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Dynamic partnerships are the key to successful socio-environmental outcomes

Helen Clarke1 and Rick Kowitz2

1Futureprofit, DPI, PO Box 61, Miles, QLD 4415
Murilla Landcare Centre, PO Box 214, Miles, QLD 4415


In recent years rural extension services have come under increasing pressure from reductions in staff and resources. This has come at a time when there is also a greater need for solutions to social and environmental problems facing rural Australia. Maintaining a quality service for rural clients has become a real challenge for extension people. These challenges have resulted in many positive outcomes, some of which we have experienced in our work. It has taken a willingness to succeed and some creative thinking to arrive at practical solutions to deliver more with less. Over the past four years we think we have achieved this. In this paper we share some of the concepts that have worked well in achieving successful socio-environmental outcomes on the Western Downs of Queensland.


We became involved in extension in rather an unusual way. We are both from the agricultural industry and operate family grazing properties. Following an enterprise change from farming to grazing, our operations were streamlined and became less labour intensive and we were seeking further challenges. Our association with Landcare opened up new opportunities for us. In 1996 and 1997 we were both successful in obtaining positions created by the National Landcare and Natural Heritage Trust Programs.

It has been a steep learning curve in the world of extension, one of which we have thoroughly enjoyed. We are proud of the successes we have achieved by working together in our community.

Achieving more with less

Attitude comes first

We believe that attitude is the key to the success of our partnership. We have the willingness and desire to “make it work.” We aim to cooperate and build on each other’s strengths rather than to compete. Exposure to a highly commercialised world engrains the competitive nature into all of us. Competition works well in bringing cheaper goods and services to consumers through increased efficiencies, but it does little to promote the synergies that we have found so rewarding. We have discovered that synergies not only increase efficiency, but also improve the socio-environmental outcomes for the community. Very early on we realised that our projects could be complimentary rather than competitive, because we shared a similar geographic area and a similar client base.

Over four years ago, after working in Property Management Planning (now known as Future Profit) and Landcare for only a short time, we attended a Working In Groups workshop facilitated by Ralph Shannon and Doug Graham. Although we have always valued productive partnerships and teamwork, this message was reinforced in an exercise at this workshop. The challenge was to survive after a plane crash in a remote area in the snow. In every case the team effort arrived at better solutions for survival than the individual attempts.

We have also found this in our work. Although we spend much of our time working with the community on an individual basis, by far the most successful and rewarding results have been achieved together. A good example of this was in the planning for the Dulacca Creek Catchment group. We could see the benefits of working together on this exercise. Planning and facilitation skills were combined with sustainable natural resource management skills to facilitate the group through the planning process.

The positive outcomes for the Dulacca Creek Catchment were a five-year plan for the catchment, including a shared vision and mission. Social, economic and environmental issues were identified and prioritised and an application was made for Natural Heritage Trust funding assistance. This application was highly regarded by the Regional Assessment Panel and resulted in a successful funding bid. The Dulacca Creek Catchment group has implemented a large part of the five-year on-ground works plan. The end result is a community that has taken responsibility to manage their natural resources in a coordinated and sustainable way.

Other sub-catchment action planners in the region have adopted the process developed for the Dulacca Creek Catchment group.

The flow on effects

During the planning process for the Dulacca Creek Catchment we identified a need for better mapping skills and resources for the group. This need was met by another combined effort, this time bringing in the Department of Natural Resources for technical expertise.

The mapping workshop then led to the formation of the Dulacca Future Profit group who are now acquiring a wide range of social, economic and environmental skills to ensure their business remains sustainable and profitable in the future. The natural resource workshop in the Futureprofit Integrated Workshop Series was again a team effort, this time our partnership was expanded to the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The benefits of using good facilitation and extension processes to achieve desired outcomes has not gone unnoticed by the rural community. These workshops have been followed by requests to facilitate planning workshops for the Isolated Children’s Parents Association, the Moonie Citizens Group, Education Queensland and the Department of Sport, Tourism and Racing.

As you can see one thing leads to another and this willingness to cooperate has created a partnership that has earned the respect and trust of the community.

Expanding networks

These flow on effects have also greatly expanded the networks of people we work with. Through our work we feel we have also broken down a lot of ‘territories’. Although we value our partnership highly, we are always looking for opportunities for further synergy with more team members.

We have developed a strong network to deliver socio-environmental outcomes on the Western Downs and we share projects with many different organisations, groups and individuals.

The Sustainable Soil Management workshops held at Jackson and Dulacca last year were a good example of quality extension brought to the rural community by an effective and dynamic partnership. These workshops involved a rather large team including Future Profit, Landcare, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Primary Industries and the Dalby Agricultural College. Although the team sounds rather cumbersome, the synergy worked well. Each member of the team was achieving his or her individual goals. It also provided an opportunity for specialist natural resource management extension people and researchers to talk & share their knowledge with producers and build up producer networks.

However the real benefits flowed on to the participants. Producers were able to learn about the physical, chemical and biological properties of their soils, why the soil behaves like it does, soil biota and best management practice. The workshops were delivered as hands-on field experience. Producers then applied this knowledge by developing action plans for their properties. On completion of the workshops participants were also competent in nationally accredited certificates in Sustainable Land Use and Survey Soil Characteristics through the Dalby Agricultural College.

The days were so successful, other Landcare and Futureprofit staff in the region have run similar events. Again it expanded our network of producers and professional staff and enhanced the trust and respect of the rural community.

Our partnership has developed into a huge network of Natural Resource Management & Departmental extension specialists and researchers. By working together we can all achieve our project outcomes. We find we are the link between integrating research development and extension. With our producer networks and knowledge of the area we can coordinate and facilitate on-ground research activities and field days. At times maintaining such a large network is a challenge. Often we find that people from many other organisations seek out our local networks.

Planning for dynamic partnerships

Ideas for a shared venture either flow on from something else, or are a request from our clients or the community. We have found that lots of our best ideas start from something small. After deciding that it fits our goals we set aside time to plan.

We like to start by brainstorming ideas. In the beginning we are trying to capture as many ideas and concepts as possible. Nothing is silly or impossible at this stage. We often use a mind map, as we have used in the early stages of preparing for this paper. We find this is also an important time to identify outcomes, our client needs and other potential team players.

After coming up with a rather messy mind map, we rely on what we regard as the principles for a dynamic partnership to make it work.

Principles for dynamic partnerships

Apart from an attitude of “wanting to work together” we have identified a number of other principles that have helped to maintain a healthy, productive and dynamic partnership. These principles also ensure that satisfactory outcomes are achieved for everyone concerned.

  • Define expectations up front
  • Sort out the financial costs up front
  • Have defined roles
  • Recognise and build on each other’s strengths
  • Keep people informed
  • Give people ownership
  • Recognise others contributions
  • Value any support received
  • Share the rewards
  • Celebrate the successes
  • Enjoy the friendships and fun

We try to extend these principles to other partnerships and teams we are involved in.

Understanding our clients needs

Identifying our client needs is one of the first steps taken in undertaking a partnership venture. It would be easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning to deliver something not wanted by our clients. We realise that it is important to gauge the needs of our clients for successful socio-environmental outcomes.

We have lived and worked in the rural community for many years and can empathise with the challenges and hardships facing rural people. Identifying the needs is made easier when we network with many primary producers on a social basis. We also rely heavily on our Landcare and Future Profit groups for feed back on needs within the community.

We also understand that producers are very busy with daily management of their properties. Delivering information and other extension activities needs to be as effective and efficient as possible. Combining efforts increases quality, avoids duplication and reduces the competition for producer’s time.

How we benefit

Much has been said about the outcomes for our clients, but there are also many benefits for us. One of the greatest things about working in a dynamic partnership is that the workload is halved. We do more of the things we are good at, and sometimes do less of the things we don’t like doing. Individual goals can still be achieved when the workload and resources are shared. Sharing roles in preparation, delivery and follow up from workshops has worked well for us.

Learning from each other is an important part of a dynamic partnership. We share knowledge gained from our formal training in extension techniques and sustainable land management through cooperation in extension activities. By acquiring additional skills and knowledge we have improved out ability to deliver quality extension to our clients.

An intimate knowledge of each others work has been beneficial in the promotion of Futureprofit and Landcare in the Western Darling Downs. This has resulted in an expansion of our networks and the establishment of more Futureprofit and Natural Resource Management groups.


There are many beneficial outcomes to be gained from fostering dynamic partnerships. Although it takes a positive attitude and a little effort to maintain a healthy partnership, the benefits are reaped over and over. From our experience we are astounded how often “from little things, big things grow.” Who knows what the future may hold for socio-economic extension if dynamic partnerships expand into dynamic teams?

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