Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 12

4. Wise practice characteristics

‘The Organization’s specific mission … should continue to be the construction of the defences of peace in the minds of men, contributing to peace and security by promoting collaboration between peoples through education, science, culture and communication’.

Interim Report of the Task Force on UNESCO in the 21st Century, 2000

Wise practices have previously been defined (Chapter 1) as actions, tools, principles or decisions that contribute significantly to the achievement of environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, culturally appropriate, and economically sound development in coastal areas. The concept of wise practices takes into account the fact that we live in a heterogeneous and changing world. While the idea of a best practice is laudable, it is often not achievable or desirable. Furthermore, the definition and conceptualization of wise practices will continually evolve and be subject to refinement, as experience and knowledge expands.

A list of characteristics describing wise practices was prepared during a December 1998 workshop (UNESCO, 2000a). Since then, this list has been further discussed and modified. The wise practice characteristics have also been applied and further developed during the assessment of field projects and UNESCO university chair activities.

This chapter presents a revised list of wise practice characteristics and their definitions, based on discussions in CSI workshops in Maputo and Samoa (UNESCO, 2001a), and on the application of the list of characteristics to project assessments. Those characteristics most important for conflict resolution are identified and further discussed. Finally, ways in which the characteristics are used in project assessment are examined.

Wise practice characteristics

The revised list of 17 wise practice characteristics is listed hereafter. None of the characteristics are specific to coastal areas.

Wise practice characteristics especially important for conflict resolution

While all the wise practice characteristics are important, some are key to conflict resolution. These are discussed below.

Participatory process

(Identification of, and transparent consultation with all stakeholder groups, as well as the involvement of individuals, is intrinsic to the activity.)

While the present day emphasis in ICM is on working with local communities, the need to place comparable emphasis on state institutions and the private sector has already been mentioned. In any particular conflict situation, identification of the stakeholder groups and ensuring each is properly represented may be a lengthy process. Notwithstanding the above, it is sometimes necessary to distinguish between primary stakeholders and other groups. For example, divers and fishers may both depend on the same resource for their livelihood, and while sometimes in conflict, each share an interest in sustainable resource use in order to survive (see the conflict situation in the Seychelles). On the other hand, government stakeholders are not themselves directly dependent on the sustainable use of a particular resource for their livelihood and may have very different interests, perhaps focusing on sustainability on a larger-scale national front. In addition the short-term political perspective often fails to take into account long-term sustainability.

In order to enhance the participation of stakeholder groups, information and results have to be explained and shared with the stakeholders. This ensures a sense of achievement and ownership. The receipt of national and international awards, as at the Banjarsari kampung in Jakarta, Indonesia, and at Chumbe Island in Tanzania, creates a sense of pride and increases national and international visibility.

Consensus building

(The activity builds agreement among a majority of the stakeholder groups.)

It is important to recognize that in reality, consensus is unlikely to please all stakeholders. The difficulties of dealing with various stakeholder groups, with their differences in social background, education, negotiating skills, and sometimes also language, should not be underestimated. Consensus building may be a complicated and lengthy process. Also, and perhaps most importantly, trust has to be established between the different groups. This may be especially difficult if there is a history of failed conflict resolution in the area. Impartial persons or groups, e.g. universities based in the same geographical area as the conflict situation, and which have no direct involvement in the conflict, may be able to assist in helping the groups reach consensus.

Effective and efficient communication process

(A multidirectional communication process involving dialogue, consultation and discussion is utilized.)

A good communication process is fundamental to conflict resolution. In many cases it will be very time consuming, especially when dealing with illiterate stakeholder groups, those not used to negotiating and those unwilling to negotiate. Community meetings and partnerships with media representatives, guided environmental excursions, on-site education, advisory committees and management plans that involve stakeholders, are effective ways of communicating.

Capacity building

(The activity improves management capabilities, and provides education and knowledge for the stakeholder groups.)

Capacity building is part of the process needed to ensure that the various stakeholder groups can understand the nature of the conflict and the various issues involved. There may be a need to help particular groups develop a wider vision beyond their immediate, individual concerns, so that they can resolve existing conflicts and be better prepared to cope with future problems.

Locally responsive

(The activity respects local traditional and cultural frameworks while also challenging their environmental validity.)

The need to fully consider local cultural and social contexts cannot be overstressed in the conflict resolution process. A solution in one region or country may not be appropriate in a neighbouring region dealing with similar issues.

Wise practice characteristics as an assessment tool

Field projects represent the core building blocks of the CSI initiative. Wise practices are generated and refined from actions on-the-ground in the field projects. As those actions become formulated as wise practices, they are then further explored and tested, and ultimately applied to other projects and situations elsewhere in the country and the world.

In setting up the WiCoP forum in 1999, field project leaders were asked to discuss aspects of their projects in terms of the wise practice characteristics. This proved to be a stimulating activity as one participant noted:


(UNESCO, 2001b)

In developing this and other suggestions a stage further, it was decided to avoid the pitfalls of selfevaluation, and to conduct non-biased assessments of the field projects and UNESCO university chairs using a team approach. These teams would consist of one or two persons not directly involved in the particular project (external assessors), the project leader(s) and other key persons in the project. In order to interlink the field projects and university chairs, the external assessors should preferably include persons from other field projects or chairs.

Stakeholders discussing project 
activities during an assessment visit to 
the ASSBY project, India, July 2000.

Assessments involve a review of all relevant documentation and a field visit to the project site, during which the team can see the activities for themselves and talk to the people on the ground. The wise practice characteristics are used as the criteria for the assessment. Observations and comments relating to how the project activities fulfil each characteristic are noted, and a qualitative scale is used with three categories: slightly, partially and fully. A short synthesis highlighting the major issues is then prepared. This synthesis becomes the focus of the recommended future activities for the project. Once the assessment is completed it is placed on the CSI website, where it also serves to record progress. Annex V contains assessment guidelines.

The purpose of an assessment is not to ‘rate’ a particular project or university chair, but rather to advance it to fully achieve its overall goals, as well as to assist in extracting wise practices. Assessments are likely to result in refocusing specific project activities.

Assessments have been conducted for several projects, these and their web addresses are included in Annex I.

Concluding comments

The list of wise practice characteristics continues to evolve. A comparison of this list with the first one prepared in 1999 (UNESCO, 2000a) shows several significant changes. It is anticipated that the list will continue to change as knowledge and experiences are shared and exchanged. Thus, while not final, the aforementioned list is presented as a collective and dynamic way of defining the nature of wise practices.


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