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More Connection and Less Prediction Please: Applying a Relationship Focus in Protected Area Planning and Management

Robert G. Dvorak, Jeffrey J. Brooks

Abstract


Integrating the concept of place meanings into protected area management has been difficult. Across a diverse body of social science literature, challenges in the conceptualization and application of place meanings continue to exist. However, focusing on relationships in the context of participatory planning and management allows protected area managers to bring place meanings into professional judgment and practice. This paper builds on work that has outlined objectives and recommendations for bringing place meanings, relationships, and lived experiences to the forefront of land-use planning and management. It proposes the next steps in accounting for people’s relationships with protected areas and their relationships with protected area managers. Our goals are to 1) conceptualize this relationship framework; 2) present a structure for application of the framework; and 3) demonstrate the application in a specific protected area context, using an example from Alaska. We identify three key target areas of information and knowledge that managers will need to sustain quality relationship outcomes at protected areas. These targets are recording stories or narratives, monitoring public trust in management, and identifying and prioritizing threats to relationships. The structure needed to apply this relationship-focused approach requires documenting and following individual relationships with protected areas in multiple ways. The goal of this application is not to predict relationships, but instead to gain a deeper understanding of how and why relationships develop and change over time. By documenting narratives of individuals, managers can understand how relationships evolve over time and the role they play in individual’s lives. By understanding public trust, the shared values and goals of individuals and managers can be observed. By identifying and prioritizing threats, managers can pursue efforts that steward relationships while allowing for the protection of experiences and meanings. The collection and interpretation of these three information targets can then be integrated and implemented within planning and management strategies to achieve outcomes that are beneficial for resource protection, visitor experiences, and stakeholder engagement. By investing in this approach, agencies will gain greater understanding and usable knowledge towards the achievement of quality relationships. It represents an investment in both place relationships and public relations. By integrating such an approach into planning and management, protected area managers can represent the greatest diversity of individual place meanings and connections.

Keywords


Relationships; place meanings; trust; narratives; planning; protected areas

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