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Shifting community driven organisations to outcome based delivery

Phil McCullough

Condamine Alliance CEO: ceo@condaminealliance.com.au

Abstract

Community involvement in NRM has traditionally been reliant on building capacity through voluntary organisations. These voluntary organisations form a large component of the extension and on-ground network throughout the Condamine catchment and the significant financial investment by Regional Bodies places a heavy reliance on their ability to deliver against the catchment targets.

For these organisations this has required, and still requires, a measurable shift in ‘how they do business’. Facilitating the shift in thinking from an activity-based agenda to an outcome-based agenda has emerged as the primary issue. These organisations are further challenged with the strong community support for the current locally based implementation arrangements for NRM. Changing the local scale of these NRM institutional arrangements and they way in which they have operated in the past is likely to be viewed as a disruptive imposition from “above” and lead to less farmer engagement in NRM.

Maintaining this community momentum coupled with a shift to outcome focus in delivery is critical to the success of achieving NRM outcomes and the catchment targets. Investment in a coordinated focused and supported voluntary network has been one approach adopted by regional bodies. The challenge now is making this work for the mutual benefit and achieve the outcomes the investment was intended to deliver.

Introduction

Australia and Australians has been supporting and using the volunteer sector for various reasons over the decades. The most recent public activity has been in the field of resource management and the environment. The Landcare movement has been at the cutting edge of this groundswell for nearly 20 years. Recently a number of changes in the delivery of environmental programs and the review of a number of government programs have challenged the way in which these programs are delivered and valued by the investor.

The community and government have recognised that to implement effective natural resource management planning needs to take place rather than a ‘salt and pepper’ approach to implementation. The challenge is how to bring the science into decision making and integrate community action where it will be most effective.

Communities and governments across the nation have been seeking new and more effective ways of addressing the complex issues around natural resource management (NRM). Governments are willing, with the help of the community, to invest in tackling the challenges before us, recognising that past efforts may not have been as effective as they could have been (Condamine Alliance Annual Report 2003-04).

Our catchment community groups in the past have largely managed small projects and programs but now the challenge is the ability to manage and implement prioritised programs and show the outcomes of this investment.

“If you want one year’s prosperity grow grain
If you want ten year’s prosperity grow trees,
If you want one hundred year’s prosperity grow people”

Chinese proverb.

This paper will highlight some of the processes being faced by Condamine Alliance and our volunteer community groups/coordinators and how these programs have challenged the Condamine Alliance to consider business delivery methods for the future.

The Condamine Alliance

The Condamine Alliance (The Alliance) is one of three regional bodies established in the Queensland Murray Darling Basin and was set up as a private entity due to the increased rigour and accountability required of corporate entities.

The organisation is directed through a Board of Directors made up of representatives from the company members from the Condamine Catchment Management Association, the Eastern Downs Regional Planning Advisory Committee, Landcare, Toowoomba and Regional Environment Council and the Condamine-Balonne Water Committee. The Board has addition directors for the Indigenous community and industry while functioning under the direction of an independent Chair.

The Alliance is the regional body with the lead responsibility for managing natural resources for the Condamine catchment, at the headwaters of the Murray Darling river system.

The Alliance’s genesis was the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP), which was launched by Prime Minister John Howard in 2000 as a radical new way to manage the country’s natural resources. It particularly aims to prevent and diminish salinity and deteriorating water quality. The Condamine Alliance was established under NAP and the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) and formally registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on 21st June 2002.

The Alliance is one of four Priority Investment Regions in Queensland set up under the NAP to produce a Regional Natural Resource Management (RNRM) Plan and associated Investment Strategy. The Alliance is responsible for the implementation and delivery of the investment programs aimed at achieving natural resource management outcomes linked to planed targets. These projects are funded primarily through the bilaterals for NAP and NHT and allow urgent action to be carried out to repair or prevent degradation.

One of the important tasks for the Alliance is to support and maintain the health in the volunteer sector. Independent studies carried out by BRS shows this sector in particular Landcare is able to leverage between $4.50 and up to $8.50 for every dollar of public funds invested in the community. The Alliance recognizes the importance of supporting and maintaining a healthy volunteer sector in particular the Landcare movement (Condamine Alliance 2005).

History: Landcare, Regional Bodies and the momentum

Landcare as a movement (in 1986) and the dust storm that engulfed Melbourne served to place resource management on the political agenda leading to the establishment of ‘Landcare programs”. While supporting programs over the years have waned with the ebb and flow of political funding decisions, the volunteer and social dynamics which built Landcare have remained strong.

Environmental problems creep up on us. Dealing with some of these problems through groups requires an organised approach or process (Rural resources 2005). Consumer and community expectations particularly in developed countries, demand best management practice solutions (Ponder 2005). This means that we should use the strengths of the volunteer sector rather than resist or reinvent it.

Landcare like many not-for-profit organisation are a serious business. The current combined annual turnover of the not-for-profit sector is estimated at $30 billion and accounts for 4.5% of economic activity putting the sector on a par with agricultural industry (Company Director 2005). As stated by the Bernie Murphy RSPCA, whether it’s for staff or volunteers, you look for activities or outcomes that reinforce the value of their work.

Landcare in this region has been supported in the past to carry out various activities which have been important to communities and individuals. These activities have served to galvanise community action to take responsibility for implementing change. There are two key aspects to this activity: the community volunteer committees that manage programs and the coordinators that are employed to deliver the programs. It is these two aspects that are at the forefront of the change that is challenging the norms of operation of both the individual and the structures.

Several government funding programs over the years from One Billion Trees (OBT) to the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) have been analysed to determine the value and achievements of such programs. In the early stages these programs helped to support community action and build momentum. As Landcare groups and care groups grew (approx 4500 today) and public funding expanded, questions started to be asked on the value of such investment and what was it achieving. There appears to be a consistent issue of short term outcomes for long term problems which don’t match.

Degradation issues have been occurring over the past 100 years and the challenge now is to shift the linking of public investment and the efforts of volunteer community groups to achieving strategic prioritised outcomes. There has been a history of “widget” counting for measuring program effectiveness such as the length of fencing erected or the number of trees planted but these measures do little to quantify the achievement in resource management. Surveys have shown that the top 20% of Australian farmers have posted an average increase in net assets over the last twenty five years and is the second fastest growth in productivity amongst all Australian Industries (AIM 2005). That still leaves 80% to go. The number of commercial farms in Australia has halved in the past 40 years and the remaining farms increasing in size by nearly 50 per cent (Company Director 2004). Farm operators have needed to change and adapt to the changing industry environment. One such change has been the introduction of regional bodies implementing agreed NRM targets for resource programs.

Regional bodies have been established across Australia as the Australian and State governments move to a model of community lead action in terms of planning and implementation. The community as its knowledge grows is demanding a greater say in the direction and implementation of these programs. The result of this has been the establishment of catchment regional bodies to carry out the planning and management of funding investment. From the basis of accredited Natural Resource Management plans (NRM Plans), focused investment is aimed at achieving outcomes based on agreed targets.

The shift is in the process of agreeing to the delivery of these targets which is where the Alliance has been working with its volunteers groups to reach an understanding. Rather than have programs that receive funding and then seek to find someone to invest with, the process is about prioritising where causes can be addressed, where community action is available and where the agreed shared investment might be delivered. Having this agreed up front enables parties to see what outcome is being achieved, through which activities, rather than hoping activities will deliver an outcome.

Programs in the past have always been oversubscribed by projects (Siepen 2003) and these programs required the addressing of board strategies rather than targeted outcomes (McCullough 1997, 1998, 2001). The Alliance has built its programs around a process of negotiation and capacity building to ensure the shift in thinking is occurring.

Targets measuring a difference

Challenges face us all the time none as important as changing climatic conditions (DEH 2004). CSIRO in recent studies indicate that we could face increasing temperatures, decreasing annual rainfall, increasing evaporation, extreme rainfall patterns and extremes in weather patterns. With this in mind the challenges of how to plan future investment in resource management are the challenges volunteer community groups face.

One of the other challenges of the new business is an understanding of the NRM language. Terms such as outcomes, milestones, outputs, activities, targets, resource condition, management action, monitoring, evaluation and regional body have been a barrier to developing the understanding needed to plan and agree on programs and targeted investment. The Alliance has spent some time working with our volunteer groups and coordinators using various tools to bring about an understanding of the vision for the regions NRM assets.

Coupled with this is a new style of monitoring achievements. Rather than try and tackle everything the task was divided into several tasks. The Alliance also planned dedicated investment into the coordination of the volunteer sector in particular Landcare as it represented the greatest link for the Alliance to the individual landholder. The focusing of efforts in measuring differences at a subcatchment scale at specific agreed sites and in a coordinated manner across the catchment assisted in the agreed understanding of the task and why it was being completed. The Alliance also supported volunteer coordinators, groups and coordinators with resources such as people, equipment, training, systems and cutting edge mapping analysis systems. Finally having a system where there is constant review and sharing on how the systems can be improved in conjunction with partners gives our process a shared outcome focus rather than a direction dictorial approach.

The Alliance through its dedicated pre investment projects tested some of the parameters that would enable the achievement of NRM targeted outcomes. It is from these project recommendations that gave the Alliance confidence to implement an investment model where a dedicated focus of support to the on ground delivery mechanisms was essential.

Volunteers silent achievers

Volunteer groups such as Landcare and the land managers are willing and interested in NRM outcomes (Condamine Alliance 2005). It is from this platform that the Alliance has been negotiating the maintenance of community momentum while shifting from an activity based capacity to measuring outcomes as the focus of investment. The investment of the Alliance in this network has been one approach in ensuring the basis of the community action model is maintained so the mutual outcomes of the programs will benefit both parties.

We are not alone in this philosophy as indicated by Dow Chemical: Partnering with communities is an important business practice. Our communities hold our licence to operate and board support is critical to our success. Our philosophy is to invest in out communities and encourage them to invest in themselves (Greene 2001).

While the role of coordinators has changed over the years from facilitating the participation of community people and other stakeholders achieving sustainable natural resource management and sustainable agriculture remains a key driver. These coordinators ensure the effective coordination of NRM activities at local levels to achieve the best management of natural resources. The Alliance has invested in the funding of seven (7) of these positions with Landcare and invested in the delivery capacity of the major industry support groups: Cotton Australia, Queensland Dairy Organisation, Conservation Farmers, Qld egg producers and Growcom. While the main task is to deliver on ground activity community capacity building coupled with a monitoring and evaluation program is a core function in facilitating communities, agencies and other stakeholders to share and prioritise actions aimed at the causes of issues.

Providing lots of information and having lots of support available for people to interact with was how business used to be done. While there is a huge appetite for natural resource management information there has been a perception in the farming communities that field based government services have been withdrawn placing huge challenges on how services are provided to landholders (Siepen 2003). Identifying local and common issues is critical to enable community thinking and stimulating action as part of a bigger picture. Passion and enthusiasm will get you so far but groups need to recognise that change is inevitable and some groups have embraced this more than others (Working with People Pty Ltd 2004, case study 1,7).

Working with not against

The Alliance has recognised and adopted some underlying principles to engage and support community action groups such as Landcare.

  • Recognition of the existing capacity: Acknowledgment of the volume and diversity of good work that has happened prior to regional bodies becoming operational and the current capacity that sits within each volunteer groups. Knowing where a group has come from has provided a clearer path for assisting the group to move forward under the new arrangements. Learnings from past experiences leads to better focussed future outcomes.
  • Recognition that groups under one banner can be different: Groups are at different capacities to each other and there are differences within each group depending on the issue: The Alliance has recognised a need to adopt different approaches with each groups and recognise that ‘one size didn’t fit all’
  • Groups are dynamic: Changes in leadership are common (and deliberate) in volunteer groups. The change does not necessarily mean a culture continues and building and reinvesting in the networks is vital.
  • NRM may be the business but it may not be the sole focus: The Alliance cannot focus on NRM even though our mandate is central to this focus. The need for a broader and multi-dimensional approach is important with production outcomes and social issues surfacing as two key secondary foci.
  • Community is not necessarily focussed on business processes and common market values: Conditions such as low pay and low levels of professional development offered resulting in high staff turnover or isolation are current issues in the volunteer sector. By providing the resources and a constant contact point there is a capacity to support a positive change in the business arrangements .
  • Reinforce the concept of “its ok not to try to save the world today: Volunteer organisation are under pressure to undertake projects that are larger than their human or financial resources. Narrowing of the issue to be addressed to an achievable focus combined with adequate resourcing are provided some relief in shifting the work undertaken
  • Issues from ‘left field’: One issue can stop or override all plans (eg. climate) and it is important to plan for these. The introduction of risk management planning coupled with review periods has reduced the impact of these ‘unexpected’ change agents..
  • Volunteer groups focus on facilitation but do not necessarily have the technical skills: Access to technical skills has traditionally relied on departmental in-kind contributions. In the current climate this is proving to be very difficult to access as agencies change their business operations. The need to resource volunteer groups adequately to be able to source alternative partners for technical support has emerged as a critical success factor for project success ... lastly
  • Recognising that at the Alliance it is a new business of operation, some mistakes will be made but at least we can learn together.

Conclusion

Some of the key findings are listed below but are not contained to these and I would encourage you to read further on the final reports of projects which list a raff of recommendations.

  • recognise and value volunteer communities and help them be part of the business
  • Investment in skill development is essential – based on group capacity to improve network or relationship building – be made available to the volunteer committees.
  • Regional Bodies need to work on their business to make it relevant to the community – review and adapt to the environment.
  • Keep the language simple and the dialogue open.
  • Measure the right success factors
  • Don’t attempt to do everything all at once – negotiate those priorities that are manageable.
  • Work and learn with your community not against it.

Overall you must remain relevant to the community and the clients you serve and deliver outcomes that can make a different while providing good value for investment.

The business/engagement model adopted by the Alliance is making a difference.

References

Australian Institute of Company Directors 2005, Company Director Magazine communiqu : Australian Agri Business, August and September , Sydney.

Callan, V.J., Christiansen, I., Harris, G. and Cotton CRC 2004, Knowledge Management in Cotton and Grain Irrigation, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Company Director Sept 2004, farmers of the Future master Business with ‘MBA’ in Agriculture, Sydney.

Condamine Alliance 2004, Natural Resource Management Plan, Toowoomba.

Condamine Alliance 2005, Building Community Capacity through integrated area wide management: Priority Action Proposal Five, Toowoomba.

Condamine Alliance 2005, Making a difference: Final reports on Key Condamine Alliance projects 2004-2005, Toowoomba.

Condamine Alliance 2005, Regional Investment Strategy 2004 -2007, Toowoomba.

Department of Environment and Heritage 2004, National Biodiversity and Climatic Change Action Plan 2004 -2007, Canberra.

Greene, D. Consulting Services and Standards Australia and Ethical Investment Services 2001, A capital idea: Realising value from environmental and social performance. Canberra.

McCullough, P 2001, Compendium of Projects Queensland Murray Darling Basin 1986-1996, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.

McCullough, P 1998 Compendium of Projects Queensland Murray Darling Basin 1998-1999, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.

McCullough, P 1997 Compendium of Projects Queensland Murray Darling Basin 1997-1998, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.

McCullough, P and Penton, G. 1995, Australian Facilitators Conference: A Report on the South Region Assessment Panel Process for the National Landcare Program. Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.

McCullough, P and Potter, C. 2000 National Rural Communities Conference: Community Resource Management: One Piece of the Pie, Department of Natural Resources, Queensland.

Ponder, S. 2005, Managing risk through Co – Regulation, Company Director, Sydney.

Rural Resources Group Pty Ltd 2005, National Landcare Facilitator Project Newsletter May 2005, Victoria.

Siepen, G.L 2003, Advancing On-ground Nature Conservation: Landholder views and perceptions, University of Queensland – Gatton.

Working with People Pty Ltd and Alexander Holm and Associates 2004, Case studies on community Group and Volunteer engagement in natural resource management, Ballarat, Vic.

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