You are on page 1of 5

Rhodes University - Community Based Natural Resource Management Course

“CBNRM: Getting the Building Blocks in Place”

24 – 28 August 2009

Working and Learning Together

A major contribution to the success of Community Based Natural Resource
Management (CBNRM) projects is learning from each other and creating an enabling
environment for equal participation. We are all learners and educators and we all aim
to make meaningful contributions towards the success of the CBNRM project.

Working together
A CBNRM initiative brings together stakeholders from different backgrounds as partners
in a strategic alliance around a shared common interest. One the most valuable
resources in a CBRNM initiative is the diversity of knowledge among these stakeholders.
Each partner agency or group brings with it a different position, perspective and
knowledge into the initiative. There is need to recognise these divergent views and
sources of knowledge and to utilise them for the benefit of the project. Through working
together in a collaborative manner these diverse knowledge can be effectively
harnessed to:
Develop a shared vision, goals and objectives about CBNRM;
Identify key problems, issues and opportunities for CBNRM;
Take actions to find both short term and long term solutions to problems
and to take advantage of arising opportunities; and to
Learn from project implementation actions and make changes as needed.

CBNRM processes invariably create situations in which various stakeholders operate

and interact and often debate and at times compete about natural resource use, which
can sometimes have negative consequences on the processes. There is therefore need
to establish meaningful participation among stakeholders to foster collective action for
the CBNRM process to achieve the targeted outocomes. Working together in CBNRM
should therefore allow for different types of constructive interactions including:
Disciplined debate (examining assumptions, values and evidence);
Interpersonal exchanges (building trust and sharing experiential knowledge);
Creative dialogues (creating and nurturing relations for collective action between
stakeholders through discussions relevant to their interests).

Learning together
Due to their dynamic nature and contextual diversity, CBNRM processes are complex
and evolving systems. Such processes require the continuous development and/or
acquisition of relevant knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary to resolve
problems towards achieving socio-economic and ecological sustenance. Therefore any
CBRNM process provides an continuous opportunity to learn and to adapt.

Setting the learning agenda

In facilitating the setting of the CBNRM initiative’s learning agenda it is important to
establish a common learning framework in which all stakeholders are fully engaged in
identifying their strengths and needs. Learning is for everyone and involves a
continuous process of planning, action and reflection. The focus of learning in
CBNRM should always consider:

Rhodes University - Community Based Natural Resource Management Course
“CBNRM: Getting the Building Blocks in Place”
24 – 28 August 2009

Learning from an analysis of and planning for the socio-economic and

ecological aspects that can make CBRNM work;
Learning as a continuous process of negotiation and dialogue;
Learning through the application of what has been learnt and experienced
during the CBRNM process (learning through doing); and
Learning through critically assessing social and ecological responses to
project activities (learning through reflection).

Learning as a shared process

In initiating learning processes in CBNRM, it is important to recognise this is a joint or
shared process that involves all stakeholders. Learning needs should therefore be
considered through open and transparent dialogue with all stakeholders. It has to be a
participatory social learning process that builds on pluralism, that is recognition of
others’ positions, perspectives and knowledge. Active and meaningful participation is
about engaging all partners and creating an enabling environment for equal
contribution. Real participatory approaches are active processes of consulting,
deciding together, acting together, with the aim of supporting CBNRM processes and
outcomes. It is only through such collective decision making that real devolution of
power to the community to run the project more-or-less independently can be achieved.
The community’s partners (other stakeholders) will also have learned much about
working with others in an equal and genuinely participatory way. Participation is
therefore in reality a continuous re-adjustment of relationships between different
stakeholders in order to increase equitable stakeholder control.

Participatory approaches:
Build on existing knowledge (potential and proven capacities);
Increase commitment to objectives and outcomes (motivation);
Build a greater sense of ownership among stakeholders;
Increase self-help capabilities of communities (building confidence);
Increase capacities of all partners to engage in such processes;
Build stronger and more democratic institutions and partnerships; and
Ensure long-term sustainability of projects.

The diversity of interests and actors engaged in CBNRM can be an asset if we can learn
from the experiences and insights we each hold. Considering the wealth of knowledge
distributed among the different stakeholders, a beneficial interactive process is enabling
learning from each other, valuing each other’s contributions and taking collective
learning action to solve problems associated with the CBNRM process. It is also
important to value and include all types of knowledge (including indigenous
knowledges) that can positively contribute to the project. By learning through sharing
our experiences we develop respect and valuing of the role of each stakeholder, as
well the realisation that we are dependent on each other towards a common goal.

Recognising community learning needs and strengths

In recognising learning as a negotiated process it is critical to ensure the full and
engagement of the local community (the intended custodians of the CBNRM process) in
the designing and managing of the learning process. This important in order to empower
communities to be able to plan their own learning interventions in future.

Rhodes University - Community Based Natural Resource Management Course
“CBNRM: Getting the Building Blocks in Place”
24 – 28 August 2009

Communities can and should be encouraged to also contribute their knowledge,

innovations and experiences relevant to the CBNRM process. This knowledge includes
in-depth details on the biology, habitat and distribution of wildlife species and the local
uses of plant resources and their seasonal availability.

Engaging others
The language of learning has important implications for who can partake in the learning
process. Working within collaborative projects requires establishing a common
language or common ground amongst stakeholders. To most practitioners
(researchers and scientists) this involves simplifying their language and terminology to
a level where it becomes understandable by everybody in order to be well understood. It
is important to check if the message has been articulated and understood. Engaging
others also implies learning to listen to the others (communities and other
stakeholders) and appreciating their contributions and concerns. This whole process is
called accommodation. Its main aim is to establish a language that not only recognises
the different perspectives and experiences of the stakeholders, but also encompasses
their different cultural norms and standards. When stakeholders speak the same
language, rapport can easily be established and conflicts can be minimised.

It also important to note here that learning the (vernacular) language of the local
community by stakeholders enables them to have an in-depth knowledge of the local
context. This is an aspect that is extremely beneficial to soliciting community buy-in and
support for the project, establishing trust, avoiding conflicts and building rapport.

Value and relevance of learning

The main aim of learning interventions is to build personal and organisational
competences to be able to articulate and contribute/participate more effectively in
CBRNM contexts and also to develop a shared understanding of issues and processes
(building consensus).

The value and relevance of learning must be proven through its practical application in
the CBNRM process. Achieving sustainable CBNRM processes requires critical
reflection on the interactive processes at the interface between our ways of knowing, our
actions and environmental responses (both positive and negative) to our actions.

Soul Shava & Lawrence Sisitka

August 2009

Rhodes University - Community Based Natural Resource Management Course
“CBNRM: Getting the Building Blocks in Place”
24 – 28 August 2009

Participatory Learning Exercise – A Transect Walk

In a CBNRM context, many different stakeholders, with different backgrounds,
education, interests, skills, concerns and understandings, are involved. Often these
differences are poorly recognised and rarely explored openly, leading to
misunderstandings, mistrust and a lack of real communication. Such differences,
however, can be viewed positively, and built on with each learning from the others and
recognising what everyone has to offer in terms of the programme.

A transect walk is one of the most effective participatory (or ‘shared’) learning
‘techniques’ available, as it requires little in the way of materials or special skills, and
provides a non-threatening context in which participants can share their ideas about the
area in which they are walking. When used in a community context, it is usually
conducted in an area in which community members feel very comfortable and confident
in their knowing of it. It is then the ‘outsiders’, the academics, government officials and
NGO personnel who become the ‘learners’, although they, too, if the discussion is active
and open, should make valuable contributions from their own perspectives and

The idea of this participatory learning exercise is for participants to experience the value
of sharing their interests in and understandings of particular places and situations with
others who may have different interests and understandings. It is through such sharing
that not only can everyone’s understandings be broadened, but also that a shared pool
of knowledge and understanding can be developed. In addition such an activity can help
each participant recognise the contributions that they and everyone else can make to a
shared process, such as CBNRM.

Guidelines for the Exercise:

Three groups are formed, each including at least one honours student from the Rhodes
University Environmental Science Department to guide the walk. One person is asked
to ‘chair’ the discussions in an informal way, by keeping the group together and ensuring
that everyone has the opportunity to contribute, and that everyone does not talk at once!
Two or three people in each group are asked to be ‘recorders’ and keep notes of the
discussions. Everyone is asked to make notes of everything they learn.

The groups each head out on a different route from the Centre:
1. Along the fence-line, heading north, overlooking the quarry, the dam and the open
veld running up to the N2 highway
2. Along the fence-line heading south-west overlooking the campus, the town and the
townships beyond
3. Through the campus, the halls of residence and dining halls towards the Sports

Each participant in each group is encouraged to point out anything that is of interest to
them, and explain why they are interested in it, or ask questions about what they see.
(The points of interest need not be anything to do with natural resources, they can be
anything from buildings to birds!). Discussions can develop around points of particular

Rhodes University - Community Based Natural Resource Management Course
“CBNRM: Getting the Building Blocks in Place”
24 – 28 August 2009

or shared interest. Records should be kept of the most useful (interesting?) discussions,
and of the information provided by the different participants.
On returning to the Centre, the groups capture what each person has learned on
newsprint, and the recorders compare notes and prepare a brief feedback on the main
discussions. Each group presents its learning and key aspects of the discussions, and
comments on what were the main values of the exercise to them.

Time available:
There are just 45 minutes available for the walk itself. The groups should therefore turn
round and return to the Centre after 30 minutes (maximum).
15 minutes are available for preparation of the presentations (including the learning and
comments on the exercise)
15 minutes are available for the feedback presentations.