How can governance of our area be representative of people who are not on the board?
While the governance structures of designated areas are designed to achieve a degree of representation, clearly the majority of stakeholders within these areas will not be directly involved in their governance. In fact, a recent survey focused on UK Biosphere Reserves indicated a general lack of understanding among local residents of the concept of Biosphere Reserves, and indeed, a lack of awareness that they were living in one. Similarly, the SHAPE project has provided examples of areas where there is work to be done in terms of convincing certain organisations that engagement with the area is “worth it”. As highlighted elsewhere, however, involving too many people directly in an area’s governance structure can result in reduced effectiveness in decision-making. There is therefore a question of how to expand engagement with such areas beyond their immediate governance structures.
The SHAPE project has exemplified numerous ways of engaging more widely with stakeholders, including:
• Thematic groups: Specialist “working groups” representing particular types of organisations or particular topics or issues within the area – for example, tourism, biodiversity conservation, sustainability of businesses.
• “Project partners” or “membership”: All UK Biosphere Reserves, for example, as well as having a board at the centre of their governance structure, are open to organisations becoming “project partners”. Being a “partner”, and in effect becoming “members” of the Biosphere, requires organisations to sign a pledge that they will support the principles of the designated area. Membership of this partnership then facilitates regular communication with these organisations – for example, through newsletters, emails, and social media.
• Communication and consultation with the general public through social media, press releases, and public events. This can also be a challenge in terms of time and limited funding and resources, but can be an effective way of encouraging greater “buy-in” among the wider public.