A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Community Partnerships

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 Why form a community partnership | Who should be included | Working with volunteers | Successful partnerships | Additional information

Why Form a Community Partnership

Community groups or partnerships are a vital key to effective land and water stewardship. Through a partnership, different people and organizations work together to address common concerns and interests, using the diverse skills their members bring to strengthen their effectiveness.

Partnerships are the easiest and fairest way to develop and implement an effective stewardship plan. Because all the stakeholders are involved from the beginning, the plan you develop will have the consensus of everyone with a concern in the outcome.

In addition, partnerships often result in:

  • more efficient use of financial resources
  • a spirit of sharing, cooperation and fairness
  • fewer negative social and economic impacts
  • more creative ways to protect natural resources
However, working as a group can be challenging. It takes time and skill to create a good partnership. Maintaining motivation and enthusiasm is a particular challenge, especially if positive results don’t happen quickly. All stakeholders must believe their efforts are needed. As you build a community group, remember, the benefits usually far outweigh the challenges.

Who Should Be Included

To build a true partnership, anyone with a stake in the stewardship plan should be invited to contribute. Your group’s success also depends on involving a good mix of individuals and organizations, to include people with a variety of interests, abilities and skills to fulfill the group’s different needs.

Key responsibilities for participants may include:

  • leadership roles
  • technical roles
  • communication roles
  • educational roles
  • political liaison and public policy roles
In addition to the people who actually make up your group, volunteers can come from a variety of sources. For example, local media can help create a public record of the partnership’s objectives and accomplishments. They can put information about your group into geographic and historical context and make it easier to understand. Local, regional and national media may also create human interest stories about your group. Such articles help people relate to what the group is trying to do and remember its objectives.

Other people and organizations who may be able to contribute to your community partnership, without actually being a part of it, include:

  • landowners
  • agri-business and resource industries
  • agricultural producer organizations
  • environmental and conservation groups
  • students, 4-H, Guides and other youth clubs
  • civic groups, service clubs (Kinsmen, etc.)
  • doctors, teachers and other professionals
  • government agencies and representatives
  • financial institutions
  • professional facilitators
Each of these people or organizations can contribute different services, abilities and perspectives. Students have the time and energy for the many simple, repetitive tasks that need doing. Teachers and other professionals can share their commitment to social goals, as well as their credibility in the community. Representatives of financial institutions and businesses have the experience and knowledge to help with fund-raising. Government agencies have expertise in natural resource management, a knowledge of the rules and regulations your group will have to deal with, and an awareness of the potential problems and their possible solutions. Professional facilitators may be available from government agencies or may work as paid consultants to help your group achieve its goals.

Working with Volunteers

Except for the possibility of a paid coordinator or manager, members of a local stewardship group will be working as volunteers. This makes it critical that your group provide its members with a positive experience, a real sense of achievement, and lots of recognition for their efforts. Volunteers will also need a wide range of training and educational opportunities, so members can learn about local natural resources, the stewardship project itself, and about working as part of a volunteer group.

New volunteers will appreciate orientation sessions about the group. These sessions should cover the structure, policies, procedures and activities of the last three months. Make particular efforts to make newcomers welcome to the group, so they don’t feel like outsiders barging in on someone else’s party.

All members will benefit from training programs on creating and maintaining partnerships and on different aspects of land and water stewardship. Courses may be available through various government agencies or through local schools and colleges. A policy and procedures handbook could be designed and distributed to all members.

Volunteers will maintain their commitment and relationship with the group if they are treated as highly paid professionals. Try to estimate the time demands of the group’s work and whether there will be any expense for which the volunteer will be personally responsible. Don’t make unfair demands on the volunteers’ time, nor overload those volunteers who can contribute critical skills and expertise. Make the responsibilities and the benefits of serving on the group very clear.

There are many ways of recognizing the work your participants do. Suggestions range from a simple, warm "thank you," to naming a ‘member of the month’ or having a profile of the person and his or her contributions published in the local newspaper. If the budget allows, the group might even be able to award a plaque or pin to its members after they have contributed a year of service. Asking a person for advice and guidance is a more subtle, and for some, a more motivating vote of appreciation.

Successful Partnerships

Building a successful community group takes skill, time and patience. Here are 15 strategies that will help:

1. Establish common ground and direction
A successful partnership starts with the commitment to understand, respect and address each member’s concerns. All partners also need to know they’re working toward a worthwhile purpose. Only when there is a mutual understanding of the issues, can there be a true agreement about the group’s objectives and goals.

2. Identify and involve the 'right' people
Community groups need people with communications, technical, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. All people with a stake in the land and water management outcomes should feel welcome to become a partner, including people living outside the area who will be affected by the outcomes of your group’s efforts. The group may also want to include people who have an interest in the general subject, though they don’t have a stake in your local partnership. Build the partnership around the members’ interests and strengths. For example, some members may be responsible for public contact, while others can gather information.

3. Select leadership from within the group
Someone will have to take the initial responsibility for getting members together. Once members are together, however, the group should use consensus to select its leaders. Leadership and coordination of the partnership involves the ability to get people to voluntarily commit to the group’s goals and accept responsibilities. A top-down approach will not work.

Growing Your Group
To get a sense of the minimum number of people needed for a stewardship group and the specific responsibilities the members may have, draw a five-column grid or matrix on a blackboard or flip chart. Label the first column Tasks, and the next four columns Leader, Group, Committee, Individual.

Have the group brainstorm their ideas on the specific tasks the partnership needs to accomplish and write these under the Tasks column of the rows. Now have the group decide whether the primary responsibility for completion of each task lies with the leader, the group as a whole, a committee, or an individual group member. At later meetings, refine the chart and fill in the names of individuals who are willing and able to take on each task.

4. Set your own ground rules
The partnership will probably need to set specific ground rules related to participation, discussion, confidentiality, constructive feedback, and expected time commitments. Setting ground rules helps people know what’s expected of them and what’s acceptable. An effective set of rules is one designed and agreed to by your group. Avoid using rules set by an expert or by another group, even if successful. Designing your own ground rules gives participants an opportunity to work together and assures a better buy-in to the protocols.

5. Pay particular attention to the first few meetings and activities
First impressions mean a lot. People are often sceptical at the beginning. Keep your initial meetings particularly positive, emphasizing what you know you can do, rather than things you’re not sure about. (See page 13, Getting Started.)

6. Start with a few simple, short-term tasks
Be sure early projects are realistic ‘winners’ and have a good chance of success. This gives participants a sense of accomplishment and a strong, positive base that will be invaluable when dealing with more complex tasks.

7. Spend time together
It will take time to get the partnership working effectively, because it takes time to get to know each other. When possible, arrange for social get-togethers outside of meetings or other working times. Such events create closer relationships among members of the partnership. Sharing social tasks, for example, organizing potluck suppers or picnics, will enhance your skills in working as a group, without the pressure of achieving important objectives.

8. Keep the regional scope manageable
Grassroots partnerships work best when the core participants live in the same area and know their community well. If dealing with an entire watershed, where representation from more than one community is desired, it might be more effective to subdivide your partnership into regional segments or to work as several separate partnerships. Be sure to develop a process to share information between the smaller regional partnerships.

9. Encourage communication
Successful group efforts are built on clear communication. Discussion should be honest and candid. Partners need to listen to each other and be able to express their viewpoints. They should provide constructive feedback, not just negative criticism. To encourage communication, set up the group’s meeting room in a roundtable arrangement (see page 16 - Physical Facilities.)

10. Work as a group, not as individuals
Individuals provide new ideas and approaches, but the group shares responsibility for decisions, actions, successes and failures. Because everyone has an interest in the success of the group, everyone should participate in discussions and decisions. If some members of the group are unwilling or unable to participate in an active way, at least get them to share in the decision-making process. Today, most effective group decisions are made using a consensus process. The goal is to enable members to work together to achieve the desired results, despite their differences, rather than to eliminate those differences. This doesn’t mean everyone will be completely happy, but that everyone can live with the decisions made and feels the decisions are fair.

11. Challenge the group regularly with fresh facts and information
Gathering new information on a continual basis will help the group better understand the situation and improve its effectiveness. New information will also keep discussions and participants from getting stale or going in circles and will keep the members motivated.

12. Build on the work of existing organizations
Environmental organizations, tourism and business associations, government agencies and other formal or informal community groups may have similar goals. Seek these partnerships out so your group members can work together, pool experiences and skills, and achieve faster, more effective results.

13. Use the power of positive feedback
People respond to recognition and positive incentives. Never miss a chance to let people know they’ve done something worth doing. When possible, arrange for public acknowledgement of a person’s contributions and involvement, as well as the group’s efforts.

14. Keep organizational rules flexible
No single partnership structure will work for every stewardship group. Instead, your group needs to determine how formal the partnership structure needs to be, and the basic rules that will work for its particular set of circumstances. Some division of labor and delegation of responsibility must be established to take advantage of the group’s resources and expertise, but it should be flexible enough to allow for individual interests. Each partner should understand and agree to his or her own roles and responsibilities, and all partners should be able to take part in decisions or activities where they have a particular concern or involvement.

15. Tap into existing sources of information
Technical information and scientific expertise are available through Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), Alberta Environment, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), large environmental organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, universities and research institutions, and agricultural service boards. Also check the Internet for scientific information and relevant statistical data. ARD’s award-winning web site, Ropin’ the Web, is an excellent place to start. Professional facilitators are also available through ARD.

Additional Information

More information on organizational development and building community groups is available. (See the inside back cover for a list of resource agencies and other references.) The following free publications, available from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development or on Ropin’ the Web, may be particularly helpful.


Other Documents in the Series

  Building Community Partnerships: A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Community Partnerships - Current Document
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Group Leadership
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Organizing a Stewardship Group - Two Examples
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Getting Started
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Building Community Support
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Roger Bryan.
This document is maintained by Laura Thygesen.
This information published to the web on March 4, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2013.