Post-print of: Leys, AJ & Vanclay, JK 2010, 'Stakeholder engagement in social learning to resolve controversies over land-use change to plantation forestry', Regional Environmental Change, published online June 2010.
The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10113-010-0132-6
Rapid land-use change arising from incentives for afforestation has created tensions in rural communities previously dominated by agricultural enterprises. This paper reports on an innovative experiment with social learning that incorporated participatory modelling to resolve community concerns in a case study of plantation forestry in the Upper Clarence catchment of north-eastern NSW Australia. The development of a diagnostic framework helped identify socioeconomic and environmental issues within the community for investigation by a self-selected participatory advisory committee (PAC) representing a diversity of views. Implementation of a social learning exercise offered empathetic and intellectual engagement among PAC members that maintained interest, built confidence, and improved problem-solving capacity while fostering group ownership over decision making. A shared understanding of dynamic landscape problems helped empower participants to collaboratively develop solutions for improved management and operational practices, and cooperate to explore further options for plantation industry development under existing policy guidelines which are presented in this paper. As a result of frank discussions between diverse stakeholders in a mutually respectful learning environment that combined local, scientific and expert knowledge, concerns dissipated and participants developed a more favourable view of plantation forestry activity.