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Collaborative planning and freshwater decision-making

Research in this area is developing tools and methods to identify and assess freshwater values and thereby improve the freshwater management, with a particular focus on collaborative planning processes undertaken by stakeholders and regional councils.

Collaborative Processes

The collaborative model is being promoted as an alternative decision-making process for managing freshwater resources in New Zealand, by providing specific fora in which all parties can build a collective understanding of desired outcomes and how to achieve them. Our research focuses on tools, methods, and processes to enhance the effectiveness of these collaborative processes.

The use of collaborative decision-making is a relatively recent phenomenon in New Zealand. Given its growing popularity, our research is developing and applying methods and criteria to evaluate these processes and to understand process strengths and weaknesses. It is also identifying best practices for the effective use of the collaborative model in freshwater decisions.

Much of our information to date comes from the TANK collaborative process in Hawke’s Bay and from our engagement with other councils in the Regional Council Forum, many of whom are also undertaking collaborative processes. To consolidate this information we are undertaking a comprehensive assessment of a number of these processes.

Selected useful findings

  • Setting up a collaborative process: Stakeholder participation
    The ways in which stakeholders are involved in a collaborative planning process can have a significant impact on its overall success. Our Policy Brief 4 gives insights for practitioners to use as they make decisions about the design of collaborative processes. This policy brief presents three design considerations related to stakeholder involvement in collaboration: group composition, stakeholder recruitment, and mandate. The role of tangata whenua in collaborative processes is also highlighted.

  • Evaluating a collaborative process
    Evaluation based on multiple criteria and at several points in time can help those involved in designing and organising collaborative processes ensure the process is responsive to stakeholders’ needs and achieves its objectives. Our Policy Brief 2 outlines how the success of both the process and the outcome of collaborative processes can be effectively appraised using participant surveys.

  • Collaborative Processes and the Roles of the Council
    Regional Councils hold a number of roles within a collaborative process. Articulation of these roles is necessary to ensure council staff and stakeholders understand when and what roles are being undertaken at any one time. Our Policy Brief 8 offers recommendations for how councils can manage the likely tensions between the various roles they can play in collaborative processes. There is also an Australasian Journal of Water Resources article outlining the findings.

  • Structured decision making
    Structured Decision Making (SDM) provides a clear framework to identify values that relate to each water body and assess the consequences of alternative policy options. Our Policy Brief 9 outlines our observations of how using SDM can provide a solid foundation for considering the alternatives, benefits, and costs required by section 32 of the Resource Management Act, as well as some potential issues.

  • Māori involvement
    Regional councils are responsible (under various legislation and policy) for ensuring iwi and hapū are fully involved in collaborative planning and decision making for freshwater management. Our Policy Brief 10 recommends Māori be invited to exercise the co-governance role of Treaty of Waitangi partner by joining the council as co-sponsor of the collaborative process; however, it also cautions that collaborative processes will not always be the best way to engage with iwi/hapū and take account of the Treaty of Waitangi and associated legislation. For a more in-depth discussion of these findings see Māori and collaborative freshwater planning: emerging insights.

  • Co-governance, co-planning and co-management
    Māori values, perspectives and Māori knowledge systems (mātauranga Māori) are being increasingly used to inform collaborative processes to help manage freshwater ecosystems. However, governance structures and legal status of various collaborative agreements tend to vary markedly from council to council, and region to region. Policy Brief 14 gives examples of some of the existing and emerging models to clarify definitions of co-governance, co-planning and co-management and provide a more stable foundation for relationships between government and iwi/hapū groups to embark on a collaborative process.

  • Representation and legitimacy in collaborative freshwater planning
    This report focuses on the issue of  representation—how affected interests are involved in collaborative  deliberations—and specifically the perceptions of the legitimacy of this  approach by those not directly involved in the deliberations themselves. It is  based on focus groups conducted with community members in the Selwyn District  of Canterbury.
  • Community awareness of collaborative processes
    We surveyed members of the general public about freshwater management in three regions—Northland, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay – comparing areas with and without a collaborative process. The aim of the study was to test whether, in areas with collaboration, the wider community had a more positive opinion of the regional council and perceived greater agreement about freshwater management (as opposed to conflict). We found low awareness that collaborative processes were underway, with some interesting differences between regions and between people with different levels of involvement in planning processes. As the survey was undertaken in 2015 before any of the collaborative processes had reached consensus recommendations, this report provides a baseline against which future assessments can be compared. There is also an Ecology and Society journal article outlining the findings.

    In collaboration with the Our Land and Water NSC Collaboration Lab, a second survey was conducted in 2017 when some processes were completed and some were not. We found that the changes in public perceptions of freshwater management depend on region and level of participation in freshwater management and are outlined in the associated report.
  • Factors affecting successful collaboration for freshwater management
    Questions on which factors contribute to successful processes and outcomes for freshwater are being asked. To address this we used a comparative case-study methodology to assess the factors that influence the success of participatory decision making in collaborative processes that were underway in Hawke’s Bay and Northland. We found that participants’ perceptions change within the process. Results also show the strong influence of external conditions and the choice of stakeholder participants is critical to ensuring the viability of collaboration. Other key factors include participants’ previous interactions and relationships, which may help to prime them for collaboration. Ultimately, a successful collaborative process is one that is able to incorporate feedback and adapt to changing the dynamic and often complex external environment. There is also an Ecology and Society journal article outlining the findings.
  • Framework for comparing collaborative management of New Zealand and Australia’s water resources
    When contemplating the governance approach for making freshwater decisions, the type of governance arrangement is important. We compared a number of freshwater management cases from Australia and New Zealand using a framework that looks at scope, governance and management. Based on the comparison of different arrangements we posit the core ingredients of an ‘ideal’ governance approach include flexible but long-term arrangements, focus on a specific array of values deemed important to partners, and equitable resourcing. The participants in these governance approaches need to be aware of the interplay between partnering and managing. There is also an Ecology and Society journal article outlining the findings.


Observations and learnings from collaborative processes

Landcare Research hosted a Freshwater Policy Symposium in Wellington in October 2013. The Symposium brought together key stakeholders from research, regional council, central government , and Māori organisations to share insights on how decisions are made about land and water policy and to hear from those implementing the freshwater reforms.
Symposium overview »


Please note that Landcare Research continues to produce Policy Briefs to provide research insights for government, councils and industry on a wide range of issues.