Building up from the grassroots

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Landscape scale projects are a high priority for funders in natural resource management (NRM), and a big opportunity for the federations of local Landcare groups known as Landcare Networks. Since around 1995, local groups with a sense of affiliation based on geography, agricultural systems and social community have been organising themselves into Landcare Networks. Here, they go beyond their local affiliation and think and operate in terms of the large landcape.

Landcare networks are a way to integrate goals and action between community groups, agencies and industry. Asked to help Landcare groups in the Mornington Peninsula as they formed a network, I went back to material from a forum I convened a few years ago asking Landcare staff and community leaders to share what they found supported success in forming a network. Here are the conclusions they drew:

Starting small is the only way you can start. The presenters were from strong, established Networks. When you’re just starting out to build a Network, it’s easy to feel over-awed by established Networks. But every Network starts small, and builds up the commitment of landholders and partners organisations slowly, by doing what Landcare is good at – showing through action what can be done.

Success brings partners on board.  When you’ve got something going at community level, agencies want to back you. You’ll have to put your work in front of them, but don’t assume they won’t be interested. Local government, CMAs and agencies like DEPI are on the look out for projects that have community support. If your project can help them get their job done, and make them look good, then they are interested.

Landcare has vital connections at local level. Landcare has credibility with landholders and good social networks. That credibility multiplies when a Landcare Network links local groups. Landcare staff and management know their communities. When setting up a project, they know who is onside already, who might be interested and who is not interested at all. That’s social knowledge. Put this knowledge to the foreground when negotiating with funders that want results on the ground but don’t have those networks.

 Get your planning tight. Government agencies are all about planning, and corporate sponsors want to support people who know what they are doing. Develop your own planning processes so you can give a clear argument for your priorities and show how plans can be translated into action on the ground. Landcare has always been good at action on the ground, but you need systems for planning.

 Get close to your partners and potential funders. They like personal attention as much as you. They expect ask for your plans and funding bids, but make it personal and talk to them. Once you’ve got a project going, keep talking to them.

Diversify your funding sources. Don’t wait for a miracle. Open up relationships with different agencies and sponsors. Be prepared to put the time in getting to know them and them getting to know you. Don’t expect immediate results.

 Stay close to your community members. The community is your foundation. If you haven’t got them there with you, sooner or later, projects will fall over. Your members have to understand your goals and believe in them as much as you do. If that means pulling back a bit on some of your wilder ideas, then pull back. Talk more at local level. Wait till the time is right. Work with the interest that’s there.

 

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