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CRC for Forestry > Research programs > Trees in the landscape > Communities > Community engagement with Australian plantation forestry

Community engagement with Australian plantation forestry


Forest management within Australia has changed significantly over the past few decades. Moving from a predominantly commercially oriented focus to triple-bottom-line objectives, forest management has become increasingly politically and socially contested. Frequent calls are made for greater community engagement in forest management and decision-making. Community engagement includes a wide range of activities in which stakeholders exchange information and/or negotiate mutually acceptable actions. In order to meet the increasing social expectations and the greater diversity in forest values, forest management practice needs to incorporate practical and effective community engagement processes. However, this is not always straightforward.

Research undertaken within Project 4.3.3 focused on better understanding current community engagement practice within Australian commercial plantation management, working with the forest industry to improve community engagement practices through a greater appreciation and integration of underlying social concepts into management practices and corporate ethos. Investigating current community engagement practice and the integration of community engagement within corporate social responsibility principles, this project aims to help promote sustainable forest management through improved community engagement and an increased commitment to corporate social responsibility principles.

Project overview

Two major studies were undertaken:

  • Improving the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian forest management looked at current community engagement practice undertaken at the operational level of plantation management (in the field), and how these practices can be improved through the applied incorporation of underlying social theories.
  • Adoption of community engagement in Australian plantation companies investigated the level to which community engagement is adopted within corporate cultures. Using the premise that the adoption of community engagement at all levels of corporate culture is essential for ongoing and effective community engagement practice, the research aimed to provide insights into how Australian forest management organisations could improve the incorporation of community engagement and enhance the commitment to corporate social responsibility principles, leading to improved sustainable forest management.

Improving the theory and practice of community engagement in Australian forestry management

PhD researcher: Melanie (Lain) Dare

Lain Dare’s doctoral research involved the critical review of current community engagement practice undertaken by forest managers in the field. Whilst there had been considerable critical review of large-scale public consultation processes surrounding forest management, little investigation had occurred around the everyday operational community engagement, where forest managers interact with affected and interested community members, including plantation neighbours, local government, and community groups.

Interviews with forest managers, local government representatives, and community members were conducted over a period of two and a half years. In addition, workshops with forest managers were undertaken, providing opportunities for robust discussion and shared learning experiences. Analysis of the qualitative data allowed us to develop a better understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses associated with current community engagement practices. This included understanding issues concerning the real capacity of forest managers to improve community engagement practices, given current regulatory and commercial environments, along with individual characteristics such as practical community engagement skills, and understanding important underpinning social concepts.

Upon completion, the project sought to provide relevant, realistic advice to forest industries on constructive engagement techniques with multiple stakeholders.

View reports and publications here.

View Lain’s profile here.

Adoption of community engagement in Australian plantation forest companies

PhD researcher: Melissa Gordon

Melissa’s doctoral research aimed to improve the adoption of community engagement practices and to increase commitment to the principles for corporate social responsibility by forest plantation companies in Australia, in order to improve sustainable forest management. The underlying premise was that community engagement is an important part of sustainable forest management. There had been some research conducted on community engagement adoption at the operational level, but there was little understanding of the extent of adoption of community engagement within the corporate culture.

In-depth case studies of two Australian forest plantation organisations were conducted, in order to understand the issues affecting the extent of community engagement adoption and commitment to the principles of corporate social responsibility. The study was multifaceted and, among other disciplines, investigated forest certification, government policies, social pressures, sustainable forest management and corporate social responsibility principles.

The research aimed to answer the question ‘what can be done to improve the incorporation of community engagement in the corporate culture of Australian forest plantation companies?

View Melissa’s profile here.

Publications and reports

Technical reports

Technical Report 181 - Dare M., Schirmer J, and Vanclay, F (2008) A brief guide to effective community engagement in the Australian plantations sector. 12pp [pdf 261Kb]


Community engagement in Australian forest management.

Presentation describing the potential value of community engagement in forestry. By Lain Dare (PhD candidate, University of Tasmania), Prof Frank Vanclay (University of Tasmania), and Dr Jacki Schirmer (Australian National University).[pdf 64.4Kb]