Does business as usual still make politics as usual? Prospects for sustainably managing freshwater resources as a CPR in Canterbury, New Zealand
P.A. Memon, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand; John W. Selsky, University of South Florida Lakeland, USA
This paper will focus on environmental conflicts over the management of complex common pool resources (CPRs) such as water.  It proceeds from our previous work on complex, multiple-use CPRs in developed industrial societies (e.g., Selsky & Memon 1995, 2000; Memon & Selsky 2004).  Such CPRs have special properties that align with those of ‘wicked problems’ and can stimulate deep-seated conflicts among competing stakeholders (see Verweij & Thompson 2006).  We will argue that conventional ways of interpreting and managing such conflicts in industrial societies do not recognise sufficiently the special properties of CPRs.  For instance, there are often overt or latent assumptions of uncontested, individually secured rights to resources.  The conventional conflict resolution strategies seem to create and perpetuate a condition of ‘business as usual makes politics as usual’.  That is, powerful business-sector stakeholders do as they want, and public-sector and civil-society stakeholders are caught in the normal pluralistic game of conflicting and incompatible interests and weak attempts at regulation.  This condition narrows the margin of change for improving the management of CPRs on a sustainable basis.

We will build theory in this area from a large-scale, New Zealand based case study we have used recently (Memon & Selsky 2004). In that paper, we examined stakeholder conflicts over the management of freshwater resources in the context of the country’s environmental management regime, the Resource Management Act enacted in 1991.  The focus was dairy farming expansion in the Canterbury region during 1991-2001, a period that followed significant deregulation of the New Zealand economy and globalization of the country’ dairy farming sector.  The analysis drew on risk-society and neo-Gramscian concepts to highlight an implementation gap in the application of the Act, caused by the de facto treatment of freshwater resources by landowners and local administrators as an individually-secured resource rather than a common-pool resource as provided for under the Act.  This has led to the regulation of freshwater resources as private rather than common property, which we argued has compromised sustainable water resource management and failed to address stakeholder conflicts.

In this paper we revisit  this case based on  more recent data to 2005. We pose the questions: Has the implementation gap we earlier identified persisted?  That is, in what ways has the policy intent of the Act to manage freshwater resources as CPRs been executed and/or subverted in the Canterbury  region during 2002-05? What have been the unfolding effects during this period and how can we make sense of them using commons principles and concepts?  Preliminary findings reveal that business has indeed continued ‘as usual’ in Canterbury and stakeholder conflicts have escalated since 2002. This suggests that unless concrete steps are taken soon to resolve water allocation conflicts, the social, economic and environmental consequences will de-generate into one of the classic scenarios in the literature on exploited commons, namely, a tragedy of de facto open access (see Selsky & Creahan 1996). Methods used will be stakeholder interviews complemented with a content analysis of media reports.

In the discussion section we will employ commons concepts to sketch some possible mindsets, strategies and techniques that may be capable of moving complex CPR stakeholder systems beyond the business-as-usual condition to a more sustainable condition in which ecosystem stewardship becomes more feasible. This might happen in two ways.  First, they might help stakeholders to transcend adversarial encounters based on private property rights.  Insights about possible new forms of conflict management and resolution that are suitable for complex CPR situations will be drawn from the literatures on deliberative democracy (e.g., Eckersley 2000; O’Riordan & Stoll-Kleeman 2002; Dryzek 2000; Habermas), novel rights assertions in multiple-use commons (e.g., Selsky & Memon 2000), wicked problems and public participation in ‘messy’ natural resource arenas (e.g., McCool & Guthrie 2001; Brueckner 2003). Second, they might help stimulate new action-oriented platforms for sustainable ecosystem management. Insights here will be drawn from literature on public-issue stakeholder management (e.g., Gray 1989), institutional renewal and entrepreneurship (e.g., Lawrence, Hardy & Phillips 2002; Cohen 2005), platforms in multiple-use commons (e.g., Steins & Edwards 1999) and the interface of natural and social systems (e.g., Berkes & Folke 1998).

In the conclusion we will make observations on larger questions opened up by the case study: The policy intent of the Resource Management Act was to create a freshwater commons, but this intent has been undermined by the business-as-usual condition. Will it always be so? Can commons ever survive, or take root, in institutional deserts of private property supported by state institutions? Can we envision any realistic scenarios for transcending the business-as-usual condition in the Canterbury case, and more generally in Western societies designed to sustain private-property regimes? This paper clearly aligns with the theme of the conference, as we offer a critical view of an ecosystem’s sustainability and the prospects for ‘social stewardship’.

Illustrative references

Berkes, F. & C. Folke (eds.) Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge University Press. 1998.

Brueckner, M., Openness in the face of systemic constraints: On science, public participation and the Western Australian Regional Forest Agreement. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Edith Cowan University. Perth. 2003.

Cohen, B., “Sustainable Valley entrepreneurial ecosystems,” Business Strategy and the Environment, 2005.

Dryzek, J., Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000.

Eckersley, R., “Deliberative democracy, ecological representation and risk: towards a democracy of the affected,” in M. Saward (ed.) Democratic Innovation. Routledge. 2000.

Gray, B. Collaborating. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1989.

Lawrence, T., Hardy, C. & Phillips, N., “Institutional effects of inter-organizational collaboration: The emergence of proto-institutions,” Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 2002: 281-290.

McCool, S. and K. Guthrie, “Mapping the dimensions of successful public participation in messy natural resource management situations’, Society and Natural Resources, 14, 2001: 309-323.

Memon, P.A. & J. Selsky, “Stakeholders and the management of freshwater resources in New Zealand: A critical commons perspective,” in S. Sharma & M. Starik (eds.), New Perspectives in Research on Corporate Sustainability: Stakeholders, Environment and Society, London: Edward Elgar. 2004. pp23-61.

O’Riordan, T. & S. Stoll-Kleeman, “Deliberative democracy and participatory biodiversity,” in O’Riordan, T. & S. Stoll-Kleeman (Eds) Biodiversity, Sustainability and Human Communities: Protecting Beyond the Protected. CUP. 2002. pp87-112..

Selsky, J. & Scott Creahan, “The Exploitation of Common Property Natural Resources: A Social Ecology Perspective,” Industrial and Environmental Crisis Quarterly, 9(3), 1996, pp346-375.

Selsky, J. & P.A. Memon, “Managing Complex Common Property Resource Systems: Implications of Recent Institutional Reforms in New Zealand,” Research in Corporate Social Performance and Policy, Supplement 1, 1995, pp259-290.

Selsky, J. & P.A. Memon, “Emergent commons: local responses in complex CPR systems,” presented at the eighth IASCP conference, Bloomington, June 2000.

Steins, N. & V. Edwards, “Platforms for collective action in multiple-use common-pool resources,” Agriculture and Human Values, 16, 1999, 241-255.

Verweij, M. & M. Thompson (eds). Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World. Oxford: James Martin Institute. 2006.

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The Ontario, Canada 2007 Meeting