What Is Community Management?

Jan Fletcher

Community management is the task of sustainably managing a common-pool resource. A common-pool resource is a natural resource that is shared in common with a group of people who collectively use that resource. An example would be coastal area fisheries. Although this natural resource may be renewable, it may also be depleted if it is overused. The goal of community management is to prevent depletion and ensure fair use of the resource by all stakeholders.

Community management is the task of sustainably managing a common-pool resource, like a coastal area fishery.
Community management is the task of sustainably managing a common-pool resource, like a coastal area fishery.

The task of managing a community resource may be difficult, because the responsibility of ownership is shared within a community. The spread of responsibility among a population dilutes each individual’s personal responsibility for degrading the resource. This makes it difficult to target an offending party in case of damage to the resource. Policing common-pool users to ensure fair and sustainable use generally requires a governmental entity. This entity may be granted the legal ability to enforce compliance in cases of overuse by individual users.

Effective community management involves conducting ongoing monitoring of the common-pool resource. This may be required to determine if degradation of the resource is occurring, and if so, why it is happening. The community manager may also determine who the stakeholders of the resource are, and how best to ensure fair allocation among those stakeholders.

An example of a common-pool resource might be a small coastal fishery used by multiple villages that depend on the harvest for their continued survival. If a large fishing operation comes in and begins to use industrial processes that take a much larger share of the harvest than the available resource can sustain without depletion, a community manager could attempt to mitigate that depletion. The community might be managed by a group or an individual. In either case, the manager would work with each stakeholder to negotiate a sustainable and fair use of the resource.

Successful community management involves accurate, ongoing assessment of the common-pool resource. A key issue in community management is accurately defining the problem, which is not always apparent on the surface. This requires conducting an ongoing scientific investigation that monitors and compares data on the resource over time.

Community management is a dynamic process, as market forces may change and evolve. New commodities derived from natural resources may grow in demand beyond what the resource can provide without suffering degradation. Or, that commodity may be exploited using a manufacturing method that outstrips the resource’s capacity to regenerate. This may be successful from a profit-making standpoint, but this new activity may also exhaust a shared water resource in an area.

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