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Chapter 7 - Strengthening regional planning through community education

Nina M. Chambers and Sam H. Ham

The importance of community participation in land-use planning
Planning and implementing educational programs: Jamaica case study
Summary of lessons learned


The conservation movement has embraced the idea that protected areas cannot exist as islands, but are a part of a larger, more complex landscape. Experts (see, for example, MacKinnon et al., 1986) argue that protected areas are just one type of specialized land use within a landscape mosaic. Therefore, it is unlikely that protected areas alone will be successful in conserving biodiversity if they are surrounded by degraded habitats that limit gene flow, alter nutrient and water cycles, and lead to regional and global climate change (McNeely, 1993). As Lovejoy (1984) pointed out, the integrity of the surrounding landscape also needs to be maintained if the biological systems inside protected areas are to be preserved. Clearly, regional planning at a landscape level is critical to the long-term protection of ecosystem processes, and rural communities directly dependent on these processes must be recognized as part of the ecological landscape.

Incorporating rural communities into the regional planning process and understanding their relationship within the landscape is critical. The biosphere reserve concept is based on the idea that local people are a part of the landscape and have much to offer in terms of traditional knowledge and experience in traditional land uses (von Droste and Gregg, 1985). According to MacFarland (1984) and others (e.g., Nietschmann, 1984; IUCN et al., 1979), the reserve can be a forum for additional training and education aimed at improving resource management practices and demonstrating appropriate land uses. Central to biosphere reserves is the buffer-zone concept, which incorporates local people and land-use systems into a larger conservation planning framework. Ham et al. (1989) argued that buffer zones and protected areas can offer strategic environmental education opportunities for a variety of audiences, thereby enhancing the link between the community and the landscape.

The importance of community participation in land-use planning

Community participation in local land management is important to the long-term success of conservation at a regional level. A prevailing notion is that community-based approaches to planning tend to be more effective because they incorporate the relevant knowledge and experience of those affected by land-use decisions (e.g., Brandon and Wells, 1992; McNeely, 1993). In this way, participation can help to mitigate potential and existing conflicts and empower the community to take a more active role in exploring management issues and initiating possible responses.

Community empowerment is both desirable and critical to the success of collaborative management (McNeely, 1993). According to Renard (1991a) and Jacques (1986), it serves four main purposes: (1) it promotes democracy and equality with equal opportunity to share in decisions, (2) it increases economic and technical efficiency because resource users have more clearly defined responsibilities for their actions, (3) it is adaptive and responsive to variation in local social and environmental conditions (locals are able to respond to changes more quickly than outsiders are), and (4) it increases stability and commitment to management that central government cannot duplicate.

The function of community participation can be viewed from two broad perspectives--coercive or interactive. The difference between these perspectives is the level of input from, or power given to, the community. In the coercive approach, protected-area managers try to "sell" the idea of protection to the communities because they feel the protected areas are doomed unless local communities "buy into" them. The interactive point of view is that sustainable development and benefits to the protected area and surrounding communities are possible only to the extent that local people are involved.

In the coercive perspective, community participation in land management is seen as an important enforcement (check and balance) mechanism to control natural-resource depletion (Wind, 1991). For example, Brown et al. (1992) describe the communities around a protected area as being in a "bargaining zone" where locals, managers, development agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) bargain with each other to achieve their own objectives. However, since the bargaining power of the community is generally less than that of the management agency, the education and training offered to communities is often biased toward the perceptions and goals of the management agency rather than the needs of the community.

The interactive approach, which focuses on community-identified education and training priorities, may be better in the long term because it relies on the concept of "co-management," incorporates community participation at a higher level and gives the community greater control over its own destiny. Renard and Hudson (1992) define co-management as simply "sharing of management authority and responsibilities by governments and communities." In their view, a partnership is created in which rights, aspirations, knowledge, and skills are respected and enhanced, and in which the importance of human-nature relationships is recognized and valued. In addition to traditional natural-resource questions, relevant social issues raised by the community may include traditional land-use patterns or methods, territorial rights, or the right to self-determination. Besides these social aspects of environmental management, the economic side of integrated development planning is also important, and experience has shown that it may be particularly important in tourism planning where cultures and environmental quality are central concerns (Renard, 1991b; McLaughlin et al., 1992). Not all communities, however, are equipped to participate fully at the co-management level; they may need additional education to build experience and to strengthen confidence that problems can be confronted and solved locally.

(1) Bridging an information gap. Effective participation by communities may require improving technical knowledge within the community and improving communications between the community and other institutions with an aim toward collaboration and institutional strengthening. Through these different modes of education, communities may be empowered to participate in management as partners with established management agencies. However, it is not only the community that needs additional training and education. Government agencies, NGOs, and assistance agencies also may need training and education to foster collaboration and co-management. Clearly, how such training is planned and implemented will determine its chances for success.

(2) Opinions on community participation and co-management. Recent literature on community participation in natural-resources management shows an evolution from a coercive to a more interactive approach, with the ultimate goal of co-management. Rocheleau (1991), Drake (1991), Wind (1991), Renard (1990), and Jacques (1986) all discuss different levels of participation, ranging from community-provided local labor at the lowest level to community management and evaluation of projects at the highest level. According to Rocheleau, a key difference among the levels is the extent to which a community has equality in the exchange of information and responsibility with the other management agencies.

In the 1980s, the literature discussing community participation centered largely around mitigating threats through compensation (e.g., von Droste and Gregg, 1985; Garrett, 1984; Machlis and Tichnell, 1985) and extracting information from locals or giving them information (Thelen and Child, 1984). In contrast, the literature of the last few years places more attention on the integral nature of rural communities within the local landscape, empowerment, community decision-making, and co-management. Barzetti (1993), for example, identifies the new trend in protected-area management as dominated by stronger community involvement and greater institutional collaboration than ever before.

Since inception of the biosphere-reserve concept, acceptance of human settlements as part of the landscape has steadily grown. The IUCN Caracas Declaration (McNeely, 1993) clearly elevates community management in protected-area management to a new level of importance. Norton and Ulanowicz (1992) discuss biodiversity conservation in terms of "human values" of the landscape, a notable departure from a strictly biological point of view. And central to this new paradigm is the importance of community participation in conservation management (see, for example, Rowntree, 1992; Wind, 1991; and Jacques, 1986).

Opportunities for co-management can be associated with education and training, and protected areas and buffer zones in particular offer strategic environmental education opportunities for several different groups, including local decision-makers and opinion leaders (Ham et al., 1989). Appropriately delivered programs aimed at key audiences may help in community-strengthening efforts. Participatory processes, and building upon what is learned through them, catalyze development by empowering local people and institutions to take positive actions in their own behalf, thus rising to the level of co-management.

Although the ideal of co-management may appear basic to land-use planning, achieving it in a real-world setting is often more complex. Real-life limitations of politics, history, economic forces, and cultural traditions determine to a large extent not only what is needed but the range of possibilities.

Planning and implementing educational programs: Jamaica case study

In a recent case study, we examined co-management possibilities in a portion of a buffer zone between the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and the proposed Port Antonio Marine Park in northeast Jamaica. Our purpose was to bring together local communities and conservation organizations in an effort to combine conservation goals with community development goals, and to encourage interinstitutional collaboration to achieve these goals.

One component of the study looked at land use and land cover within the buffer zone in order to recommend a conservation corridor connecting the terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The proposed corridor includes several small villages and tourism attractions in a nearly continuous band of vegetation including remnants of natural ecosystems, second-growth forests, and mixed-crop agricultural zones. Recent lessons from conservation biology and island biogeography (see, for example, Gorman, 1979; Csuti, 1991) suggest that the designation of such a corridor may help to protect the ecosystems it contains (including the watersheds affecting the marine park) and to control development within this zone that could have a negative impact on the two parks.

A related component of the study involved a participatory planning process in a small rural community, called Nonsuch, within the buffer zone and proposed corridor (Figure 1). The purpose of the exercise was to help identify local development goals compatible with the parks. The participatory process focused on the empowerment of local leaders and the community organization to take more control of their destiny and to explore other opportunities they may not have been aware of previously. This process was facilitated by the researcher and guided by the community group--the Nonsuch Citizens Association.

The planning process began with community members identifying values they held about their local environment. These values included a clean environment, natural beauty, and availability of water. Next, they set acceptable criteria (or boundaries) on potential change that might result from development in the community and affect the values they had identified. From this foundation, the group then set broad goals from which specific objectives and corresponding projects to achieve these goals were identified. The process culminated with a workshop that brought the community into contact with representatives of donor and other assistance agencies in order to encourage collaboration. The agencies represented a wide range of organizations, including local and national NGOs, government agencies, private-sector agencies (including loan agencies), and community-group representatives from several other villages on the island.

Figure 1. Participatory planning in the community of Nonsuch, Jamaica

Data were gathered throughout the study from interviews, maps, and aerial photography. Two journals were kept by the researcher. One documented the results of meetings and steps taken in the community planning process; the other was used for daily entries regarding perceived reactions of community members to the planning process, and for observations of the perceptions different agency representatives had of each other and the perceptions of their agencies by the community.

Structured, open-ended interviews were held with decision-makers from sixteen institutions involved in environmental issues in the study area. These included government agencies, quasi-public agencies, United States Government representatives, local and national NGOs, and the other international organizations working in the area and involved in environmental decision-making in Jamaica (see Table 1). The interviews sought to identify the values, threats, issues, priorities for action, and long-term goals perceived by each group as important within the buffer zone.

Table 1. Institutions Interviewed as Part of the Case Study



Government of Jamaica

Natural Resources Conservation Authority, Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, Protected Areas Resource Conservation Project (administered by the Planning Institute of Jamaica)


Conservation Data Centre (at the University of the West Indies), Port Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Jamaica Tourist Board

United States Government

United States Agency for International Development, United States Peace Corps

Non-governmental organizations

Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, Portland Environmental Protection Association, National Environmental Societies Trust, proposed Port Antonio Marine Park

International Organizations

United Nations Environment Programme, Organization of American States, The Nature Conservancy, Rio Grande Valley Project (funded and co-administered by the Dutch Government)

The result of this effort was a document that defines a conservation corridor linking the two parks. In addition, the document included management recommendations for the corridor and parks. Also incorporated were a community development plan that resulted from the participatory planning process and a synthesis which pulled together both the conservation and community development goals that had been identified.

Table 2. Potential Types of Education and Delivery Systems for Various Target Audiences




Community members

general environmental education; technical training in agriculture or other land-use or income-generating activities

appropriate mass media, such as radio extension, demonstration, practical experience and training workshops

Local NGOs

improved communication skills to target new audiences; institutional strengthening (record- keeping skills, fundraising, and project development)ways to network between groups to increase awareness and collaboration; extension techniques

training in small groups
practical experience in collaborative projects with community groups

National and international NGOs, government agencies, private-sector organizations

extension and community development skills; exploration of opportunities for collaboration and resulting mutual benefit

interinstitutional workshops

Donor agencies

small community needs and an appropriate scale and duration of assistance; practical application

interinstitutional workshops
case study experiences

From this case study emerged three broad questions related to encouraging community participation and improving community education and training. These are: (1) who needs to be educated? (2) what kinds of education are needed? and (3) how should education and training be conducted? As Wood and Wood (1990) and Ham et al. (1993) have argued, education and training must be targeted at key institutions and population segments that may have strategic roles in the diffusion of local knowledge and the adoption of new practices. The key audiences identified in Jamaica, the types of training needed by each, and representative delivery systems are listed in Table 2. The remainder of this discussion is organized around the above three questions and their possible implications for Jamaica and elsewhere.

Who needs to be educated? The case-study interviews revealed environmental education of rural people as one of the two most frequently cited approaches for mitigating threats within the buffer zone. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, there are some constraints on community participation. As in other post-colonial plantation societies, community cohesion tends to be low (Espeut, 1990). Among the constraints identified at the Caribbean Regional Workshop on People's Participation in Development and the Management of Natural Resources (Saint Lucia, 1985) are illiteracy, unemployment, tribalism created by partisan politics, the absence of institutional mechanisms to address imbalances between minority and majority rights, the historically severe exploitation of resources, and the heightened impact of external events on local conditions. The impact of these constraints is evidenced by Espeut's (1990) observation that many production cooperatives have failed in Jamaica because of weak local leadership, lack of trust among members, and Jamaican individualism. Quite possibly, some of these constraints might be overcome through positive experiences in solving problems by communities working together. Overcoming these constraints is necessary if communities are to work successfully together in decision-making.

Local opinion leaders constitute an important audience for education programs. Opinion leaders are typically those few persons in the community whom other members of the community respect and trust. Often, however, they have a difficult time garnering and maintaining support because they lack a concrete sense of how to capitalize on possible sources of assistance external to the community. For example, the Nonsuch Citizens Association has experienced wide fluctuations in community support because it has had little success in securing outside assistance for needed projects. Local leaders need to be strengthened to become aware of the wide range of co-management possibilities that exist. There needs to be a greater awareness of the responsibilities they have, or could have, in controlling the development of their own communities. In Nonsuch, people who rise to community leadership positions are sometimes perceived as doing so primarily for personal benefit. This perception is discouraging to new potential leaders and diminishes the support and involvement of the rest of the community. Community leaders need to be encouraged and new leaders brought along to their level. Improving how communities perceive leadership will also facilitate greater participation and help to create a more cohesive group that will be better positioned to achieve its development goals.

Institutions that may be able to assist rural communities in conservation and development are another important audience for education programs. These may include government agencies, NGOs, private businesses, and donor organizations, which in many cases need to learn how to adapt their current policies or practices so that they can collaborate more effectively in community projects. Renard (1991a), for example, has suggested that donors need to incorporate small-scale initiatives and funding, be more flexible, take more long-term approaches, and include institutional strengthening for communities in their programs. In interviews, agency representatives mentioned repeatedly the need for education at the community level and for better interinstitutional communication among themselves and with the rural communities.

For interinstitutional collaboration to occur, participating agencies must develop new skills and techniques for working more closely with communities. Jamaica has been successful in its approach of including community concerns in the new parks being established (Island Resources Foundation, 1992). It has worked with existing NGOs and community groups, and has helped form new community organizations to act as local advisory committees for the parks. In the process, the park management staff has learned a great deal about how to approach community involvement and how it can help to strengthen community groups to become stronger partners in working for common goals.

What kinds of education are needed? Communities, and the agencies that can assist them, may need training and education in three broad categories: technical information, communication skills, and institutional strengthening. For example, communities need to know specifically what they want assistance with; they need to know whom to ask and how to ask for it; and they need the institutional strength to manage it effectively once they get it. And assistance agencies need to know when to give assistance, how to understand the community's request, and how to monitor progress.

Technical training in environmentally sound farming techniques is often identified as critical in community education programs conducted in buffer-zone areas. Notably, in case-study interviews, both the Jamaican and U.S. Government representatives identified community environmental education as an important activity for the buffer zone (rated third in frequency after stewardship and interinstitutional communication). Technical training in environmental issues is most important when it is identified as a need by the community itself. However, communities often are interested in environmentally sound techniques only when they can improve current practices (in the relatively short term) and when they improve or maintain current levels of production. Rural people are concerned about sustainability, for their children and grandchildren, but this is often a less urgent priority than immediate income and health.

Improved communication skills are needed by the communities and the agencies working with them so that they better understand each other and how they can work together. As has just been said, interinstitutional communication was listed second among the priority needs for management of the buffer zone. In addition, poor communication between assistance agencies and local communities was identified as a main threat to the buffer zone by the Jamaican Government and the international community. Communication training could include such topics as how to make effective presentations, how to communicate with farmers, how to write proposals, and how to contact and network with other institutions for establishing collaborative relationships.

Institutional strengthening is perhaps the most important need of community groups and local NGOs for greater cohesion and continuity. Leadership training is a key to fostering new leaders and to encouraging those whose leadership is already established. Training often seems to be concentrated on one dynamic person from a community whose charisma stands out in the group. Though this strategy is understandable when opportunities and funds are limited, it can also be detrimental.

Until others can catch up and begin making their own contributions to the development effort, the trained person may continue to take the lion's share of responsibility. Jealousies can occur, and the trained person may feel cut off from the group. As was observed in one of our study communities, there is a greater chance for "burnout" and stagnation in the group if advancement is occurring in such a skewed way. A good example of training is found in the Protected Areas Resource Conservation Project (the project that has established Jamaica's parks). The project has developed a team of trained people who understand and support each other. Because of training offered to this core group, more knowledge and responsibility are shared among a larger circle of people, thereby augmenting human resources and multiplying the flow of benefits to affected communities.

Other types of institutional strengthening that may be needed include a range of operational skills such as planning, proposal writing, and money management. The community planning aspect of our study seemed very successful. The community became more supportive of the Citizens Association; project ideas that had merely been discussed for years became formulated; and with a development plan, the community had a tool to begin searching for assistance to achieve its goals. We found that NGOs working with community groups have an important role to play in strengthening community organizations. As Renard (1991a) argued, they can often provide assistance in developing ideas into well-articulated proposals, and can also act as "brokers" to community groups by contributing technical and financial assistance, as well as institutional support for funded projects.

How should the education be conducted? According to many authors (e.g., Renard, 1991b; Ham, 1992; and Werner and Bower 1982), effective training and education programs are planned and implemented so that they (1) are relevant to the intended group, (2) focus on needs or issues identified by the target group, and (3) are implemented in a way that is conducive to learning and future application by affected populations. Any education or training program must be culturally appropriate so that it is relevant to the audience. Perhaps the best way to ensure this is to involve the community as much as possible in the design of the training. People are more likely to embrace training programs they feel are their own because they have greater confidence that their needs are being addressed by the training and that the most sensible logistics are being determined by those who know best--themselves.

A social learning atmosphere in which people learn together has a better chance for changing people's behavior (Friedmann, 1987). Therefore, the forum where education or training takes place should be conducive to people's expressing their ideas comfortably. In most cultures, this probably means small groups and informal settings, centrally and conveniently located.

As in any kind of training, appropriate examples should be used so that the audience can relate to them and understand the message. Generally, it is best to use familiar venues, formats, media, and materials. Drake (1991) offered several techniques for involving community members in education, including community maps, problem trees, group decision-making, public meetings, research teams, fact-finding missions, and popular theater. Her point is that training, particularly if it involves technical information, must be tailored to the needs, tastes, and abilities of the target group.

Practical training is important not only for more concrete understanding, but also to build experience and confidence. According to Bunch (1982), successful development starts with small projects and gradually builds on its own successes. Any tangible benefits from training programs, such as employment or opportunities for additional education, should be shared locally (Rowntree, 1992). Once initiated, benefits of the training should be shown as soon as possible in order to reinforce the perception among local people that improvement is within their grasp, and thereby encourage the process to continue.

Summary of lessons learned

In developing countries, rural people are most interested in conservation when they perceive it to be compatible with earning a livelihood. Interest in learning new techniques that are environmentally sound usually exists only to the extent that they will maintain or increase current levels of production. There also is an interest in learning about alternative income-generating activities that may or may not be natural-resource-based. Sustainability is a concern, though probably not an immediate priority.

Training and education are needed to bring communities and assistance agencies together and to foster collaboration between them. Through their community outreach programs, park-management agencies can and should assist local communities, but they are often limited in what they can do. Parks should facilitate community participation and Interinstitutional collaboration without dominating the process. Creating a situation in which communities become too dependent on the park detracts from the development of the community's co-management capabilities and, in the long term, undermines sustainability.

All communities have leaders, and the leadership potential in communities should be evaluated and strengthened. Training for communities should help build local leadership and strengthen organizational and communication skills. With this audience there is a particular need for training in proposal writing, accounting, fund-raising, program design, and ways of implementing programs efficiently and inexpensively.

Donor and assistance agencies should not focus training on just one individual from a group but work with a subgroup, or a core of at least several people. This approach leads to a group that has shared experiences, allowing mutual support among its members. Otherwise, a small subset of trained people may be burdened with most of the work, increasing the chance for jealousy and burnout and decreasing the spread of the benefits from the training. It is difficult for a group or organization to develop and grow if access to knowledge is closed to all but a few people.

Donors also need education about how best to assist local groups and what "assistance" entails. These groups mainly need small amounts of money, long-term commitment for project development, and technical and moral support. It is best to start with small, feasible projects that are likely to bring success and slowly build to more complex projects, so that along the way the community can gain experience and increase its self-confidence.

There should be some kind of cohesive plan to work from so that projects do not overlap or bounce aimlessly to unrelated or ill-conceived goals. The community should follow some sort of planning process so that it (1) has an ideal or goal to work toward, (2) can get community input and a sense of agreement on this goal, and (3) can logically lay out small projects that in succession will lead to the goal. In this way, the community, rather than an outside agency, determines its own priorities and needs, thereby taking responsibility for its own development and greatly increasing the likelihood that sustainable courses of action will be found.


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