The National Riparian Lands R&D Program

Case Study D

The National Riparian Lands R&D Program undertook thirteen years of research into how riparian areas function, how they can be better managed, and how to engage local communities in protecting, maintaining and rehabilitating these important parts of the landscape. The program had a strong focus on knowledge and adoption activities. Publications were developed for audiences at a range of levels, as well as innovative CDs, web-based products and magazines like RipRap.

Planning for the legacy of the program began half way through its second phase (2004) when a series of activities were developed to signal to stakeholders that the program was ending, but that all the information it had produced was available in a variety of different forms suitable for different audiences (technical and non-technical).

Key activities

Working with industry to translate science for different commodity groups

Different agricultural industries across Australia have different cultures, norms and ways of doing things. This was recognised by the National Riparian Lands R&D Program when it worked with the sugar, cotton, dairy and wool industries to tailor information for their stakeholders. It became apparent that a sugar grower would not read anything written for a wool grower and visa versa. This meant that considerable effort was made to ‘get inside’ each of these agricultural industries to ensure that the information produced was relevant and meaningful to that particular audience.

Colloquial language was used to describe local river and riparian management issues so that it was easily understood and could slot into day to day production of the particular commodity being focused upon. Case studies were used widely to show how the science that was being recommended could be put into practice.

Oral histories showing how families over generations had managed their rivers and streams were used to foster community spirit and demonstrate the importance of waterways to the region’s history.

Out of this work has come a series of guidelines, CDs and oral histories that are valued by the industry concerned because they were written for them, with considerable input from them to ensure that they ‘hit the mark’. The ongoing legacy is that these guidelines are now drawn upon in the sugar, cotton, dairy and wool industries for recommended codes of practice and environmental accreditation processes.

Taking researchers into the regions

National series of workshops

At the end of both phases of the Riparian Program (2000 and 2005-06) workshops were run in each State and Territory. Researchers who had undertaken work on the program presented their research findings to people invited by the hosts of the workshop to attend.

Demand for these workshops was very high, with the 2005-06 series resulting in all States and Territories visited requesting more be organised. Each workshop had between 25-35 participants, drawn from government NRM departments or Catchment Management Authorities and equivalents. Workbooks and a CD that had all the presentations on it were provided so that people could refresh their memories when they returned back to their offices. Land & Water Australia facilitated and managed the workshops, as well as paying for the researchers to attend. The host State and Territory organised participants, venue and catering.

Qualitative responses highlighted the value participants place on being able to talk directly to the researchers who did the work, as well as the professionalism and organisation of the workshops. As a model of knowledge and adoption, taking researchers out to the regions is clearly a good approach as people feel they can access science but have it placed within their local context.

Principles of Riparian Land Management

Synthesis publication

At the end of Phase One of the National Riparian Lands R&D Program a two volume publication was produced called the ‘Riparian Lands Management Technical Guidelines’. This document brought together all the science that had been undertaken into a handy reference document. As the second phase of the National Riparian Lands R&D Program came to an end an updated scientific publication was produced to provide people with access to the current thinking and literature on various riparian lands management processes.

Principles for Riparian Lands Management had chapters written by all of the scientists that worked on the program, as well as others who were involved in riparian research. This made the publication an excellent reference document for those involved in river and riparian management and who want to understand in detail the science behind recommended management practices.

National Riparian Lands R&D Program

Legacy CD

This CD brought together all of the research, publications, tools and key scientific references from thirteen years of work in the program onto one handy, easy to access product. The material is organised against eight management issues for those users that want to understand a particular riparian issue and how the science that has been undertaken supports the recommended practical guidelines. For those users that don’t want to access the information by management issue, alternatives are provided so that the CD also works like a website, containing all the information produced by the program.

Tier 1 Important management issues

Tier 1 focuses on management issues identified by landholders and catchment management groups as being important. It provides a practical introduction to the topic with a PowerPoint presentation that can be modified and used to present applied management information for landholders to use on-farm.

Tier 2 User access to publications & tools

Tier 2 enables the user to access those publications and tools that provide the scientific data and principles that underpin the recommended management practices for each objective. It has a complete set of all the publications and CDs produced by the program, with some broken up into easy to use smaller ‘chunks’ of information.

Tier 3 User access to scientific papers

Tier 3 takes the user to the relevant scientific papers published in refereed journals and books, providing confidence that the recommended management actions are underpinned by high quality, peer-reviewed science.

The idea behind the CD was to enable end-users to access the information from the Program at a number of different levels and to continue disseminating findings to audiences across Australia. Putting the research into the hands of those who will use it and continue to build on and develop better ways of managing riparian lands has always been important to this Program, the legacy CD is a good example of how this can be done even after the Program has finished.

Establishing, valuing and maintaining relationships

The National Riparian Lands R&D Program has placed a high value on taking time to establish and maintain relationships between researchers, stakeholders, people working on the program, and the general public. This has required, above all, taking the time to listen to people and understand what it is that they need in terms of information about riparian lands management.

The RipRap magazine has been used to keep everyone in touch with the latest findings in river and riparian management, as well as being a vehicle for others to feature their work and activities. Workshops have meant that people can get together with the scientists and talk about issues affecting their riparian management. Informal BBQs and dinners, celebrating achievements, and generally having a good time have kept the research team close knit and happily working together.

Allocating resources for relationships is fundamentally important to any successful project or program - it is important to make people feel valued and special. This is what makes people feel good about the work they are doing and want to pass on what is learnt to others even when the project or program has finished.

Program website

To view the work of the program, including the range of publications, visit the River Landscapes website.

By Siwan Lovett, Program Coordinator

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