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Manager Perspectives on Communication and Public Engagement in Ecological Restoration Project Success
Druschke, Caroline G. AND Kristen C. Hychka. Manager Perspectives on Communication and Public Engagement in Ecological Restoration Project Success. Ecology and Society. Resilience Alliance Publications, Waterloo, Canada, 20(1):58, (2015).
This paper presents a synthesis of lessons learned about public engagement in the aquatic restoration process from interviews with natural resource managers (n=27). We propose three models of public communication (unidirectional, bidirectional, and iterative) employed by managers, and we focus on examples where the iterative approach fostered ecological success in different phases of restoration (prioritization, implementation, monitoring, and garnering broad based support).
We argue that public engagement is crucial to achieving lasting ecological success in aquatic restoration efforts, and that the most effective public engagement mechanisms are what we term iterative mechanisms. Here we look to a particular social-ecological system – the restoration community in Rhode Island, U.S.A. and the rivers, wetlands, marshes, and estuaries, and their related species, that they work to protect – to better understand land managers’ perspectives on public engagement in restoration processes. Adopting an inductive approach to critical discourse analysis of interviews with 27 local, state, and federal restoration managers and the forms of public interaction they described, we identify three distinct models of public engagement in natural resources management employed by managers: unidirectional; bidirectional; and iterative. While unidirectional and bidirectional mechanisms can help managers achieve short-term ecological successes, we suggest that adopting an iterative approach can improve the quality of stakeholder and learning interactions and, subsequently, foster lasting ecological successes. We argue that managers can design deliberately for public engagement mechanisms that are best suited to projects in particular social-ecological systems in order to create restoration projects that achieve ecological, learning, and stakeholder successes. We attempt to synthesize the lessons learned from efforts at public engagement in restoration projects and give illustrative examples where public engagement derailed restoration efforts and where creative interactions with public stakeholders resulted in ecological successes. Critically, we insist that attention to stakeholder and learning successes is central to achieving – and maintaining – ecological success in restoration projects. We insist that situationally appropriate public engagement mechanisms are a vital component of this adaptive process.