Towards more competent managers
The different protected area management categories require staff of differing skill levels. Therefore there is no standard management profile, but a multitude of skills is required depending on the category and the conservation stakes of the region in question. Management improvement needs are also very different from one country to the next, from one protected area to another. From this point of view there are substantial disparities among the countries, with usually considerable weaknesses in French-speaking countries.
The skills able to be mobilised will naturally depend on the resources available: as a general rule, generalists should be sought to cover all management fields before seeking specialists if resources permit. However, it can be seen that contrary to this rule, most conservation agencies are administered by specialists (environmentalists, scientists, biologists) who lack the basic skills needed to manage day-to-day problems effectively and pragmatically. Emphasis has long been placed on building managers’ skills in common managerial tasks, but it would now appear essential to train them to be veritable land developers through on-going, appropriate and practical training pertinent to local issues.
The question of status and the way staff are appointed is also at the heart of the debate. In most of the countries, skills have little to do with the way the central administration appoints staff. This raises the issue of the pertinence of building the capacities of staff subject to a high turnover in positions where they are not always recognised or properly paid. Examples of more independent structures in terms of management show interesting results but also have their drawbacks and a more in-depth analysis of the advantages and disadvantages is still needed in most cases.
Besides building the capacities of the managers themselves, emphasis must be placed on awareness-raising and advocacy activities targeting political leaders in charge of defending protected areas, involving them in the choices directly related to protected areas. Similarly, in the medium term, a critical mass of the population must be made aware of and understand the issues at stake in order to change the old order and improve governance.
Finally, if the staff is competent and well trained, there is a strong need for follow-up of results on the ground, to make sure that the best use of means and skills is done and that the best impacts are obtained. The managers that succeed should be rewarded, and those who fail should be helped, or if necessary sanctioned.
Where to From Here?
Capacity building generates strong leverage for a change in management modes or even governance. To build managers capacities, the “management skills” component of training programmes should be stepped up. This would help to widen the range of skills available locally. An analysis of existing gaps and managerial training needs would help to identify main areas for change and the structures and stakeholders able to meet these needs. Over and above building individual capacities, the administration responsible for protected areas should be particularly targeted, to foster a “mature” administration that can develop new management systems. And that can also develop the ability to assess the results of the staff, and to take appropriate decision when necessary.