Public participation in commercial environments: critical reflections on community engagement methods used in the Australian plantation forestry industry
Dare, MA and Vanclay, F and Schirmer, J, Public participation in commercial environments: critical reflections on community engagement methods used in the Australian plantation forestry industry, Australian Forestry, 75, (3) pp. 180-191. ISSN 0004-9158 (2012) [Refereed Article]
Copyright 2013 Institute of Foresters of Australia
Social concerns surrounding commercial plantation forest management practices in Australia have resulted in calls for more participatory forms of forest management decision-making. Public participation (or community engagement, CE) processes provide opportunities for affected and interested community members to voice their concerns over proposed plantation management activities, share relevant information and influence decision-making processes. A large body of literature provides ample support for the adoption of more participatory forms of resource management. The literature, however, provides little guidance on implementing such processes within the commercial domain of plantation forest management. Based on a review of the public participation literature and key informant interviews, we highlight the gaps between CE in practice in Australian commercial plantation management, and the theoretical objectives of CE: trust, process flexibility, inclusivity and representation. These gaps stem from the need to implement CE techniques in a way that recognises the commercial and regulatory realities of plantation forest management. While participatory techniques currently used by plantation managers meet some of the ideal objectives of 'good' participation and there is room for improvement, this improvement can take place only if CE practitioners recognise and address the commercial realities of CE implementation within plantation management, and acknowledge the limited practical applicability of some theoretical objectives.
forestry, plantations, management, sustainability, decision making, community involvement, participation, social values, research, reviews