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What Structures Enable MEBM Initiatives to Work Collaboratively?

Collaboration is essential to marine ecosystem-based management. A number of factors lead to effective collaboration: shared interests, incentives to work together, perception of a common problem, and available resources, among others. Click here for a longer set of suggestions for Making Collaboration Work. However, one way that MEBM initiatives have facilitated effective collaboration is through structures established by written agreement or explicit staffing arrangements.

Established Explicit Objectives, Roles and Responsibilities

Mission and Vision Statements – Collaboration is facilitated by a clear sense of the purpose for an initiative.  Many initiatives developed mission or vision statements to embody their shared aspirations; the process of developing the statements often help participants understand each others’ perspectives and where they have commonalities. These statements express a unifying goal that motivates commitment. They provide succinct answers to the important questions of “What do we care about?” and “What do we hope to achieve?”

Mission and Vision Statements

  • The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team’s mission statement reads, “The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team works to ensure the long-term sustainability of Port Orford’s ocean resources and our community that depends on them by uniting science, education, local expertise and conservation.” POORT also established two operating principles for this Oregon effort: ecosystem-based management, and community-based fisheries management.
  • While much of their activity focuses on increasing the science available to support management in the Central California Coast, the San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) describes its overarching vision as working towards a “healthy, resilient coastal ecosystem that provides for thriving and interacting populations of plant, animal and human communities.”
  • Government-led initiatives also have worked to establish vision statements.  For example, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary revised its management plan to note: “The Sanctuary works collaboratively to sustain a safe and healthy habitat for the North Pacific stock of humpback whales (kohola). As a community of ocean stewards, the Sanctuary strives to achieve a balance of appropriate uses, inspired care-taking, enlightened understanding, and effective education to ensure the continued presence of the kohola for future generations. The Sanctuary endeavors to do this with harmony, hope, respect, and aloha o ke kai (love of the sea).”
  • The Narragansett Bay National Estuary Program published a mission statement with the overarching goal of “to protect and preserve Narragansett Bay and its watershed through partnerships that conserve and restore natural resources, enhance water quality and promote community involvement.” The statement lists 10 mechanisms to accomplish that goal.
  • Large scale, intergovernmental MEBM initiatives may find it particularly challenging to craft mission statements with enough specificity while enabling diverse groups to support it.  In a recent action plan of the Gulf of Maine Council, the desired future vision is of a “healthy and resilient Gulf of Maine where people and aquatic life thrive.”
Memorandum of Understanding – Often MOUs are used to establish the terms of cooperation and define the roles and responsibilities of those involved. Some MOUs represent binding agreements between parties while others affirm a commitment to work together. These agreements are particularly helpful in establishing cooperative relationships between governments or agencies.

Memorandum of Understanding

  • A trans-national agreement signed by the governments of the three states and two provinces bordering the Gulf of Maine recognized a shared duty to conserve the renewable and non-renewable resources of the Gulf through pursuit of consistent policies, initiatives and programs.  The agreement established the Gulf of Maine Council and charged it to produce an annual report on environmental conditions and to develop a coordinated monitoring program.
  • A federal-federal Memorandum of Understanding established between the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is designed to link sanctuary management to fisheries management.  It establishes joint goals of contributing to the conservation and management of fish, the protection of essential fish habitat, and ecosystem management within the South Atlantic region.
  • A federal-tribal MOU between the government of Canada and several First Nations bands established their desire to work toward collaborative ocean governance in the British Columbia Central Coast and stated a commitment to develop the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area with appropriate tribal consultation.
  • A federal-state Co-Trustees Agreement was signed between the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Florida to clarify the state’s authority and jurisdiction over state lands within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The agreement also established provisions on how the state and marine sanctuary could cooperate on specific management matters, such as the enforcement of regulations.
  • A federal-state Compact Agreement was signed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Hawaii to clarify the jurisdiction, authorities and conditions of the partnership that manages the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.  A subsequent MOU was created to establish specific procedures for coordination and communication, including the opportunity to be advised of and comment on each other’s operations, budget decisions, and personnel changes related to the sanctuary. It also specifies that the parties should devise a method to evaluate each other’s performance in adhering to the MOU.
  • With a focus on coordination among many federal, state and private partners, the Chesapeake Bay Program employs roughly two dozen agreements that specify partners’ roles in a variety of strategies, ranging from watershed education to cooperative conservation among federal agencies. For example, their Chesapeake 2000 Agreement signed by EPA and the states establishes a series of specific, measurable goals in the areas of habitat protection, water quality, land use, and community engagement.
  • A Memorandum of Agreement between agencies in two states, the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, encourages sharing of data and establishment of cooperative programs in order to further the objectives of the Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program’s comprehensive plan.
  • Governors of three states, California, Oregon and Washington, signed the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health to protect and manage their shared ocean and coastal resources. The agreement specified short-term, collective actions, and established priority areas for coordinating future actions.
  • A state-local Memorandum of Understanding was negotiated between the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The MOU created a joint pilot project to provide a model for community- and ecosystem-based management in implementing the Oregon Nearshore Strategy.  It established the terms of cooperative management, research and monitoring of a voluntary Community Stewardship Area in state and federal waters.

Effective Process that Promoted Productive and Sustained Interaction

Charters and Decision-Making Protocols – A clear decision-making structure helps to facilitate collaboration.  In a number of initiatives, formal charters or decision-making protocols have been developed that explicitly describe how the process will be structured and decisions made.  In doing so, they bring transparency and clarity to the collaboration.

Charters and Decision-Making Protocols

  • A protocol for the Integrated Oceans Advisory Committee for the British Columbia Central Coast, which includes representatives of regional marine sectors, specifies that advice will be developed through a consensus-based process. Members withholding agreement must propose alternative measures, and if consensus cannot be reached on all items, dissenting opinions are reported.
  • The charter of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council specifies that decisions will be made by a majority vote, with negative votes and abstentions noted, or a general consensus reached during discussions, with minority opinions noted.
  • At the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the charter of the Sanctuary Advisory Council specifies that decisions of the council will be made by the consensus of the voting members. If consensus cannot be reached, decisions will be made by a two-thirds majority vote, and dissenting opinions should be forwarded to the superintendent along with the majority recommendation.
Assigned Tasks, Deadlines, and Interim Deliverables – Standard project management – allocating tasks and deliverables with deadlines – is critical to accomplishing most tasks within organizations.  It becomes even more important with the networks of loosely-affiliated organizations involved in collaborative MEBM initiatives. Since hierarchical authority rarely exists and participants may not see each other on a regular basis, systems for managing results are critical. MEBM efforts that were able to assign tasks, and establish deadlines and deliverables were more likely to achieve progress, ensuring that all involved understood and acted upon their individual responsibilities:

Assigned Tasks, Deadlines, and Interim Deliverables

  • In the case of the five states and multiple agencies involved in the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, each committee in the program has a clear set of tasks to accomplish. Each state is responsible for leading a team devoted to tackling a “priority issue.”
  • To implement the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington established work groups that developed work plans based on eight issue areas.  These plans set out tasks for relevant agencies based on the availability of funding. A schedule of actions and timeframes was created.
Presence of a Coordinator – In many MEBM initiatives, having an individual or group of individuals assigned responsibility for administration, logistics and communication was very important to sustain collaboration.  Sometimes individuals were hired to coordinate a project; other times, existing staff played this role.  In some transboundary initiatives, a Secretariat or multi-governmental body was created in order to coordinate activities.

Presence of a Coordinator

  • The lead organization in the Babeldaob Island Ecosystem-Based Management Initiative, the Palau Conservation Society, hired a coordinator with a job description that included pulling together researchers, resource managers and stakeholders; sharing and making accessible research results; and developing communication and coordination among stakeholder groups.
  • Leesa Cobb, the wife of a local fisherman and a founder of the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, acted as a coordinator to reach out to fishermen and others in the community to engage them in the work of the initiative.
  • For most government-based initiatives, agency staff act as coordinators.  For example, a staff member at each of the National Marine Sanctuaries (Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks, Gray’s Reef, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale and Olympic Coast) coordinates their Sanctuary Advisory Councils, and works to maintain between-meeting communication among sanctuary staff and council members.
  • To support the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation, a Secretariat was established with a staff of seven Dutch, German and Danish nationals.  With offices located in Germany, the Secretariat’s primary task was to “support, initiate, facilitate and coordinate the activities of the collaboration.” This work includes coordinating trilateral initiatives with relevant international organizations and agreements, collecting relevant data, coordinating assessments and providing suggestions for appropriate action as well as logistical support for collaboration meetings.
  • Coordination duties can be a burden on any one member of a collaborative MEBM effort, hence some initiatives rotate coordination duties.  For example, coordination of the Gulf of Maine Council rotates among the participating five state and provincial agencies on an annual schedule.
Regularly-Scheduled Meetings – Regular points of interaction among members of a collaborative group are critical in order to build and maintain relationships among different people and organizations. Since partnerships and collaboration are often viewed as an “add-on” to day-to-day duties within an organization, regularly-scheduled meetings also promote accountability to agreed-upon schedules and duties. Indeed, some initiatives have been challenged by the effects of infrequent or poorly-attended meetings, as group memory and a sense of purpose fades.

Regularly-Scheduled Meetings

  • Regular meetings of the Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Project allowed principal investigators to share updates, discuss management decisions, and solicit perspectives of the communities early in the project’s development.
  • Monthly meetings of the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative created a safe space to discuss issues of concern in the region. The commission uses the meetings to receive updates from local Marine Resource Committees and identify ways to incentivize greater collaboration among the committees.

This material should be cited as: "Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice (Ann Arbor MI: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, June 2012),"