The role of public participation, spatial information and GIS in natural resource management of the dry tropical coast, northern Australia

Martins De Freitas, Debora (2010) The role of public participation, spatial information and GIS in natural resource management of the dry tropical coast, northern Australia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Public participation is undergoing worldwide recognition as an indispensable component of natural resource planning and management. Nevertheless, effective engagement and communication between resource users and managers is considered the main challenge towards achieving participatory decision-making processes. Spatial information and geographic information systems have been increasingly used as means of engaging and communicating natural resource issues with grassroots groups. The public participation geographical information system has emerged as a promising approach to facilitate visualisation, availability and dissemination of information. It also provides a complementary alternative to traditional participation techniques. However, a meaningful public participation depends on the relevance of the issues involved, the perspectives and interests of participants, the existing cultural, political and organisational contexts, and the level of public participation aimed at being achieved.

The overall purpose of this research was to investigate and document the extent to which public participation processes and geospatial tools have been developed in practice. Three case studies located at the Queensland tropical coast (North Queensland, Australia) were used to illustrate issues, problems and opportunities of integrating public participation, spatial information and related technologies in natural resource management. The tropical coast of the Great Barrier Reef was selected because of the diversity of stakeholder groups that is users of information, resource-use exploiters and information providers. The region also displays a complexity of natural resources decision making processes, an increasing number of public participation initiatives, and current and emergent needs for spatial information and GIS. Three research objectives were addressed to achieve this purpose: (1) analysis of public participation strategies and tools used to communicate with and engage key stakeholder groups in natural resource management; (2) assessment of the extent to which spatial information and GIS technology have been used to furnish access to information and to support participation in decision making processes; (3) development of a conceptual model identifying the key drivers, needs and barriers in terms of participation and use of spatial information and GIS in the management context of the tropical coast.

Data collection involved a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques including semi-structured interviews, self-completion questionnaires, participant observations, and document analyses. Case studies were selected from both catchment and coastal water systems in the tropical coast of the Great Barrier Reef. The selected case studies provide realistic decision making situations at distinct management scales to investigate the socio-institutional and technical dimensions of the spatial management changes by comprehending how different users understand and make use of spatial information and geographic information tools. Qualitative and quantitative techniques were used to analyse the datasets of the three case studies. Qualitative data composed of document summaries, interviews transcriptions and observation notes were expanded, reviewed and coded. Quantitative data from the surveys were analysed using exploratory and descriptive statistical techniques. Geographic information technology and advanced spatial analysis tools were employed to analyse mapped data.

Regardless of the differences inherent to each case study, findings indicated that many stakeholders are highly motivated and committed to influence decisions on natural resource management. There is also an increasing demand for geographic information technology in land and water management, including real time environmental data to assist with the land and water management process. However, the existing mechanisms, that is the main sources of spatial information and communication tools, the ways geospatial data are developed and acquired, and strategies that people use are not fully supportive of PPGIS initiatives. The public participation processes and the provision of spatial data and use of geographic tools are not fully tailored to the immediate needs of the stakeholders. The current strategies for spatial data acquisition, access and dissemination are mainly driven by government and research institutions. Consequently, most of the immediate public interests do not overlap with the GIS technology and the spatial data provided. The most common factors found in the three case studies investigated were uncertainty about data sources, inappropriateness of the information provided, lack of technical skills and spatial expertise, and inadequate infrastructure.

The research found that despite the limitations found in the three case studies, results of this study provided important and valuable data to support the development of more appropriate ways of interacting, communicating and learning with spatially-referenced data. The conceptual model linked and synthesized the social and technological frames across the case studies providing a coherent framework that integrates the findings of three real natural resource management situations that is catchment, coast and marine systems catchment, coast and marine systems. To enhance support for PPGIS initiatives, users’ interests need to be intersected by GIS technology and the spatial data provided. To achieve that, this research recommends that four major strategies need to be addressed: (1) trust between government and resource management agencies with resource users needs to be urgently strengthened; (2) parameters to be measure by geospatial technologies, such as the sensor networks, have to be better linked to a specific management problem, so a more purposive collection and use of data can be designed; (3) investment in collaborative joint initiatives in the use of existing structures and established community-based networks may possibly strengthen efforts, within and across interested stakeholder partners, facilitating the management, storage, access and acquisition of spatial data and geographic information technology, and (4) effective participation and the meaningful use of GIS and spatial information needs to be adopted as a continuous process, instead of as an end, and as tool to fulfill legal requirements. The conceptual framework developed and the results achieved in this thesis contribute to general development in the field of geographical research, particularly PPGIS theory and GIScience. Findings of this research provided relevant information on the social, technological and institutional elements that shape and influence public participation and the context dependent use of spatial information and GIS tools in natural resource management. This thesis touched different management contexts (from water quality of coastal resources to rezoning of marine protected areas and innovative spatial sensor technology), several stakeholder groups (recreational fishers, coastal managers, government agencies, industry, landholders, science providers, and community-based organisations), and a myriad of issues involving public participation and the use of spatial information and GIS. Future research should be directed at investigating the multiple contexts (cultural, social, political and technological) of coupled public participation and geographic information; differential access to geographic information and technology, and public perceptions of space and understanding of the spatial aspects of decision problems.

Item ID: 14915
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: community participation, resource management, community engagement, GIS tools, participatory decision making, graphical information tools, public information, public consultation, community consultation, stakeholder consultation, fisheries rezoning, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, no take zones
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 5: McCook, Laurence, Ayling, Tony, Cappo, Mike, Choat, J. Howard, Evans, Richard D., De Freitas, Debora M., Heupel, Michelle, Hughes, Terry P., Jones, Geoffrey P., Mapstone, Bruce, Marsh, Helene, Mills, Morena, Molloy, Fergus J., Pitcher, C. Roland, Pressey, Robert L., Russ, Garry R., Sutton, Stephen, Sweatman, Hugh, Tobin, Renae, Wachenfeld, David R., and Williamson, David H. (2010) Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, . - . ISSN 1091-6490

Chapter 6: Martins De Freitas, Debora, Kininmonth, Stuart, and Woodley, Simon (2009) Linking science and management in the adoption of sensor network technology in the Great Barrier Reef coast, Australia. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 33 (2). pp. 111-121. ISSN 1873-7587

Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2010 23:57
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960506 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Fresh, Ground and Surface Water Environments @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960502 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Environments @ 50%
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