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The importance of relational values in river management: understanding enablers and barriers for effective participation

Simon A. Mould, Macquarie University
Kirstie A. Fryirs, Macquarie University
Richard Howitt, Macquarie University


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Participation by local communities is a key requirement of many environmental management policies globally. Understanding what enables or prevents landholders’ participation in environmental management is a fundamental requirement for strategies aiming to utilize this often-voluntary resource base. This research applies the emerging concept of relational values to a river management case study in order to better understand why landholders choose to participate in river management and how river management programs can better respond to landholders’ values. We develop a conceptual model to represent the dynamics of participation, identifying “enablers” and “barriers” to participation. We find that relational values, such as relationships between people and environment, motivate participation (or nonparticipation) in river management. Many of the enablers that translate motivating values into participatory actions are also relational in nature. Examples of relational enablers include supportive social networks and investment in relationships by river management practitioners. These findings form the basis for recommendations to help practitioners recognize relational values and prioritize enabling relationships as core activities. Understanding and working with relational values can generate possibilities for improved participation in pursuit of sustainable socio-environmental systems.

Key words

environmental management; participation; relational values; river rehabilitation

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087