Publications: Research reports and publications

Community perceptions of collaborative freshwater planning in three New Zealand regions

19 April, 2016
Cawthron Report 2844. Funded by Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group.


This study assessed the views of members of the general public on freshwater management in areas using collaborative planning processes, and compared the results to areas without such processes. Cawthron Institute and Landcare Research sponsored a telephone survey during 1–15 May 2015 in three North Island regions—Northland, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay—with a total sample size of 450 people.

Our hypothesis was that in areas in which collaboration is successful, the wider community will have a more positive opinion of the regional council, will perceive greater agreement about freshwater management (as opposed to conflict), and will have a greater sense that the council is fair, all relative to regions in which there is no collaborative process. We would expect this to be true even if there is low awareness that a collaborative planning process is underway.

We conducted this survey well before collaborative processes reached consensus recommendations in any of the regions studied. Our report therefore provides a baseline against which future survey results may be compared.

In catchments with a collaborative process underway, 21% of respondents said they were aware that a collaborative process was taking place in their local area. Fifteen percent of people in areas without a collaborative process thought that a collaborative process was taking place when, in fact, it was not.

We also found that:

  • Respondents from Hawke’s Bay catchments with a collaborative process gave their regional council a higher average score for how well the council manages freshwater bodies, compared with respondents in Hawke’s Bay catchments without a collaborative process.
  • Respondents from Hawke’s Bay catchments consider there is less agreement between competing interests than respondents from other regions.
  • Respondents involved in forestry consider that there is more agreement between competing interests over water management, have more confidence that their interests in water management would be taken into account by the regional council, and have more confidence that the regional council’s water management processes are fair, compared to respondents not involved in forestry.

The survey also found some interesting differences in perceptions about freshwater management depending on respondents’ levels of participation in freshwater planning.

  • Across areas both with and without collaborative processes, people who participate at a medium or high level in freshwater planning processes perceive greater conflict in freshwater management than those who participate at lower levels or do not take part at all.
  • Participation was also negatively correlated with people’s views of regional council management, fairness, and confidence that their interests would be addressed.

Further funding is being sought to repeat this survey at intervals over the next three or four years to identify whether public perceptions change as collaborative processes come to a result and move into implementation. Further funding would also allow us to conduct more interviews and other targeted research to gain a better understanding of the local factors influencing public perceptions of collaborative planning in different regions. This would help to explain some of the regional variation observed in this study.