Part 2: Building effective relationships

Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources.

In this Part, we discuss the importance of building effective relationships when setting up and maintaining successful co-governance arrangements.

Summary of what we learned about building effective relationships

The quality of the relationship between the parties to co-governance affects its chances of success. The objectives and aspirations of parties can evolve. Effective relationships help parties respond to changing circumstances.

Parties need to be prepared to invest in their relationship. Having people who value relationships involved in co-governance helps to build mutual respect and trust. This allows parties to have the difficult conversations they need to ensure that they have a shared understanding of what they are trying to achieve and compromise when they have to.

There is no one set of rules to follow when setting up a co-governance arrangement. Instead, parties need to find what works for the particular circumstances and to recognise that those circumstances can evolve. When setting up and operating environmental projects, the parties should focus on principles that will support successful co-governance and co-management.

Successful co-governance takes time and commitment

As participants in the projects explained to us, the success of co-governance depends on the quality of the relationship between the parties. Good relationships take time to nurture.

Outcomes that are good for the environment also take time to achieve. Some environmental projects can evolve as the parties' aspirations and objectives respond to changing circumstances. We consider that effective relationships help parties respond to those changing circumstances.

Effective relationships support co-governance

Effective relationships support the parties to set up and maintain co-governance arrangements. As one participant pointed out:

If I was starting from the beginning, it's about forming a really good relationship first before getting into the detail. So each party understands who you are and what you are about. I appreciate that now, whereas before I didn't – in the past it was about getting on with the job. I'm proud to be part of the process.

Parties need to be prepared to invest in the relationship. These relationships can be slow to build, because the parties often have different perspectives, aspirations, and are sometimes dealing with historical grievances. In some instances, we were told that the relationship between iwi and local authorities before the projects were set up was fraught or non-existent.

Investing in a relationship requires having people who value relationships involved in setting up and maintaining the co-governance arrangements. As one interviewee said:

At the end of the day, you can have all the arrangement you want … it comes down to the quality of the people.

Forming good relationships requires people who are:

  • willing to work together;
  • committed to listening and learning from each other; and
  • willing to try to understand each other's perspectives.

Another interviewee told us:

You have to have people who can work with other people, who can walk a mile in each other's shoes.

Co-governance requires people who are diplomatic, willing to compromise, and able to convince colleagues without being domineering or disruptive.

These attributes allow parties to build mutual respect and trust. Respect and trust enable the parties to have difficult conversations that are needed to ensure that they have a shared understanding of what they are trying to achieve.

In the end, it's about relationships, trust, and being solution focused.

Some of the projects showed that people who were not willing to listen and understand others' perspectives affected both the relationship and what the parties were trying to achieve. In some instances, this resulted in court action (see paragraphs 3.8-3.12).

The parties' aspirations and circumstances can change over time. Effective relationships help the parties to check, formally or informally, whether the co-governance arrangement still meets the parties' needs and is fit for purpose.

As well as being important to the success of co-governance, effective relationships are an achievement in themselves. At the heart of many of these co-governance projects was a desire to develop a working relationship, in particular between iwi and local authorities. We discuss this in more detail in Part 3.

Co-governance built on principles

Building relationships takes time and parties' aspirations and objectives can evolve. Parties need to find what works for their particular circumstances. We have identified some principles that are helpful in setting up and operating co-governance arrangements.

The principles are:

  • build and maintain a shared understanding of what everyone is trying to achieve;
  • build the structures, processes, and understanding about how people will work together;
  • involve people who have the right experience and capacity;
  • be accountable and transparent about performance, achievements, and challenges; and
  • plan for financial sustainability and adapt as circumstances change.

We discuss each of these in more detail in Parts 3-6.