Regional engagement and spatial modelling for natural resource management planning

Sustain Sci. 2016;11(5):733-747. doi: 10.1007/s11625-015-0341-5. Epub 2015 Oct 8.


Changing unsustainable natural resource use in agricultural landscapes is a complex social-ecological challenge that cannot be addressed through traditional reductionist science. More holistic and inclusive (or transdisciplinary) processes are needed. This paper describes a transdisciplinary project for natural resource management planning in two regions (Eyre Peninsula and South Australian Murray-Darling Basin) of southern Australia. With regional staff, we reviewed previous planning to gain an understanding of the processes used and to identify possible improvement in plan development and its operation. We then used an envisioning process to develop a value-rich narrative of regional aspirations to assist stakeholder engagement and inform the development of a land use management option assessment tool called the landscape futures analysis tool (LFAT). Finally, we undertook an assessment of the effectiveness of the process through semi-structured stakeholder interviews. The planning process review highlighted the opinion that the regional plans were not well informed by available science, that they lacked flexibility, and were only intermittently used after publication. The envisioning process identified shared values-generally described as a trust, language that is easily understood, wise use of resources, collaboration and inclusiveness. LFAT was designed to bring the best available science together in a form that would have use in planning, during community consultation and in assessing regional management operations. The LFAT provided spatially detailed but simple models of agricultural yields and incomes, plant biodiversity, weed distribution, and carbon sequestration associated with future combinations of climate, commodity and carbon prices, and costs of production. Stakeholders were impressed by the presentation and demonstration results of the software. While there was anecdotal evidence that the project provided learning opportunities and increased understanding of potential land use change associated with management options under global change, the direct evidence of influence in the updated regional plan was limited. This project had elements required for success in transdisciplinary research, but penetration seems limited. Contributing factors appear to be a complexity of climate effects with economic uncertainty, lack of having the project embedded in the plan revision process, limited continuity and capacity of end users and limited after project support and promotion. Strategies are required to minimise the controlling influence that these limitations can have.

Keywords: Envisioning; Landscape futures analysis; Management options; Regional planning; Transdisciplinary; Values-rich narrative.