Local Government Magazine

Best ways to co-govern natural resources

As debate continues to hot up around who “owns”, controls and manages New Zealand’s natural resources, the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has released a new report examining effective approaches to shared governance.

Principles for co-governing natural resources outlines topline thinking behind some of the best ways to co-govern and, to a lesser extent, co-manage environmental initiatives.

Throughout the country, a growing number of iwi, hapu, community groups and local authorities are working to monitor, protect and enhance the health of the environment.

The OAG report draws on the experiences of eight co-governed initiatives including the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust where Waipa District Council is helping bring together iwi, community and adjacent landowners to clarify their respective roles.

The largest such initiative on the mainland, the Maungatautari Ecological Island in the Waikato protects 3400 hectares of forest land with a 47 kilometre surrounding predator-proof fence.

Trust members aim to eradicate introduced mammalian pests and predators from the land and restore what the Trust calls a “healthy diversity” of indigenous plants and animals.

In Canterbury, the Te Waihora Co-Governance Agreement – a voluntary co-governance arrangement – focuses on the health of Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and surrounding catchments.

The largest lake in Canterbury and an important link in the chain of coastal lagoons and estuaries along the South Island’s east coast, Te Waihora has suffered from declining water quality due to changes in land use and the clearing of wetlands.

The Te Waihora co-governance group comprises representatives from Canterbury Regional Council and Selwyn District Council alongside the kaiwhakahaere (chairperson) and members of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

The OAG report cautions public entities to be careful not to make “unrealistic demands” straight away and to help build capability among the co-governors.

While there are few surprises in the five main principles that the OAG outlines in its report, as many people involved in co-governance can testify, these ideas are easier said than done.

The principles are:

  • Build and maintain a shared understanding of what everyone is trying to achieve;
  • Build the structures, processes and understanding about how people will work together;
  • Involve people who have the right experience and capacity;
  • Be accountable and transparent about performance, achievements and challenges; and
  • Plan for financial sustainability and adapt as circumstances change.

On a more practical note, the report handpicks 10 “lessons” that 
could help to achieve successful co-governance:

  1. Develop good relationships.
  2. Be prepared to work together, listen and learn from each other, 
go the extra mile to understand each other’s perspective and 
reach compromise where needed.
  3. Work out a shared understanding of purpose and check this understanding from time to time.
  4. Agree how to work together, including deciding what form of governance will work best.
  5. Take the time to plan and set up processes.
  6. Understand the extent of decision-making powers and clearly define roles and responsibilities.
  7. Find people with the right experience and capacity, such as strong leadership skills, and governance or management experience, and who have the time to be involved.
  8. Keep the public informed of progress and what is being achieved.
  9. Provide assurance that finances are well managed.
  10. Plan how the project can be sustained through its lifetime.

Download a copy of the full report from www.oag.govt.nz

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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