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Coastal Connections

Coastal Connections: Interactive Governance Models for Sustainable Coastal Development

A 3-year project funded by SSHRC

Coastal people worldwide are vulnerable to pressures and changes brought about by natural phenomena and anthropogenic activities (Adger et al., 2005). The effects of fisheries collapse, habitat loss and sea level rise are among the most challenging issues confronting coastal people. Like other countries, Canada is investing in new approaches to coastal management designed to achieve sustainable management and development of coastal and ocean resources. Researchers have argued for holistic and integrative approaches taking into account ecological, environmental, economic, social, cultural and institutional aspects of the coasts. Such approaches need to balance between conservation and resource recovery and economic development.

Despite experiments with numerous kinds of coastal management programmes globally, problems like coastal degradation, unsustainable resource exploitation and community disintegration remain major concerns. The scale of natural and human coastal systems, as well as their diversity, complexity and dynamism make coastal areas difficult to understand and govern. A related challenge is the tendency for management initiatives to be reactive rather than proactive. Being proactive requires knowing what to expect, and dealing with diversity, complexity and dynamism requires an understanding of coastal interactions. The scale issues in coastal areas require nested governance structures and related allocation of responsibility for management and for interventions at the appropriate level. A key question is – can these interactions be understood and appropriate governance mechanisms designed for the multifaceted nature of coastal areas?

Coastal Connections is an interdisciplinary research programme that focuses on enhancing the understanding of connectivity and interactions among coastal areas’ natural, economic, social and governance systems using an ‘interactive governance’ model (Kooiman et al., 2005). Interactive governance refers to an exploration of ways in which coastal actors, both private and public, participate in addressing coastal concerns through problem-solving and opportunity creation. It requires actors to work collaboratively in the design and implementation of governing institutions with the capacity to cope with diversity, complexity, dynamism, vulnerability and various scales of resource systems and activities in coastal areas. Importantly, interactive governance is an enabling framework designed to facilitate interactions and learning among actors.

Using several visualization and communication tools and participatory techniques, the proposed research programme will begin by identifying and assessing factors influencing four main attributes of the systems-to-be-governed: ecosystem values (natural), resource sustainability (economic), community resilience (social) and governing quality (governance). Linkages between these attributes will be identified and the tools and techniques will be used to facilitate an exploration of solutions and opportunities (including viable livelihood options); to provide a basis for the design of proactive and creative governing systems; and to encourage learning about adaptability and flexibility to changing conditions in all systems.

The fisheries decline, rural outmigration and strong pressures for sustainable economic development make Newfoundland an ideal place to begin this research. Two coastal areas in Newfoundland will be selected to represent different environmental features, resource use patterns, social dimensions, governance systems and vulnerability to natural hazards. Tools and approaches developed within the proposed research programme will be applicable for future testing in other coastal areas in and overseas. The programme will be linked to similar national and international initiatives to advance knowledge and broaden its overall contributions. Communication of research results will be in the form of pamphlets, handbooks, policy briefs, peer-reviewed publications, theses, conference presentations and a website. Interdisciplinary training of graduate students will be central to the programme.