Project name: Protecting the Snowies
Client: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
Background: Australia is home to the largest wild horse population in the world, with over an estimated 400,000 horses spread across the country. Kosciuszko National Park is home to the only alpine ecology in Australia and horses, as an introduced species, place this environment under significant pressure. For 10 years the management of horses has been directed by a Wild Horse Management Plan, developed by National Parks in close consultation with environmental and horse stakeholders.
The review of the Management Plan is therefore a complex, contentious and important project. It involves identifying and understanding the impact that wild horses are having on this unique National Park. It also involves balancing the protection and enhancement of the Park’s ecology while recognising that to some, wild horses or ‘brumbies’ have significant historical and cultural value, as memorialised in the ‘The Man from Snowy River’, iconography that creates emotional attachment and amplifies animal welfare concerns. Discussion about these issues has been long dominated by the opposing views of horse and environmental advocates. Their positions are strongly held and well known, having been involved in formal and informal engagement with NPWS for an extended period of time.
Engagement brief: Develop and undertake comprehensive stakeholder and community engagement program to support the review of the 2008 Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park. The objectives were to:
- Provide information about the issues associated with wild horse management in the Park
- Generate considered dialogue about the management of wild horses
- Capture a representative cross-section of community views
- Gain an understanding of the underlying values that drive those views.
Description of engagement: The extensive engagement programme, which ran for seven months, included a range of mechanisms by which the voices of everyday citizens, whose taxes fund the Park, could be heard. In addition, there were activities in which stakeholders could participate, recognising their specific expertise and commitment but ensuring that theirs was not the only voice heard.
Randomly-recruited focus groups in Sydney, Parramatta, Canberra and Jindabyne were designed to identify the breadth of views held by the general public and to help frame all future engagement activities by providing details of key values and issues of importance to the community.
Two online surveys were conducted at different stages of the process. The first online (panel) survey was designed to generate a rich body of data on unmitigated community views (those uninfluenced by explanatory information) and the diversity of views held by different types of community members. A second online survey was conducted approximately four months later and used similar questions although was delivered via the online engagement platform. Participation was self-selecting therefore this mechanism did not target the ‘unengaged’ but the community with some pre-existing interest.
A 21st century town hall meeting was designed to capture the opinions of a demographically representative ‘mini public’ as they participated in the day-long deliberation. Stakeholders also participated in the event which enabled them to hear community views. This structure provided a direct comparison between community and stakeholder views, which, through the use of Keepad technology, were able to be immediately and transparently shown to all participants.
An online engagement platform was designed to maximise the reach of the consultation. The ‘Protecting the Snowies’ page was designed to be a central bank of highly accessible, accurate information and facilitate ongoing in-depth discussion. A series of short film clips were designed to enable the community to appreciate the complexities of this issue and provide feedback in a simple and engaging manner. Approximately 21,000 people participated in the engagement program with the online platform receiving almost 20,000 unique visitors, making it the most popular NSW online engagement ever.
Kitchen table discussion guides were designed to enable participants to have guided but self-directed discussion with people of their choosing, at a time and place that was convenient for them. As such, it facilitated deliberation and grassroots feedback without the time and travel commitments of meetings or workshops. In addition to NPWS information, the guides included the opinions of vested stakeholders to allow participants to understand the full breadth of views on the issue.
Stakeholder meetings were also undertaken to facilitate direct dialogue between NPWS, and capture stakeholder views and keep them informed of the consultation process.
The outcome of the engagement program was a significant body of qualitative and quantitative data which clearly indicates the community’s views on wild horse management and the protection of native flora and fauna.
The outcomes of the engagement program were reported to the Independent Technical Reference Group (ITRG) so that it understood the topics of most concern to the community that could be addressed by scientific evidence. The Chair of the ITRG made the following statement about Straight Talk’s engagement program:
“It is hard to over-emphasise how exhaustive and thorough were the methods used, from focus groups, through town hall meetings, to telephone (sic) surveys. The ITRG was impressed with the thoroughness of the approach because past attempts to hear from the community had become somewhat captured by lobby groups. The presenter was well versed in the breadth and depth of the different methods and their results. The ITRG, before the briefing, had been concerned to ensure that it had sufficient, and comprehensive, understanding of community views in formulating its recommendations. After the presentation, it felt thoroughly well briefed and much reassured that the credibility of the engagement process was such that the ITRG was building on a firm basis.”