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Engaging stakeholders: it does not have to be so difficult

Tony Gleeson

Australian Landcare Management System (ALMS) Email:


This paper first explores the proposition that the difficulties experienced in gaining stakeholder engagement in natural resource management are in fact artefacts; that is they are not inherently present but rather they are created by the ways we seek engagement. Difficulties are created by the external setting of directions, indicators and targets, by not having common languages and processes across the landscape, by differing timeframes for engagement and by ineffective and inefficient accountability processes. Not creating obstacles to moving forward together is likely to be more productive than investing in ways to overcome such obstacles.

The second part of the paper describes one way, the ‘ALMS’ way, for the sustained integration of NRM effort across landscapes. Essentially ALMS provides a common language and process whereby stakeholders identify their common and different goals and actions to be taken at the property, sub-catchment and catchment levels. Application of the process and achievement of natural resource management outcomes are subject to either second or third party audit. Certification by accredited auditors provides a sound basis for the effective and efficient allocation of resources by all stakeholders and for multifaceted recognition of achievements. Importantly ALMS has and continues to develop practical cost-effective tools to simplify and hasten the development of ALMS Action Plans. ALMS enables the focus to move as quickly as possible from the ‘talking’ to the ‘doing’.

Media Summary

The Australian Landcare Management System (ALMS) has been designed by landholders to support improved environmental management, building up from the property to sub-catchment and catchment levels.

Key Words

Environmental management, landholder motivation


Various authors (see Karim 1999; Drucker 2001) trace an evolution from the agricultural age through the industrial age to the emerging knowledge age. However from an agricultural viewpoint it is not so much a transition from agriculture as a transformation within it; from manual, through industrialisation to the emerging knowledge based agricultural era.

The farmer now is both a knowledge worker focused on ideas and information and a manager focused on people and work. S/he needs to be enabled, not managed. Farming now is an information-based activity ill suited to command and control based relationships with support institutions.

Ground rules for success

Many of the difficulties experienced in gaining stakeholder engagement in natural resource management are the result of poor policy analysis and/or poor program design. Adhering to a limited number of simple policy and program guidelines would enable greater landholder involvement in environmental management programs.

Getting the public policy fundamentals right: It is widely accepted that there are private and public benefits from improving environmental management. Nevertheless we seek long-term engagement from landholders in environmental management activities without first ensuring mechanisms are in place for an appropriate sharing of costs and benefits. Without establishing the criteria for public verification of environmental management we hold out the proposition that consumers of certain landscape products (but not others) will reward environmental managers.

In the absence of ‘market’ rules for improved environmental management we are left with the challenging task of using ‘ropes of persuasion’ to push rather than to pull landholders into improving environmental management. Unsurprisingly many landholders are reluctant to engage. The public and industry fallback position is to lower the performance bar to a point whereby the objective of improved environmental performance is unlikely to be achieved.

A preferred solution would be to establish a voluntary national certification scheme for land management.

Building on landholder motivations: Many of the difficulties encountered in engaging landholders in environmental management would be avoided if from the outset support programs were built upon the motivations and aspirations of landholders.

Diversity is a prime feature of rural landscapes, diversity in biophysical features, diversity in the beliefs and values of landholders and diversity in the nature of their operations (Synapse Research & Consulting& Bob Hudson Consulting 2005). Understandably this diversity gives rise to differing motivations and aspirations. Nevertheless environmental management support programs such as NHT2 and NAP establish goals and targets in a top down hierarchical manner constraining the involvement of individual landholders in the processes of immersion and problem identification. These processes are critical to building intrinsic motivation and hence to the sustained commitment and creativity needed to improve environmental management (Gleeson, Russel and Woods 1999). Hence a preferred approach would be to embrace broader landscape goals by building environmental management support programs from the bottom up.

Aligning environmental management support programs to property realities: The interactions between ecosystem elements are critical to ecosystem function. However most regulation and environmental management support programs focus on discrete elements of ecosystems. Applicability at the farm level, and hence the engagement by landholders would be enhanced, and the risk of perverse outcomes would be reduced, if these arrangements dealt with complete ecosystem function. Engagement by landholders in environmental management is constrained also by reductionist approaches to project design, the short duration of projects and inappropriate accountability arrangements.

Over 60% of farms producing over 70% of farm output involve two or more industries (ALMS 2005). Nevertheless many agencies continue to operate on an industry-by-industry basis. This phenomenon is well illustrated by the recent call for tenders ‘to develop a suite of natural resource monitoring aids for woolgrowers covering topics such as native vegetation, riparian zones and soil and water health’ ( Given that some 74% of wool and sheep meat in 2001 was produced on farms having at least two industries in addition to the sheep industry it is difficult to visage circumstances that would logically lead to customising natural resource monitoring aids specifically for sheep producers. Not only is it likely to be inefficient, it will presumably lead to fragmentation of natural resource monitoring systems making the integration and management of natural resource information more difficult.

The ‘ALMS’ Way

The Australian Landcare Management System (ALMS) is designed to engage and support landholders in environmental management (Gleeson, Crawford and Douglas 2004).

ALMS is an environment management continuous support system which builds on the aspirations and capabilities of individual landholders. ALMS identifies the positive and negative environmental impacts of farm activities and develops action plans having taken into account wider landscape considerations.

The features of ALMS that promote engagement include:

Doing rather than talking: ALMS begins with the aspirations and capabilities of landholders, either individually or in groups. The engagement of landholders in ALMS is through a structured process of planning, doing and reviewing. Hence landholder engagement is not reliant on consultative processes with uncertain outcomes.

Holistic rather than reductionist: ALMS applies across the whole farm in ways connected to the broader landscape. ALMS covers all the components of ecosystems and the impacts of all activities.

Enabling Recognition: From the outset ALMS decided not to take the ‘low road to

nowhere’ but rather to design a system that will deliver improved environmental management and that can be audited for local, regional, national or international recognition. To do otherwise is to potentially mislead landholders in relation to the recognition they might receive for their environmental management activities. As membership categories differ primarily only in respect to auditing landholders working within groups can choose the category of ALMS membership that best suits their individual requirements.

Enabling Belonging: Responsibility for the development and implementation of ALMS rests with the Board of ALMS Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation established by landholders to support and provide recognition for landholders improving their environmental management. Hence ALMS members belong to the ALMS ‘tribe’ and as the ‘tribe’ grows so to will the mutual support members receive from other members.

Providing Support: ALMS trainers, coordinators and auditors support ALMS members as well of course as do other ALMS members and the Board of ALMS Ltd. With the assistance of Landcare Groups in Queensland, the QMDC, DAFF and private sector companies ALMS has developed a portfolio of tools and processes to assist landholders develop, implement and have audited their ALMS Action Plans. Key tools include the Guide to ALMS, the Australian EMS Manual and Workbook, a web based software tool called myEMS ( and the ALMS Clinic, an innovative approach to facilitating the development of ALMS Plans.


Australian Landcare Management (ALMS 2005). Australian farms categorised by industries. Unpublished report.

Drucker 2001 Drucker, P. F. 2001, The Essential Drucker: Selections from the Management Works of Peter F. Drucker, Harper Collins Publishers Inc, New York.

Gleeson, T., Russell, G., and Woods, E. (1999), Creative Research Environments: Environmental Factors Affecting Creativity in Agricultural Research in Australia, Report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.

Karim, M. R. A. (1999) The Impact of the Knowledge Age on Governance. 1999 National Conference Papers, Institute of Public Administration Australia in conjunction with The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management.

Gleeson, T., Crawford, P., and Douglas, J (2004). Guide to Australian Landcare Management, Australian Landcare Management System Ltd, Brisbane, Qld.

Synapse Research & Consulting & Bob Hudson Consulting (2005).Australian Farm Sector Demography: Analysis of Current Trends and Future Farm Policy Implications, Australian Farm Institute, Surry Hills, Sydney.

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