Coastal and Freshwater

People, Policy and Planning

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata!

People are at the heart of every environmental and resource management challenge, and at the core of solutions to these challenges. Understanding people – their histories, values, contexts, and motivations – is what our PPP team does.

Our multi-disciplinary team of social scientists, planners and policy analysts uses proven methods, strategies and tools to understand human responses to environmental change. We bring policy makers, scientists, tangata whenua and communities together for better social and environmental outcomes.

We can help by:

  • Engaging communities for better outcomes
  • Understanding barriers to change and motivating positive behaviour change 
  • Generating social science evidence that can inform decision-making 
  • Connecting people with policy and science.

Our expertise in this area includes:

  • Community engagement – environmental valuation, participatory processes, stakeholder engagement and facilitation
  • Policy and planning – design, evidence, evaluation
  • Situation analysis – understanding the social and cultural context of environmental issues and conflicts
  • Surveys and survey apps – to collect information from resource users or wider communities, e.g. to understand perceptions or identify local knowledge to consider alongside biophysical science
  • Recent projects and research

Our multi-disciplinary team of social scientists, geographers, environmental economists and policy and planning experts work on small and large-scale projects, for and with private sector clients, government agencies, Māori entities and research and community organisations.

Recent examples of our work include:

  • Forestry and local communities – we are helping a forestry company to understand and address the concerns of adjacent landowners about fires, floods and other risks.
  • Lake environmental history – we are contributing to a five year research project on the health of New Zealand’s lakes through a nation-wide review of lake governance, case study research on communities’ changing relationship to lakes, and work with iwi and hapū to ensure that mātauranga Māori informs lake management and restoration. Follow our Lakes380 project
  • Assessing impacts on an estuary – for Nelson City Council, we used mixed-methods and worked with Cawthron ecologists to assess the social, cultural and ecological impacts of vehicles driving on an estuary of cultural significance to tangata whenua. Our report has been used by the Council to negotiate a solution with the affected parties. 
  • Kaitiakitanga practices that whakamana the mauri of the moana; an iwi-led project with manawhenua from the top of the South Island that aims to prioritise actions that enhance the cultural, ecological and spiritual wellbeing of our marine environment.
  • Values and valuation – valuation encompasses many things and can be damaging to people and communities; there is no simple or best framework for understanding values and how they are identified, documented and used in policy.
  • Art-science collaboration as a creative approach to understanding and addressing complex social and environmental challenges by provoking and prompting wider conversations. View Oceans Mesh, an audio-visual projection, and the Art + Climate Innovation Roadshow.
  • Collective responsibility for land and water – this research project, starting mid-2019, involves helping catchment groups develop collective responses to improve local waterways, and also explores new marketing models to connect kaitiaki producers with consumers wanting to re-connect to their ancestral lands.
  • Facilitation of a structured collaborative stakeholder process for Marlborough District Council to address concerns about stormwater impacts of urban development. Watch the video.
  • Regional freshwater planning including assisting Hawkes Bay Regional Council with a collaborative stakeholder group in the Greater Heretaunga and Ahuriri zone. Read the Landcare Research report.
  • Manaaki Taha Moana – working with iwi researchers to maintain and enhance coastal ecosystems of cultural significance.
  • Research into the role of law reform in improving freshwater management and governance.
  • Guiding Coastal and Marine Resource Management – a research strategy for the Coastal Special Interest Group (C-Sig) that identifies regional councils’ short- and long-term national science needs in relation to the Coastal Marine Area.
  • Policy advice to the Ministry for Primary Industries and regional councils on strategies to improve marine biosecurity and facilitating stakeholder workshops. Read the report.
  • Soft Urban Infrastructure for Sustainable Settlements (SUISS) project: In this project, we studied the development of soft infrastructure (the networks and processes that foster participation in public life and help build a resilient and sustainable society) and the efforts of several settlements in the top of the South Island to become more sustainable. Project reports are available from the publications section of this website.


Policy and planning

We have an expert understanding of New Zealand’s unique planning landscape – including statutory planning processes and new collaborative frameworks – in both freshwater and marine environments. 

We provide advice and services for:

  • Resource consents
  • Resource management plans
  • Community consultation
  • Structured decision making
  • Collaborative planning
  • Policy analysis and evaluation

Case study: Collaborative planning and collective management for healthier waterways

We worked with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to design and run a collaborative stakeholder group, known as the TANK Group, to recommend policy settings for freshwater management for the Tūtaekurī, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamū catchments on the Heretaunga Plains.

Based on the TANK Group’s recommendations, the Council is preparing a plan change to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM), which directs councils to establish objectives, targets, and limits for water bodies based on values.

Cawthron is also leading a new project on collective management, which will explore how groups of adjacent land users can work together at a sub-catchment scale, using joint environmental plans, as recommended by the TANK Group. ‘Catchment collectives’ can simplify compliance, provide land users more flexibility to choose locally appropriate practices, and be more effective for improving water bodies. Other parts of this programme involve developing new business models for Māori and other producers to connect to whakapapa-related consumers. This programme is under negotiation with the Our Land & Water national science challenge.

For more information, please contact Jim Sinner.

We put people at the heart of environmental decision-making for better outcomes

Contact us

Contact us

+64 3 548 2319