How can social research be used to inform restoration strategies?

A restoration project must 'fit' within a local community. In other words, it must align with local values, goals and vision for the future in order to be supported by the community.

Social research can help understand:

  • What values and goals are held by individual property owners and communities? By understanding what is important to people, potential restoration projects can be altered to suit that community. For example, in the Waitao catchment the river is valued for recreation, which means any action which improves water quality for swimming matches with a community interest.
  • Where the conflicts and tensions around the value and use of an ecosystem are within the community. This not only provides an early warning of issues likely to arise but also highlights community conflict which may derail the project or alienate different groups. 
  • How people perceived and understand local ecology (i.e., flora and fauna), water quality, impacts of human activates on the ecosystem and causes of the current degraded state. An understanding of current local knowledge can help shape future discussions.
  • How best to work with the community to achieve restoration goals, for example how best to involve them in decisions, actions and to tailor learning experiences. More importantly, it can help with how to set up communication channels and build trust between the agencies involved and local people.
  • Where within the community are people with skills which can assist the restoration project. The discovery of local project ‘Champions’ is extremely helpful in further project goals.
  • How the project, and the process of being part of the restoration work, will benefit locals.
  • In the longer term, if the project has stimulated any changes within the community in terms of new knowledge, behaviour changes and social capital.

One of the ways to begin collecting data around the social context of a restoration project is to undertake a social survey or interviews or a series of surveys and interviews.

  • Te Awa o Waitao restoration project provides an example where adding a social component provided insights into the social context within which the project is operating. Link to social Research in Te Awa O Waitao project. Moreover it has helped to (i) identify key waterway values, issues and community leaders, (ii) identify community networks through which information can flow, and (iii) demonstrate the increases in understanding, cohesion, and action that have occurred as the project has continued.

Enquiries about this research should be directed to Dr Paula Blackett