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Understanding the Treehouse Research Programme for People and Conservation

20 October 2006

The Treehouse research programme held their fourth annual workshop in Skukuza recently with great success. Participants were from Southern Africa and the United States of America who are passionately involved in research into People and Conservation issues affecting biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.

The notion of a collaborative research programme between the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the University of Montana and South African National Parks (SANParks) arose when, the then Head of Parks, Dick Parris (SANParks) and Charles Breen (UKZN) were invited participants in the World Wilderness Congress at the University of Montana. Subsequently Dr Freek Venter and Xolani Funda (previous Park manager of Marakele) participated in the International Seminar on Protected Areas held in Montana. Xolani Funda spent a year at the University of Montana doing course work for his PhD.

The rationale for the Treehouse Research Programme for People and Conservation (TRPPC) is seen in the context of the growing challenges facing protected area managers faced with the paradox between protection and use. There is an ever-growing demand all over the world for access to resources in protected areas. Social issues, more especially managing the highly dynamic and complex relationships with and among stakeholder groups, are central to successful conservation of protected areas. This is the core function of the TRPPC. Acknowledging that relationships are in flux and dynamic has directed the programme to seek ways of incorporating the management of relationships into strategic adaptive management. Strategic adaptive management now forms the basis of most decision-making processes within SANParks.

The assumption underpinning the TRPPC is that protected area management agencies will not be successful until they are equipped to manage relationships with stakeholders in a strategic and adaptive manner. A conceptual model (framework, Figure 1) was developed that would provide direction and cohesion for research and ensure a dynamic systems approach that would inform strategic adaptive management.

Managing relationships is a process and it was therefore determined that the research should be directed at informing processes that were inherent in managing relationships. Three related processes were identified:

• Learning for which the anticipated outcomes of research would be ‘Protected area agencies that are responsive to and resilient in the face of demands from stakeholders’; with a corollary that ‘Stakeholder groups would be responsive and resilient in the face of imperatives for biodiversity conservation in protected areas
• Demand management for which the anticipated outcomes of research would be ‘Protected area agencies would be enabled to develop defensible responses to current and emerging demands from stakeholders’; with a corollary that ‘Stakeholder groups would more effectively manage their own demands’
• Managing relationships for which the anticipated outcome of research would be ‘Protected area agencies would have strong partnerships and participatory policies’; with a corollary that ‘Stakeholder groups would seek to develop and sustain strong partnerships and participatory policies’

Although these processes are generic and can find application to protected areas anywhere in the world, they occur in context, governance and capacity situations that are country and even site specific. It is contended however, that once the generic processes are understood they can be adapted to local conditions.

The objective of the program is:

• Stewardship of protected areas incorporates effective management of relationships

The anticipated results of the program are:

• Protected Management Agencies have a good understanding of the theory and practice of managing relationships
• Protected Area Management Agencies are enabled to incorporate relationship management into strategic adaptive management
• Students achieve postgraduate qualifications through research conducted in the program
• Publications and a synthesis in 2007

At the fourth workshop in Skukuza this year, progress reports and updates were presented on the research, which is still in progress. This includes a total of eleven different People and Conservation related titles.

The Treehouse Research Programme for People and Conservation will run until July 2007 in its current format. The continued future of the programme is uncertain but what is certain is that this programme has far exceeded that which anyone anticipated in terms of achieving its objectives.

Laurie Ashley (MSC) “Land Restitution and Protected Areas in KwaZulu
Natal, South Africa: Challenges to implementation.”

Nyambe Nyambe (PHD) “Organisational Culture and its Underlying Basic
Assumptions as a Determinant of Response to Change”

Randy Tanner (PHD) “Transfrontier Conservation Areas of Southern Africa
And Community Involvement in the Context of International

Photo: Treehouse Research Programme Participants 2006 - Skukuza