Learnings from the Little Stringybark Creek Project: A researcher's perspective on the long-term implementation of a collaborative, catchment scale, SCM installation program.

While the most anticipated outcomes of the LSC Project relate to the ecological and hydrological response of the creek to the stormwater interventions implemented, the very nature of the project as a long-term, multi-actor, social-ecological system has resulted in lessons on the topics of

Engaging with local government participation of the community Stormwater Control Measures Monitoring the hydrology and ecology Date management Geomorphology

Engaging with local government

1. Engage across all levels and relevant departments of local government. While the project had been endorsed by councillors and senior management in its early phase, there had been little consultation with the council’s project delivery teams. This presented a barrier to progress, as it was the project officers who had responsibility for the delivery and maintenance of SCMs. Likewise, while the project received strong support from the ‘environmental’ department, it had initially failed to engender any support from ‘engineering’, those responsible for construction and maintenance of SCMs.

2. A culture of two-way learning is crucial to project success. It was important that both parties (researchers and council staff) could adapt through learning-by-doing and were willing to learn from each other. Each party contributed expertise to project outcomes, for example, researchers could advise on latest designs and treatment objectives for SCM, while council staff leant their considerable practical experience to the design of systems (especially around maintenance). Co-development resulted in SCMs that were better designed, more efficient to operate and easier to maintain.

3. A project ‘champion’ operating within the Council is invaluable. A member of the research team (an environmental drainage engineer) was initially embedded in the engineering department to support the experiment. This aided in the development of the partnership between YRC staff and the researchers, by building trust and understanding. It also greatly increased the capacity of YRC to design and implement works. In latter stages of the LSC project, the role of champion was filled by a dedicated officer, funded by Melbourne Water. A Council champion greatly improves the refinement and ongoing effectiveness of SCM maintenance programs.

4 Define organisational roles and expectations at the commencement of the project. The role of YRC in the project was initially poorly defined (or at least their understanding of their role was not understood??). This was especially true regarding the expectation that YRC would be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of SCMs and thus the associated costs. The result was a period of low SCM maintenance.

What is the lesson, an MOU? There was an MOU with YRC, but did not trickle in funding for the operational budget. Need to discuss renewal and maintenance budgets break-downs with more details. Also need to work with Council’s timeframes for budgeting.

5. Collaborative partnerships aid broader adoption of new stormwater management technologies. The credibility of the researchers was pivotal in removing historic scepticism around low-impact drainage management and built trust in the use of new approaches and technologies. Such scepticism had developed due to a perception that YRC’s early attempts at low-impact drainage had failed and that these systems could not be maintained in the long term. The partnership fostered through the LSC Project …..did what…..?

6. Perceived risks need to be acknowledged and shared where possible. Each of the principal organisations involved in the LSC project exposed themselves to risks. Melbourne Water and the research team bore the financial risk, while YRC were exposed to the risk associated with the construction and operation of SCMs. Melbourne Water initially deemed the full project an unacceptable investment risk, given the small size of the catchment area relative to the proposed cost. It is unlikely that they would have funded the LSC Project without sharing the risk with co-investment from the State and Commonwealth Governments.

Obtaining community particpation

1. It was important to have a consistent and personable point of contact for the project. Having the one staff member in place for the life of the project was a positive factor for household participation and helped to establish trust within the community. Having a positive ‘first contact’ with community members was also considered important in creating a trusting relationship. Brown et al (2014) noted that at the commencement of the project, many members of the community were distrustful of the incentives being offered. This is understandable, since opportunities like these are rare and in this case, unsolicited. Perceptions of the project were (in part) found to be based on their personal experiences with i and concerns about authenticity (Brown et al 2014). Having a single point of contact builds familiarity….and develops more personal connections. Personal connections, if positive, can encourage participation. Trust is typically built over time. 

2. Word-of-mouth and a sustained project presence increased community trust and interest in the project. Neighbours talking-to neighbours about their positive experiences, combined with a growing number of demonstration and privately-owned SCMs in the catchment led to greater understanding of, familiarity with, and participation in the project. Social networks and trust are linked to individual decision-making and behaviour. This worked particularly well in LSC because of small geographical area of the project. Larger project areas could use community groups to facilitate trust.