bottom-up management approaches:
a paper arguing for a blend of both.
promise; people deliver outcomes.
(with thanks to Mary Maher
and Robin Saunders)
The world is an immensely complex place.
In order to understand and manage their environment, humans draw
boundaries around areas and issues. National,
State and local governments work within the confines of geographic
boundaries. Legal powers
usually end at these boundaries, and, as you might expect, the interest of
public employees (planners or resource managers, for example) in what is
going on past the boundaries also declines dramatically.
However, through these boundaries move air, water, humans, plants,
animals and micro-organisms.
Concerning organisational structure, there is no satisfactory
structure that will ensure
success by itself. If we organise around one attribute (eg. location), we
fail to give other attributes full value.
Similar comments apply to functional approaches: a fisheries
manager is only peripherally interested in the protection of historic
shipwrecks, for example. Traditionally, private companies, like government
organisations have struggled to simultaneously meet the requirements of
different functions (engineering, sales, administration, R & D etc.)
and at the same time of location (company businesses or plants in
different places). Ocean and
coastal management has traditionally been undertaken by government
agencies organised on a sectoral basis (fisheries, conservation, mining,
transport and communications, pollution management, quarantine…).
Solutions involving flat structures, and semi-autonomous
working groups have been tried. Ultimately people in organisations must
make the effort to make whatever structure is in place work, by
net-working beyond the organisational boundaries.
The Australia Government Oceans Policy 1998 places
emphasis on the need to integrate the activities of sectoral agencies,
share information and resources, and resolve problems caused by
overlapping or underlapping jurisdictions. Regional marine plans are being
prepared by the National Oceans Office in consultation with stakeholders,
recognising the key role played by the physical and ecological qualities
of the ocean. As is the case,
say, with catchment management on land, different functional (sectoral)
agencies manage different aspects of natural resource management.
The Oceans Policy established important advisory and
communications groups and procedures in an effort to achieve integrated
and cohesive ocean management, recognising that each functional area is
linked to other functional areas, in direct and indirect ways. Pollution control, fisheries management, and the conservation
of the ocean’s natural values are all linked.
To make matters more complicated, the coastal zone, sandwiched
between the ocean and the continent, is influenced by catchment management
in the hinterland, local development along the coastline and within
estuaries, and ocean management. It
should come as no surprise to see many estuaries degraded by sediment,
litter and other pollutants transported by rivers to estuaries and
ultimately to the oceans.
We face major issues in dealing with these links - in
developing management programs which achieve their objectives without
causing detrimental effects in other areas.
The engineer charged with placing a road across a tidal mudflat
wishes to build a low-cost embankment, while the fisheries biologist
charged with promoting healthy fish stocks and maintaining nursery areas
wishes to see a high-cost elevated road built which will not interfere
with the movement of tidal water.
Top-down and bottom-up approaches:
There are those that advocate a top-down approach, those that
advocate a bottom-up approach, and those that see the two approaches as
complimentary rather than competing.
A bottom-up advocate will say: "Without a bottom-up
approach, you'll lose the grass-roots support you need to implement any
strategy. Without the support
of those who actually have to run the program, operational components will
not be implemented, or will be implemented only in a slow and inefficient
manner. The knowledge of
local people must not be underestimated, and to undervalue it is courting
All this is correct.
A top-down advocate will say: "Programs to spend public
money must be designed to achieve results efficiently and effectively.
They must also be transparent and accountable.
A top-down approach must be used to achieve these goals within a
consistent framework. Top-down
approaches save time by providing establishing program objectives, and
providing guidelines, planning and funding processes, and information.
A bottom-up approach will inevitably waste resources on
re-inventing wheels which could be supplied in an informed and cohesive
way by a top-down structure."
All this is correct.
An analogy can be drawn between the use of these approaches,
and the task of making maps. Imagine
that a number of groups have been asked to prepare floor-plans of
different stores in a large city. But
first they must find their stores. They
have the address, but no map. Each
group could roam the city, constructing street maps as they go. Eventually they will find their stores, and prepare their
detailed plans. It would,
however, save much time if each group is given a map showing the street
layout of the city. This map
only needs to be prepared once, at the "top" and then
The city street map, in this analogy, represents the National
and State policy frameworks within which each community planning group
operates. Provision of a
national framework, with State and catchment planning frameworks nested
within, saves each group from re-inventing the wheel.
Apart from simple efficiency of process, national frameworks also
provide consistency of approach, ensuring that critical issues are
addressed and not forgotten, and key links are considered.
The collection of compatible reporting data is an important aspect
of consistency. Guidelines (in which many general problems have already
been worked through) can save grass-roots groups much time and energy.
Accountability is strengthened by providing consistent reporting
While top-down advocates may underestimate
the importance of local knowledge and commitment, bottom-up
advocates may misunderstand the complexity of existing management
processes. To fully
understand the framework of the National Water Quality Management
Strategy, for example, requires many hours, if not days, of study. To fully understand the complex legislative frameworks
covering river management in most Australian States would take weeks or
months of study (perhaps years at a high level of detail).
While it is not necessary for each regional manager to obtain this
level of knowledge, it is important that management processes be built to
make best use of existing arrangements and resources.
This knowledge can be built into national and State frameworks and
It is important that feedback channels be established so that
the "map" can evolve in the light of bottom-up experience and
knowledge. If this is not
done, the "map" supplied through the top-down structure will
become out of date, and as time passes, completely wrong.
It is our view that both top-down and bottom-up approaches are
complimentary, and should be judiciously used to support each other.
In Australia, ocean, coastal and catchment management will always
be intertwined, and so there will always be communication and
jurisdictional problems created by the mix of Australian, State and local
government sectoral agencies involved. It seems safe to suggest that there is no “ideal”
management structure for managing coastal and ocean issues. It also seems safe to say that the presence of a tiered
structure (of plans and managers) through national, state, local
government and catchment levels is not, in itself, a guarantee of success. However, we suggest that the presence of a carefully
thought-out hierarchical structure will make success more likely, and will
make it's achievement more efficient – provided effective communication
links can be established across sectors and jurisdictions, and provided
ways are found to engage stakeholders at the appropriate level.
Such a structure, however, must be amalgamated with bottom-up
commitment and enthusiasm. Without
this ingredient, any management process is almost certain to fail.
To sum up: while carefully constructed tiered organisational
structures and plans can assist the development of effective and efficient
planning and management, they are not a guarantee of success. Bottom-up
support is crucial. Achieving
the "top-down bottom-up" balance must extend beyond structure.
It is also about a guiding philosophy which says that if we rely on either
side alone, we will inevitably get an unsatisfactory result – maybe even
a disaster. We need to integrate both approaches continually, at every