Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Science


School of Natural Sciences


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Dr Pierre Horowitz

Second Supervisor

Dr Scott Gardner


This thesis examines a participatory approach to interpretive planning, employed in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, Western Australia. At the project outset relations between the conservation agency responsible for administering World Heritage and the local community were strained, and complicated by a history of conflict over the World Heritage listing and subsequent management of the area. A participatory approach to interpretive planning was adopted in the hope that doing so would achieve the following: improved relations between polarised stakeholder groups, increased community support for the plan and its implementation, and improved access to the variety of knowledge pools within the Shark Bay community. Effectively ongoing and integrating the interests of the area's polarised stakeholders meant that their social, political, organisational and disciplinary divisions had to be overcome. To do this, a novel participatory interpretive planning method was developed using action research. This method employed a combination of techniques, including a modified Delphi Technique based on indepth interviews, key informants, and direct prolonged emersion of the researcher in the community. The practical results of the project were the production of a stakeholder-derived communications strategy and interpretive plan for the World Heritage Area. These products embodied the collective social, cultural, economic and environmental interests of Shark Bay stakeholders, and included agreed-upon objectives, messages, stories for representing Shark Bar to the outside world. The participatory planning process also resulted in a number of instrumental and transformative outcomes including: surfacing of latent community issues, quieting of dominant rhetoric, identification of common values among stakeholders, collection of knowledge from multiple sources and contexts, equalisation of power between community segments, empowerment of marginalised community members, creation of social capital, and generation of support and commitment to plan implementation. In addition, the study demonstrated that participatory processes are vulnerable to cooption and manipulation by powerful stakeholders, and that the success of such processes relies more on the creation of trusting relationships (i.e. social capital) between stakeholders and facilitators than on the application of formulaic group techniques used to garner public input. With respect to interpretive planning, this project showed how a participatory approach to interpretive planning can be used as an ethical means to develop multiple narratives for interpretation that are just and legitimate representations of the community’s interests and stories. Other implications of this project, particularly in relation to the creation of social capital and horizontal and vertical relationships between community and agency groups, indicate that participatory interpretive planning can be used as an intervention in situations where conservation initiatives have resulted in conflict with local communities. Positive change is achieved through the creation of a common platform of values, mutual understanding and knowledge, from which further dialogue and reciprocal cooperation can take place. The evidence presented suggest that the stakeholder-centred approach to interpretive planning used in Shark Bay may form a useful basis for collaborative environmental management in a range of contexts and landscapes where new conservation initiatives are being contemplated. Lessons learned through application of this novel approach to interpretive planning may prove useful to interpretive professionals, environmental managers, governments and businesses attempting cross-disciplinary integration of multiple stakeholder interests.