Building Community Capacity to Identify and Meet Social Science Information Needs

Collecting and applying socioeconomic information at the village or community scale is increasingly important as the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council adopts an ecosystem-based approach to managing fisheries in the region. A key aspect of this approach is an increasing reliance on management by or in collaboration with communities.

One approach to meeting these village-level needs would be to propose and seek funding for existing, non-local experts to conduct projects in communities and villages across the region. However, a more effective and efficient strategy is to increase the capacity of village and community residents to collect socioeconomic information themselves. One advantage of this approach is that more studies could be initiated, but perhaps a more important one is that having residents collect and apply the information themselves—likely with some limited mentoring and technical assistance—increases the likelihood that the information will be understood, accepted, and appropriately applied. It also builds social capital in communities as residents work together to collect the information, by creating and expanding social networks and providing a forum for community residents to work collectively to address community-wide issues.

Communities in the Western Pacific are taking an active role in a variety of coastal and marine management activities, including establishing their own marine protected areas, developing community awareness about marine resources and their sustainable use, and inventorying the use and distribution patterns of seafood in their communities. Community residents and leaders are well aware of the importance of obtaining baseline measures of fish and habitat and of monitoring changes in time, but less aware of how to define, measure and incorporate the human component of marine and coastal ecosystems. However, they are very interested in being more systematic about measuring socioeconomic conditions and how they are changing over time. They are interested in making sure their system of resource use is sustainable, and know that human behavior is a key consideration.

Former Social Research Project Manager Arielle Levine participated in the development of a new socioeconomic assessment manual targeted to the Pacific Islands. Published by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme in Fall, 2008, the manual is called SEM-Pasifika: Socioeconomic Monitoring Guidelines for Coastal Managers in Pacific Island Countries (15.9 MB PDF). It draws on material contained in two other manuals --Socioeconomic Manual for Coral Reef Management and How is your MPA doing, but tailors content to the Pacific Islands. The genesis of the manual was a workshop organized by SPREP and NOAA, convened to review existing socioeconomic monitoring efforts in the Pacific.

The main purpose of SEM-Pasifika is to improve management of coastal and marine areas in the Pacific region. It can help interested communities in the region (including communities which have used existing methods and new communities without experience in socioeconomic assessment), management and project staff, researchers, and other practitioners, to understand important steps involved in a socioeconomic assessment and to be able to conduct the monitoring. The socioeconomic information collected can help stakeholders at a site in managing, monitoring, policy making, development, and research.

The main target groups of SEM-Pasifika are trainers and mentors, and in some cases community leaders and residents, who can tailor the guidelines to the needs of communities. These people include coastal managers, project staff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) staff, students, and researchers. SEM-Pasifika was written assuming the assessment team members have at least a high school level education.

An international workshop held from May 4-9, 2008, in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, initiated the program. Eighteen trainees, including Levine and several other NOAA employees or contractors, attended from around the region, including American Samoa, Hawaii, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Yap and Republic of the Marshall Islands. The objectives of the training program were to train local practitioners from the U.S. coral reef jurisdictions and Freely Associated States to undertake socioeconomic assessments of key MPAs and other areas in their jurisdictions and serve as local resources for socioeconomic assessment and monitoring.

Participants in the SEM Pasifika pilot training session in 
            Majuro conduct a practice focus group with residents in Arno Atoll. SEM Pasifika trainees head out to conduct village household 
            surveys in Arno, RMI.
Left: Participants in the SEM Pasifika pilot training session in Majuro conduct a practice focus group with residents in Arno Atoll. Right: SEM Pasifika trainees head out to conduct village household surveys in Arno, RMI.