Managing Multi-functional Landscapes

Project Update


Professor Allan Curtis

Professor Allan Curtis

As part of an international project funded by the USA Joint Fire Sciences Program, ILWS social researchers are testing a novel approach to engage stakeholders who make decisions about the management of their local environment where the topic is contentious.

“For example, a contentious topic may be about the management of public land at the interface of rural towns/forests/farmland particularly related to bushfires,” said Prof Allan Curtis, who leads the Australian component of the project  Managing Multi-functional Landscapes at the Interface of Public Forests and Private Land (2013-14).The case study  for the Australian component is being undertaken by Prof Curtis and Dr Maureen Rogers.  The project is part of a larger project led by Institute adjunct A/Prof Eric Toman, from Ohio State University with another collaborator at University of Colorado,

The management of roadsides is being used as a case study

The management of roadsides is being used as a case study


“A typical social science approach is to bring the stakeholders together and get them to explore their values and discuss their d attitudes about what should happen,” said Prof Curtis. “The assumption is that such approaches enable the participant to reach an agreement about the way forward, or, if they can’t, at least they know they have been listened to.

“There is a range of ways of doing but in this project we are capturing people’s values about their local environment, and attitudes about a particular issue before they come to the meeting. We are using video as an important part of that process.”

The approach being used includes:

  • a preliminary exploratory interview with participants representing the major stakeholders, including identifying  issues of concern to them in their local environment
  • a second interview with each person to capture their values and attitudes which is video-taped
  • a facilitated workshop with the participants (small group between 10 and 15) where  the individual videos are screened as part of a process to evaluate the approach.

“Our assumption is that at the workshop when participants look at the videos that process will not only help them understand the values and attitudes of other stakeholders, but will also help them understand and clarify their own attitudes,” said Prof Curtis.

Dr Rogers, who has had previous experience in using art of as a way of helping community groups and stakeholders express and clarify their values, has completed the preliminary interviews and will wrap up the video- taping by September. The meeting of all participants is planned for October.

Prof Curtis said the social scientists in America were not video recording interviews. Instead they were using a process where they prepared “mind maps” where notes and diagrams were used to provide a representation of interviewee’s values and attitudes.

“What we’ve done is select an issue that is not highly contentious but nevertheless, important to the stakeholders in our case study area in the King Valley,” said Prof Curtis. “In our case, we are examining   the management of roadsides in the upper King Valley.

“Fire is linked to this because those roadsides are important for access and escape; some people see them as having the potential to bring fires towards them (where grass is long) or, if actively managed, providing a buffer where there are native forests or pines adjoining roadsides opposite private property; and others value roadsides for their environmental or cultural heritage values.

“We know that what we decide at the workshop is not going to determine what happens on the roadsides in the upper King Valley. However the participants know that this is an issue that affects them and that decisions about the management of roadsides can be determined at a local scale. So it is a realistic case study.”

Prof Curtis says the expected outcome of the project was a methodology that may lead to better decision making for a range of topics.

“If we think this methodology works what we will do is take it to a more contentious context such as the role of planned burns,” he says.

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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