University of Tasmania

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Improving the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian forest management

posted on 2023-05-26, 14:32 authored by Dare, MA
Community engagement (CE) is an integral component of modern forest management. Providing opportunities for dialogue between forest managers and those community members impacted by or interested in forestry operations, CE enables the inclusion of diverse public values and priorities in decision-making. This thesis examines current CE practice within Australian commercial plantation forest management. In answering the research question, “How can the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian plantation forest management be improved?”, several important observations regarding the effectiveness of current CE practice are made. Some 65 key informant interviews were conducted with a range of forest managers and community members. Research was primarily undertaken in Tasmania and Western Australia, although further interviews were conducted in New Brunswick (Canada) to help identify similarities in forest management practices and identify key learnings. The interviews highlighted the diversity of CE approaches used within operational forest management decision-making. Major findings include that CE is a well-established norm within Australian commercial forest management, with techniques ranging from basic one-way informing techniques to collaborative management committees. However, while CE is well accepted and adopted by forest managers, their approaches to, and the extent of CE utilisation are often limited. Operating within a highly regulated environment, forest managers frequently apply narrow forms of CE to seek compliance with various regulatory mechanisms (e.g. legislation, codes of practice, forest certification). Such practices are rarely informed by the underlying theoretical and social considerations of CE, including inclusivity, representation, power, and trust. Requirements for CE within current regulatory frameworks do little to improve CE practices, nevertheless there is evidence that the reporting process associated with forest management governance (in particular forest certification) is helping to improve CE practice and understanding within the industry. Continual documentation and review of CE processes is promoting a more reflexive approach to forest management, encouraging forest industry CE practitioners to think back on CE activities and learn through experience. Effective CE is often thought to be vital in the achievement of a ‘social license to operate’. This research, however, indicates that operational forms of CE have a limited influence on achieving a social license to operate. This is due to the often significant influence of other factors, including the prevailing governance frameworks, the media, and the broader socio-political context of forestry. While operational CE can help to ensure a localised social license to operate is obtained, more effort in understanding, and if necessary overcoming, these limiting factors is required in order to achieve a broader social license to operate. This thesis is presented as a series of papers which collectively provide a broad picture of current CE practice within commercial Australian plantation forest management. Grounded in the commercial reality of modern forest management, the thesis aims to present a realistic picture of current CE practices and provide a rational and feasible guide to improved CE practice.


International Council for Canadian Studies





Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


University of Tasmania

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