recorded and transcribed and the personal observations were transcribed. All transcripts were analysed using NVivo software (QSR International 2002) to identify and code the attributes relevant to each of the six CIVILS dimensions for the two cases. A data triangulation strategy was used to triangulate the three levels of data and identify attribute congruence as a means of verifying and validating the research findings.

Insights and preliminary research findings

Community-based natural resource governance is complex, requiring unique structures and processes and a wide range of transdisciplinary skills for achieving its desired outcomes.

The preliminary research findings suggest that community-based regional bodies have been prevented from focusing exclusively on achieving sustainable NRM outcomes by their regional contexts and by their institutional and governance structures and processes which, by their very nature, demanded the broader consideration of regional social, economic, political and institutional influences. These broader considerations frequently took precedence over seeking improved ecological outcomes.

Notwithstanding their very different structures and approaches, the two regional bodies displayed considerable innovation in the enactment of their institutional and governance structures and approaches. Their innovations variously related to:

  1. being culturally sensitive towards Indigenous representation.
  2. promoting dialogue with local government.
  3. partnering with scientific elites.
  4. creating a regional identity.
  5. showing institutional commitment to dialogue.
  6. encouraging prosocial and transformational leadership traits.
  7. marketing their on-ground implementation successes; and
  8. working through existing networks of trust.

Collectively, these innovations support the notion that community-based natural resource governance has the potential to influence the socio-economic trajectories of rural regions and, in doing so, make a valuable contribution towards regional community strengthening and resilience building.

The research suggests that regional collectives have a major role to play in improving the effectiveness of community-based NRM institutions and their governance. The potential contribution of regional collectives includes facilitating the transfer of innovations related to the many attributes underpinning natural resource governance.

Finally, the research highlights the importance and necessity of learning from the current community-based NRM regional arrangements. It also provides justification and support for examining how community-based NRM groups function and make decisions in practice to be able to inform improved NRM institutional design, regulation, devolution, and policy development.


AFFA 2001, Our vital resources - a national action plan for salinity and water quality in Australia , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia, Canberra.

CoA 2002, Intergovernmental agreement on a national action plan for salinity and water quality , Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

---- 2004, Bilateral agreement to deliver the natural heritage trust extension between the Commonwealth of Australia and the state of Queensland , Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

DNR&M 2002, Guidelines for developing a regional natural resource management plan in Queensland , Department of Natural Resources & Mines, Queensland State Government, Brisbane.

Pero, LV 2005, 'From governance rhetoric to practical reality: making community-based natural resource management decision-making work', Griffith Journal of the Environment , vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-30.

QSR International 2002, NVivo: getting started in NVivo , QSR International Pty Ltd, Doncaster.


Dr. Tim Smith, CSIRO
Dr. Clive McAlpine, UQ
Prof. Geoff McDonald, UQ/CSIRO