Bush Heritage staff join others to learn the art of facilitating the Open Standard

on 20 Mar 2013 

The Atherton Tablelands were green, wet and lush and a wonderful respite for those of us from the drought-stricken south. Sarah Eccles, Tom Vigilante and Kate Fitzherbert joined 15 others at a workshop to learn the art of facilitating the Open Standard, with a particular emphasis on supporting Healthy Country Planning.

The course was run and funded by The Nature Conservancy and led by Stuart Cowell, an old Bush Heritage colleague. Other TNC folk supported Stuart’s efforts; Geoff Lipsett-Moore, Natalie Holland, Stephen Victor (from Palau) and Heidi Taylor. Our thanks to TNC and Stuart for the huge amount of work that they put into running the workshop.

The participants were from very different cultural backgrounds with four from Mongolia, two from Indonesia and ten from northern Australia including community leaders from the Wik, Kaantju, Kuuku Ya'u and Umpila peoples. We ate our way through five solid days of work, consuming vast quantities of food, flip charts, packs of coloured sticky notes, cups of tea, minties and jelly snakes. We workshopped the Open Standard and employed and practiced (using role play) the techniques for facilitating each part of the process, concentrating on the first two steps – Conceptualise and Plan.

Through the process we learned a great deal about the issues that other countries face and, though we have much to do here, we are not facing the challenging issues that our colleagues in Indonesia face. They are trying to stop local fisherman from dynamiting coral reefs and using cyanide to get their fish, and are hampered by corrupt police and officials who fail to enforce environmental laws. The underlying poverty and lack of education of the local fisherman and communities is also compounding their efforts to protect their marine environment.

The Mongolians, on the other hand, would have to be world leaders in conserving their natural environment. Their goal is to have 30% of their land area protected in national reserves by 2017 and they are already at 17% protected. Using international support they are funding planners to produce management plans and funding land managers for each reserve. They are also undertaking a publicity campaign encouraging, even instructing, their citizens to nurture and protect their natural heritage. What a contrast to our nation’s lack-lustre approach to environmental protection.  We were all gratified that at least somewhere in the world protecting the environment is a national priority. Many of us pledged to visit our Mongolian friends and see for ourselves what they are achieving.

From a personal perspective the week was challenging, sometimes confronting, often entertaining and incredibly useful, and I am really glad to have been there.