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Incorporating shared decision making in forest management planning: an evaluation of Ontario's Resource Stewardship Agreement process.


Ontario's Resource Stewardship Agreement (RSA) process introduced shared decision making into the management toolbox for land use planning in Ontario's Crown forests. Within the RSA process, resource-based tourism and forestry operators negotiate mutually agreeable solutions to forest harvesting and tourism-use conflicts. Policy documents were reviewed and tourism operators surveyed to evaluate this small-scale, shared-decision-making process. The evaluation, which was conducted during the implementation of the RSA process, found that the process benefited forest management by including tourism operators in forest management planning, promoting dialogue between the two industries, and balancing power relationships. RSAs could be improved by including more stakeholders, making the process more transparent, and improving the negotiation process.


Le processus de l'Entente d'intendance des ressources (EIR) de l'Ontario a integre la prise de decision partagee a la gamme des outils de gestion relatifs a la planification de l'utilisation des terres dans les forets de la Couronne en Ontario. Dans le processus de l'EIR, le tourisme fonde sur les ressources et les exploitants forestiers negocient ensemble des solutions acceptables pour les deux parties, en regard des differends concernant la recolte de bois et l'utilisation de la foret a des fins touristiques. Les documents sur les politiques ont ete examines et les exploitants en tourisme ont repondu a un sondage pour evaluer ce processus de prise de decision partagee a petite echelle. L'evaluation, qui a ete menee pendant la mise en oeuvre du processus de l'EIR, a revele que le processus etait profitable en matiere de gestion de la foret en ayant fait participer les exploitants en tourisme a la planification de la gestion de la foret, en favorisant le dialogue entre les deux secteurs d'activite, equilibrant ainsi la relation de pouvoir. Les EIR pourraient etre ameliorees en faisant participer davantage d'intervenants, en rendant le processus plus transparent et en ameliorant le processus de negociation.

Key Words

Policy evaluation, resource management, forestry/tourism conflict, collaborative planning


In 2000, three Ontario government ministries signed a memorandum of understanding with the resource-based tourism industry and forestry industry in the province. This memorandum of understanding called for the introduction of resource stewardship agreements (RSAs), a form of shared decision making designed to help resolve land-use conflicts between resource-based tourism operators and the forest industry in Ontario's Crown forests. This paper examines and evaluates the RSA process as an example of shared decision making, using criteria drawn from the academic literature. This evaluative lens was chosen because the Ontario government promotes the RSA process as a type of shared decision making, and because of a trend within natural resource management towards collaborative initiatives and participatory decision making.

Tourism--Forestry Conflicts in Northern Ontario

In Ontario, land use conflicts between resource-based tourism and forestry exist due to the disparate and conflicting uses that these two industries often have for the same piece of Crown land. (1) The resource-based tourism industry, which is composed mostly of fishing and hunting lodges or outposts, depends on a pristine environment, a high-quality fishery, unpolluted water bodies, remoteness, and solitude to attract clientele (Hunt et al. 2000). However, active logging operations--which may produce noise and pollution, destroy fish and wildlife habitat, and have negative effects on the aesthetics of a region--conflict with these needs (McKercher 1992). In addition, forest-access roads, constructed to facilitate the removal of harvested timber, allow access by motorized recreationists that can spoil the feeling of remoteness and can stress a fishery (McKercher 1992, Gunn and Sein 2000).

In 2000, the Tourism and Forestry Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Ontario's resource-based tourism industry, the forestry industry, and three Ontario government ministries (OMNR 2001). The MOU calls for the two industries to recognize the factors that are important for their respective successes and to respect these needs. RSAs are the operational tool of this MOU. They are voluntary, business-to-business agreements negotiated between a single sustainable forest licensee (forest company) and a single licensed resource-based tourism operation (OMNR 2001). Each RSA sets out a specific and detailed plan for forest harvesting and for protection of tourism values in areas of Crown forest where both parties have interests. (2) These prescriptions are then incorporated into the forest management plans for the area, upon approval by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR 2001).

Background on Shared Decision Making

The RSA process, which involves resource-based tourism stakeholders in the management of Ontario's Crown forests, is part of a broader trend toward increased use of collaborative initiatives in natural resource management. Collaborative initiatives include such processes as shared decision making, alternative dispute resolution, consensus-based processes, participatory democracy and the mediation model of planning (Susskind et al. 2003, Gunton and Day 2003). The benefits of collaborative initiatives are numerous and include the perception of fairness, greater acceptance of and compliance with the resulting decision, increased confidence in decision-makers, and increased trust in the process (Moote et al. 1997, Lawrence et al. 1997, Duffy et al. 1996). Shared decision making is a specific kind of collaborative initiative whereby stakeholders who may be affected by the outcomes of a decision are empowered to jointly come to a mutually agreeable (usually consensus-based) decision along with those that traditionally have decision-making authority (BC CORE 1996, Frame et al. 2004, Gunton and Day 2003). A good shared-decision-making process endeavors to ensure that the concerns of all stakeholders are resolved fairly and that the outcomes accommodate the interests of all involved (Williams et al. 1998, Susskind et al. 2003, Gunton and Day 2003). Shared-decision-making processes often result in creative solutions, offer joint gains, produce longer lasting agreements, and resolve underlying conflicts (Susskind et al. 2003, Duffy et al. 1996, Innes and Booher 1999). In conjunction with resolving disputes, shared decision making can support the development of trust, improve communication, foster positive relationships, and promote learning among stakeholders (Moote et al. 1997, Susskind et al. 2003, Duffy et al. 1996, Innes and Booher 1999).

Components of a good shared-decision-making process include: a definite goal or purpose, participation by all affected stakeholders, information exchange and communication among the stakeholders, organisational support, respect and balanced power among stakeholders, interest-based negotiation, and consensus-based decisions (Schuett et al. 2001, Moote et al. 1997). In addition, the resulting plan or outcome should be technically feasible to implement and should maximize the gains to society (Susskind and Cruikshank 1987).

Evaluating the RSA process

Although each RSA negotiation involves only two parties, the RSA process represents a significant departure from traditional approaches to forest management in Ontario, in that it directly involves a stakeholder other than the forest industry in early decisions about forest management plans. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assess how this process compares with recognized standards for shared decision-making.

Choosing an evaluative framework

The appropriate perspective for an evaluation and the best criteria to use depend on the type of policy or program being evaluated and the goals of the evaluation. Because the RSA process was designed to help the tourism industry protect its business values on Crown land, this study was conducted from the perspective of this industry. Using this perspective, the RSA process was compared to stated goals and compared to standards from academic theory. The key questions are as follows:

1. Are the goals set by policy makers and other interested parties for the Tourism and Forestry Industry Memorandum of Understanding being achieved?

2. Based on shared-decision-making theory, as well as collaborative theory, participatory democracy theory, and other research presented in the academic literature, could the RSA process be considered an equitable, efficient, and effective process?

Two sets of goals were used in the evaluation: the goals listed in the Tourism and Forestry Industry Memorandum of Understanding and a set of goals for the RSA process put forward by the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association (NOTO) (NOTO 2003). Two sets of goals were used to help prevent bias associated with the policy writer's definition of the problem and in an attempt to circumvent the problem of vague goals. NOTO's goals were chosen because NOTO is Ontario's resource-based tourism industry's largest representative and, therefore, NOTO's goals for the RSA process are most likely to be representative of the tourism industry as a whole.

The RSA process is also compared to "best practices" criteria from the shared-decision-making literature, collaborative theory, and participatory-democracy theory. The decision to evaluate against shared-decision-making theory, collaborative theory, and participatory democracy theory was based on three key points. First, the Ontario government promotes the Tourism and Forestry Industry Memorandum of Understanding and the RSA process as a form of shared decision making (Browne 2006). Second, the core of the RSA process is a negotiated agreement between the forest industry and resource-based tourism operators, a stakeholder group that has not traditionally had direct input into the forest management planning process. Third, there is a trend in natural resource management towards participatory approaches to government decision making. If the goal of resource managers is to have more participatory approaches to management, then new policies like the RSA process should be evaluated against standards for such processes.

Criteria for Evaluating a Shared Decision-Making Process

The criteria for evaluating the RSA process are drawn from work in land-use planning theory, negotiation theory, and policy-evaluation theory. The 56 criteria chosen are an amalgamation of criteria proposed by Innes and Booher (1999), Wondolleck (1988), Frame et al. (2004), Lawrence et al. (1997), Smith and McDonough (2001) and Conley and Moote (2003).

Innes and Booher (1999) provide a list of process and outcome criteria they deem essential to a good consensus building process. Their criteria are derived from both empirical research and practical experience within the environmental planning field and reflect the principles of complexity science and communicative rationality. Wondolleck (1988) lists five key attributes that should be present in a land-use decision-making process. Her attributes come from years of studying national forest planning processes used by the United States Forest Service. Frame et al. (2004) list a comprehensive set of fourteen process criteria and eleven outcome criteria they used to evaluate the success of collaboration in British Columbia's Land and Resource Management Planning process. Their criteria are derived mostly from the collaborative planning and evaluation literature. Lawrence et al. (1997) and Smith and McDonough (2001) conducted research on procedural justice and how it could be incorporated into natural resource decision making. Both sets of authors list Leventhal et al.'s (1980) criteria for ensuring fairness when public participation is included in natural resource decision making. Building on the concept of procedural justice, Smith and McDonough (2001) develop a list of attributes they deem necessary for a natural resource decision-making process to be perceived as fair. These attributes are developed based on a study in which participants in the Northern Lower Michigan Ecosystem Management Project were asked their opinion regarding the fairness of natural resource agency decisions. Finally, Conley and Moote (2003) provide a list of typical criteria that are used for evaluating collaborative natural resource management programs. Their criteria (see below) come from several authors including Blumberg (1999), Born and Genskow (2000), D'Estree and Colby (2000), Innes (1999), KenCairn (1998), and the Lead Partnership Group (2000).

Data Collection and Analysis

Data used to evaluate the RSA process were obtained in two ways: a mail survey of tourism operators and a review of published and unpublished documents related to the RSA process. The mail survey provided the opinions of RSA process participants, while the review of published documentation on the RSA process provided key technical information, and a review of unpublished information from government, academic, and industry sources provided additional information.

The mail survey targeted those owning a resource-based tourism business in northern Ontario. The survey was sent to a total of 444 resource-based tourism businesses that had the potential to be involved in the RSA process. To maximize the response rate, multiple mail contacts were made with each operator, an approach suggested by Dillman (2000). The mail survey was conducted in March and April of 2005. At that time, two rounds of RSA agreements, those required for 2004 and 2005 forest management plans, should have been completed, while operators with 2006 and possibly 2007 plans would have gained some experience with the process. The questionnaire asked participants their opinions on whether the RSA process was achieving the evaluative criteria. To minimize questionnaire length, the questions focused on those criteria that could not easily be evaluated from a review of policy documents and related literature alone. A total of 116 operators returned completed questionnaires for a response rate of 26%. Of these 116 operators, 61 had commenced participation in the RSA process. Seventeen operators had signed one or more RSAs.

For the second part of the RSA evaluation, an exhaustive library and internet search was conducted to collect available published and unpublished documentation on the RSA process. This included official policy manuals and legislation, as well as unpublished government, industry, and academic reports. These documents were reviewed to find information pertaining to each of the evaluative criteria. This information was then incorporated with the survey responses to establish a rating for each criterion. In addition, one researcher attended an RSA summit sponsored by NOTO, held in November 2004. The researcher documented first hand the experiences of tourism operators, forest industry representatives, and agency officials with the RSA process.

The responses of tourism operators to the questionnaire were analysed using basic descriptive statistics. Based on these responses, and on the review of the RSA policy documents, each criterion was assigned a qualitative rating of 'met', 'somewhat met', 'neutral', or 'not met'. For a criterion evaluated solely on questionnaire responses, the rating was determined based on the mean score of all respondents on a 5 category response scale, where an 'agree' was valued at +2.0 and a 'disagree' was valued at -2.0. If the mean response score was greater than +1.5 the criterion was considered 'met'. It was considered 'somewhat met' between +0.51 and +1.5, 'neutral' between -0.5 and +0.5 and 'not met' if the mean response score was less than -0.5. Where there was pertinent policy information, as well as questionnaire response data, the criterion was rated using a combination of the two sources. For criteria where the use of participants' opinions was impractical, ratings were assigned using the researchers' best judgement based on the review of the RSA policy documents.

Study Limitations

This study has several limitations. First, only the opinions of the tourism operators were investigated and therefore the results reflect only the views of one set of stakeholders. A future study might seek to assess the opinions of the forestry industry as well as the opinions of other users of the Crown land. Second, this study examined the RSA process in its infancy. By the study date of spring 2005, less than half of the forest management plans in Northern Ontario had incorporated RSAs. Therefore, the results are preliminary. Respondents' views may vary with increased experience with RSAs. Despite these limitations, the study provides a comprehensive evaluation of a new collaborative process in forest management planning that explicitly includes resource-based tourism operators. By focusing on the tourism operators' perspective of the process, the evaluation reflects the opinions of the primary audience for which the process is designed.

Results and Discussion

Policy Goal Evaluation

The RSA process is meeting some of its goals at this point in implementation. The RSA process somewhat met three goals and received a neutral rating on two additional goals (Table 1). The remaining four goals could not be evaluated because they either pertained primarily to the forest sector, which was not surveyed, or it was too early in the process to assess whether they have been met. Although it appears to be too early in the implementation of the RSA process to definitively evaluate goals achievement, it should be noted that to date the RSA process is not failing to meet any of the policy goals.

Best Practices Criteria Evaluation

The evaluation of the RSA process with respect to best practices criteria from shared-decision-making theory, collaborative theory, participatory democracy theory, and other research presented in the academic literature revealed both strengths and weaknesses (Table 2). Thirty-one criteria were rated as 'met' or 'somewhat met', 14 were rated as 'neutral' while eight were rated as 'not met'. Three criteria were given an 'undetermined' rating due to insufficient data. Below we group and discuss the evaluative criteria by areas of strength and areas for potential improvement.


Inclusion of Tourism

Most of the surveyed resource-based tourism operators are satisfied with the outcomes of the RSA process and view their involvement as a positive experience. Fifty-four percent of respondents who had commenced participation in the RSA process felt their most recent RSA was worthwhile, 50% felt that their participation in the RSA process will make a difference in the forest management plan and 76% believed that the benefits of the RSA process outweigh the costs. Three-quarters of the respondents who had signed an RSA were satisfied with their most recent agreement. Prior to the development of the RSA process, there was little tourism involvement in forest management planning in Ontario and a tourism stakeholder was not required to be a part of two key participatory forest management processes: the forest management planning team and the local citizens' committee (Hunt and Haider 2001). In 1998, less than 20% of resource-based tourism operators surveyed by Hunt et al. (2000) were satisfied with timber-harvesting policies and lake-access (road) restrictions. Current research into shared decision making (e.g. Moote et al. 1997, Susskind et al. 2003), predicts that the very fact that tourism operators are now formally included within the forest management planning process should result in greater satisfaction with the outcomes.

Increased Dialogue, Reduced Conflict

The RSA process brings the tourism and forestry industry together and encourages the parties to discuss their respective needs and to cooperate with regard to operations on Crown land. Research shows that having parties discuss their issues early in a process can reduce the magnitude of any conflicts and prevent delays in decision implementation associated with appeals (Moote et al. 1997, Susskind et al. 2003).

The RSA process also helps improve or maintain positive relationships between parties. Thirty-three percent of respondents who had commenced an RSA indicated that their relationship with the forest industry improved as a result of the RSA process while only five percent indicated a deterioration in their relationship. Where conflicts do arise, the RSA process provides the capacity for dispute resolution between the tourism and forestry industries. The RSA's emphasis on getting adversarial parties to discuss their issues will likely result in a reduced number of appeals of the final forest management plans.

The exchange of information and ideas between parties as part of the RSA dialogue also resulted in learning and has produced innovative solutions to problems. Thirty-seven percent of respondents who had commenced an RSA indicated that because of the RSA negotiation process they were able to develop innovative solutions to their land use problems. By learning from, and understanding, each other, the two industries can design prescriptions for forest management that are mutually agreeable and they can be united in presenting these prescriptions to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and to the public for review. By encouraging these two major forest stakeholders to negotiate prior to introducing other stakeholders into the process, there is a better chance that a solution agreeable to both the tourism and forestry industries will be reached.

Commitment to Process and Implementation

Most respondents (93%) who had commenced an RSA felt the issues dealt with by the RSA process are important for themselves and the forest industry, and that the RSA process is a good way to resolve their problems with respect to forest management planning (88%). This belief in the process is an important first step in making the process a success. If issues are not deemed as important by parties, or if parties do not feel a process will help resolve their problems, they are unlikely to be interested in participating.

To be effective, agreements must not only be negotiated, but also be successfully implemented and enforced. Most operators who have signed an RSA (84%) are optimistic their RSA agreements will be successfully implemented. Supporting this opinion is the fact that parts of an RSA that are approved as part of a forest management plan become legally binding and must be implemented. This presence of legal procedures to ensure implementation helps legitimize the process.

Principled Negotiation, Respect, and Trust

Many procedures have been developed to ensure that parties undertake negotiation seriously and treat each other with respect. Half of responding tourism operators believed that RSAs are being negotiated in good faith. Sixty-three percent of operators who have commenced an RSA believe that the process creates incentives for cooperation and collaboration. This is a vital component of the process as relationships developed during the RSA process could help the tourism and forestry industries cope with future problems associated with their mutual dependence on Ontario's Crown lands.

Balanced Distribution of Power

The RSA process uses policy and regulations to reduce an historical power imbalance between the tourism and forestry industries. A major source of power in a negotiation is determined by the parties' best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). RSAs--along with their parent document, the Tourism and Forestry Industry Memorandum of Understanding--reduce the forest industry's BATNA. Under this policy, the forest industry's BATNA is to risk having the OMNR refuse to approve their forest management plan and thus delay timber harvesting. The tourism industry's BATNA does not change; it can still rely on the protection afforded by existing ecological guidelines. This reduction of the forest industry's BATNA is important to ensuring the success of the RSA process.

Although the RSA process reduces the power of the forest industry, there remains a perception by tourism operators that the forest industry retains most of the power in the tourism-forestry relationship. This is discussed below. Although unequal distribution of power in a shared-decision-making process is not necessarily a fatal flaw (Frame et al. 2004), suggestions for further reducing the power imbalance are presented below.

Costs versus Benefits

This study did not complete a comprehensive analysis of the benefit-cost ratio for the RSA process, assess the costs to the forestry industry, or assess the costs incurred by the provincial government in designing and implementing the RSA process. However, over three-quarters of respondents believe the benefits of the RSA process outweigh the costs.

Potential Areas of Improvement within the RSA Process

Inclusive Representation

Under the RSA process not all parties that are potentially affected by or that have an interest in any RSA that may be signed are given the opportunity to participate in designing the agreement. Shared decision-making processes should, by definition, encourage the involvement of all the stakeholders that have the potential to be affected by the outcomes of the process. By including more stakeholders, the RSA process could become more democratic, would ensure a greater chance that the resulting outcome will endure unchallenged, and could result in more innovative agreements. The process would also be more likely to produce a just outcome that serves the common good. Including more stakeholders in RSA negotiations could eliminate the current need for final approval by the OMNR.

One stakeholder group that should be considered for inclusion in RSA negotiations is local recreationists. Recreationists (anglers, hunters, campers) from northern Ontario communities may be greatly affected by management prescriptions for forest harvesting and for forest access roads. Likewise, local recreationists are likely to dictate the success of attempts on the part of the forest and tourism industries to retain remoteness while still allowing forest harvesting. Over 60% of resource-based tourism operators surveyed by Hunt et al. (2000) in 1998 believed that road-based recreationists would negatively affect their operations within five years. Similarly, over 60% of remote operators had received either 'several' or 'many' complaints from guests regarding recreationists accessing water bodies by non-fly-in means during the previous five years (Hunt et al. 2000). Including local recreationists at the RSA negotiating table could generate the knowledge and insight necessary to resolve problems associated with access by this group.


Parties to an RSA are under no obligation to share the results of their agreement, except where provisions will be incorporated into a forest management plan. Ensuring the transparency of the RSA process, that is making the results of the agreements available to all that are interested in them, is a means of ensuring a fair and democratic process. It is possible that if RSAs were open to public scrutiny, the need for the OMNR to change the resulting agreements would be reduced. Transparency would also help ensure RSAs are negotiated using a consistent interpretation of the MOU, and that both the forestry and tourism industries are being treated equally, province-wide.

Equal Opportunity, Equal Resources and Effective Process Management

Although the RSA process uses policy and regulations to reduce an historical power imbalance between the tourism and forestry industries, a few adjustments could be made within the scope of the RSA process to further shift power away from the forest industry and improve process effectiveness. Providing training in interest-based negotiation and providing a neutral facilitator can help reduce power imbalances between parties (Frame et al. 2004). Interest-based negotiation is a technique that calls for negotiating parties to separate the problem from the people; to resolve problems based on parties' interests, not on prefabricated positions; and to invent solutions for mutual gain (BC CORE 1996). The main benefit of interest-based negotiation, as opposed to traditional means of conflict resolution, is that it promotes 'win-win' solutions (BC CORE 1996). Having neutral facilitators present at the negotiating table can help overcome an uneven balance of power and can help promote fairness by monitoring the interaction of negotiating parties and intervening where necessary, and by helping to ensure a common level of understanding (BC CORE 1996).

Policy managers should consider having an independent third party, instead of the forest industry, conduct the management and administrative functions of the RSA process. This would also help disperse some of the power away from the forestry industry. Such adjustments should help reduce conflict in adversarial RSAs and could give smaller tourism operations more confidence when negotiating with a multinational forestry corporation.

Enforcement and Deterrents

No land or resource management strategy that involves restrictions on use can be expected to succeed without proper enforcement. This survey asked respondents if RSAs would be unnecessary if there was better enforcement of the land use access restrictions that have already been put in place. Fifty-six percent of responding operators agreed or somewhat agreed with this statement, indicating that there is concern about Ontario's ability to enforce access restrictions on Crown lands. Attendees at the NOTO RSA Summit also mentioned enforcement as one of the problems affecting the management of remote areas and listed it as a problem hampering the effectiveness of the RSA process (Bioforest 2005).

While it is expensive to monitor a large land base like Northern Ontario, some of the money designated for the RSA process might be put to better use enforcing access restrictions. No matter how creative the solutions that emanate from the RSA process, they will only be effective if there is adequate enforcement.

Perceived Bias of Decision Makers towards the Forest Industry

Several respondents felt that forest management officials in northern Ontario had an allegiance with the forest industry. For example, one operator commented; "No matter what, the forest company always WINS," while another stated; "Employees' attitudes within MNR must improve! Forestry [operators] know it [that the OMNR will support them] and know they do not have to budge." Other respondents expressed concern that the Ontario government does not really care about resource-based tourism as an industry. One respondent commented, "[The] RSA process would not be required if tourism values were being protected or considered an asset by the government of Ontario. They do not look at remote tourism as an industry, rather as an annoyance affecting fiber extraction." Another respondent stated; "Until the MNR realizes that standing trees have a ... value [that is] equally important, all tourism businesses in the presence of logging [will] continue to struggle."

Unless corrected, this perceived bias of the OMNR could have a detrimental impact on the success of the RSA process. The RSA process uses policy and regulations to encourage the tourism and forestry industries to negotiate with regards to their shared use of Crown lands. If the forest industry perceives OMNR as sympathetic to their needs, there may not be the incentive for them to enter and remain in RSA negotiations. At the same time, some tourism operators may be reluctant to participate if they feel that the OMNR favours the forest industry.

The Role of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

The OMNR can veto, or amend, RSA recommendations they feel are not consistent with the OMNR's mandate of conserving and managing Ontario's public lands and resources for all citizens (OMNR 2001). Eight respondents expressed concern regarding the power of the OMNR in the RSA process. The following two comments are representative: "[I] think the government inhibits better relations by establishing regulations that sometimes represent roadblocks" and "I have a problem with the MNR coming in and changing the plans we made." Indeed the RSA process could be irrelevant if the OMNR exercises its veto power over all decisions pertaining to forest management prescriptions.

Practicality of Implementing Improvements

It may not be feasible to implement all of the suggested improvements to the RSA process because of the small-scale nature of the process. For example, to maximize the benefits of inclusive representation we recommend that as many affected stakeholders as possible should be allowed to participate. However, the small scale of each RSA means that the potential number of RSAs to be negotiated is large and it might not be practical for all stakeholder groups to participate in every RSA process.

Indeed the RSA process may be too small scale, with too narrow a mandate to make full use of shared decision making. A true shared decision-making process requires extensive input and commitment from a diverse set of stakeholders. The RSA process simply sets out to resolve business-to-business conflicts between the forest industry and the tourism industry in Northern Ontario. While this is an important problem to resolve, there are other stakeholders and other conflicts occurring on Ontario's Crown land that have the potential to impact both the forestry industry and the tourism industry. This process does nothing to voice or honor their conflicts. While it would be beneficial to include more stakeholders (particularly recreationists) and widen the mandate of RSAs, inclusionary planning should also be conducted at a broader scale.


The RSA process is one of Ontario's first experiments with a participant-based approach to forest management. This evaluation shows that the RSA process appears to be a positive move in forest management. The process is partially meeting two out of the three policy mission statement goals evaluated here. In addition, when compared to the shared decision making evaluative criteria, the process met or somewhat met 31 evaluative criteria; only eight criteria were not met.

Benefits of the process include greater involvement of the tourism industry within forest management planning in Ontario, the ability to get parties communicating with each other, and the ability to balance some of the power of the forestry industry. Areas for potential improvement are also apparent. To make the RSA process more democratic, more likely to be in the public interest, and to ensure an enduring outcome, more stakeholders should be included and the process should be more transparent. In addition the provision of a neutral facilitator and training in interest-based negotiation could help mitigate power imbalances, perceived or otherwise.

Although these suggestions for improvements to the RSA process would help to improve the fairness of the process, in practice, some of them may be difficult for such a small-scale process. Forest management officials in Ontario should also consider implementing shared decision making at a broader scale of forest management.


We would like to thank SSHRC for funding support for this research and the anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions.


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Sarah Browne has a Master's degree in Resource and Environmental Management from Simon Fraser University. Her research interests are on the social side of resource management, specifically public/stakeholder involvement, mechanisms to aid policy development, and resource based tourism. Sarah is currently working as a Social Science Analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' Centre for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research.

Murray Rutherford is an Assistant Professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. He is a policy scientist and planner whose research focuses on policy analysis and evaluation, ecosystem-based management, and human values and attitudes toward nature and the conservation of biological diversity. He can be contacted at

Thomas Gunton is a professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management and Director of the Resource and Environmental Planning Program at Simon Fraser University. He has held numerous senior positions in government including Assistant Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines for the government of Manitoba and Deputy Minister of Environment, Lands, and Parks for the government of British Columbia. His research focuses on environmental mediation and dispute resolution and resource and environmental planning. He can be contacted at

(1) Eighty-seven percent of Ontario's land mass (937,000 km2) is Crown land (land that is controlled and administered by the provincial government). The majority of this Crown land is located in northern Ontario where the tourism and forestry industries have potentially conflicting interests (OMNR 2004).

(2) The area covered by an individual resource stewardship agreement varies and depends primarily on the number of establishments owned by the tourism operator, the size of the forest management area, and on the proposed forest harvesting plans. For one RSA presented as an example at the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association's RSA summit, the area covered by the agreement was approximately 40 km by 80 km.
Table 1. The Rating of the RSA Process on Each of the Goals Posited in
the Tourism and Forestry Industry Memorandum of Understanding and on
Each of the Goals Suggested by the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters

 Goals posited in the Tourism and Forestry Industry
Rating Memorandum of Understanding

somewhat met Allow the resource-based tourism and forestry industries
 in Ontario to coexist
neutral Allow the resource-based tourism industry in Ontario to
undetermined Allow the forestry industry in Ontario to prosper
somewhat met The industries [are to] negotiate in good faith
 Goals proposed by the Northern Ontario Tourism Outfitters
undetermined Reductions in conflict and delays related to environmental
 impact assessments
undetermined Enhancement of wood supply (timber)
undetermined Maintenance of tourism business values and employment
neutral Encouragement of industry investment
somewhat met Improved communications

Table 2. Ratings for Academic 'Best Practices' Criteria

Rating Process Criteria

Purpose and Incentives
met The process is driven by a purpose/vision and task that
 are real, practical and shared by the group.
met Parties believe that a collaborative process offers the
 best opportunity for addressing the issues, as opposed to
 traditional processes.
somewhat met Process provides incentives to participate and work
 towards an agreement.

Inclusive Representation
not met All parties that are affected by, or that have an interest
 in any agreement reached are given a chance to
 participate. This includes parties needed to successfully
 implement the agreement and parties who could undermine it
 if not involved in the process.
not met The process must incorporate the values held by different

Voluntary Participation and Commitment
neutral Parties participate voluntarily. Participants remain free
 to pursue other avenues if this process does not address
 their interests.
somewhat met All parties are supportive of the process and committed to
 invest the time and resources necessary to make it work.

somewhat met The parties self-design the process, including the
 mandate, agenda and issues, to suit the individual needs
 of that process and its participants.
somewhat met All parties have an equal opportunity to participate in
 designing the process.

Clear Ground Rules
somewhat met There is a clear, written plan of action.
not met The process is open, accessible and transparent.
neutral The process is consistent between persons and across time.

Equal Opportunity and Resources
neutral All participants have the resources to participate
 meaningfully. This means consideration is given to
 providing training on consensus processes and negotiating
 skills, and adequate and fair access to all relevant
 information and expertise.
not met The process provides opportunity for equal and effective
 participation by all parties, by providing equal
 distribution of power.

Principled Negotiation and Respect / Trust
somewhat met The process operates according to the conditions of
 principled negotiation including mutual respect, trust and
somewhat met The process provides incentives for cooperation and
 collaboration in a problem-solving manner, rather than for
 continued adversarial behaviour.
somewhat met Participants demonstrate acceptance of, understanding of,
 and respect for the diverse values, interests, and
 knowledge of the other parties involved in the process.

Effective Process Management
somewhat met The process is managed effectively by providing a
 project/process plan, coordination and communication,
 information management, and support to ensure participants
 are getting the resources required to participate
neutral Neutral process staff are available to assist participants
 if they need assistance
not met The process is co-ordinated and managed in a neutral

somewhat met Mechanisms are in place to ensure the interests of the
 broader public are represented in the process and final
neutral The public is kept informed on the development and outcome
 of the process.
somewhat met Participants are empowered by and effectively speak for
 the interests they represent.

Flexible, Adaptive, Creative
neutral Flexibility is designed into the process to allow for
 adaptation and creativity in problem solving.
met The process provides opportunities for joint fact-finding
 by affected groups; allows issues and questions to be
 raised early in the process.
somewhat met Feedback is incorporated into the process such that it can
 evolve as the parties become more familiar with the
 issues, the process, and each other, or to accommodate
 changing circumstances.

High Quality Information
somewhat met The process provides participants with sufficient,
 appropriate, accurate, and timely information, along with
 the expertise and tools to incorporate the information
 into the decision-making process.
somewhat met Uses information of many types from various sources and
 assures agreement on its meaning.

Time Limits
somewhat met Realistic milestones and deadlines are established and
 managed throughout the process.
neutral Milestones focus and energize the parties, marshal key
 resources, and mark progress. However, sufficient
 flexibility is necessary to embrace shifts or changes in
not met It is made clear that unless parties reach an agreement in
 a timely manner, someone else will impose a decision.

Commitment to Implementation and Monitoring
somewhat met The process fosters a sense of responsibility, ownership,
 and commitment to implement the agreement outcome.
somewhat met The process and final agreement include commitments to
 implementation and monitoring.

neutral The process is ethically compatible with fundamental moral
 and social values.

Independent Facilitation
not met The negotiation process uses an independent trained
 facilitator acceptable to all parties throughout.
somewhat met The facilitator demonstrates neutrality, communicative
 competence, general knowledge, and basic understanding of

neutral The process produces a high quality agreement that is
 understood and accepted by all parties.
somewhat met The agreement is feasible, implementable, stable,
 flexible, and adaptive.
somewhat met Where a consensus agreement is not reached, the outcome of
 the process ended any stalemate, allowing parties to move
 forward without a formal agreement.

Perceived as Successful
somewhat met Participants are satisfied with the outcomes of the
 process and view their involvement as a positive
neutral The process is resolving the problems it set out to

Conflict Reduced
somewhat met The process reduced conflict.
met The process improved capacity for dispute resolution.

Superior to Other Methods
neutral The process is superior to other planning or
 decision-making methods in terms of costs and benefits.
 Costs include time and resources for process support,
 management, and participation. Benefits include the
 positive outcomes of the process.

Creative and Innovative
somewhat met The process produced creative and innovative ideas and
undetermined New ideas are tested and learned from. Ideas that are not
 successfully implemented provide opportunities for
 learning and growth.

Knowledge, Understanding and Skills
somewhat met Stakeholders understand more about the issues and other
 stakeholders' interests and viewpoints.
somewhat met Stakeholders gained new knowledge or skills by
 participating in the process. This may include
 communication, negotiation, consensus building, data
 analysis, or decision-making skills.

Relationships and Social Capital
somewhat met The process created or strengthened personal and working
 relationships, and social capital among participants.
neutral Participants work together on issues or projects outside
 of the process.
not met The process increased trust/faith in the process itself
 and in the other stakeholders involved.

somewhat met The process produced improved data, information and
 analyses that stakeholders understand and accept as
 accurate. This includes facts, inventories, models,
 forecasts, histories or analytical tools. This information
 is shared and is useful to participants and others for
 purposes outside of the process.

Second Order Effects
neutral The process generated beneficial spin-off effects.
undetermined Results in learning and change in and beyond the process.

Public Interest
undetermined The outcomes are regarded as just and serve the common
 good or public interest, not just the interests of
 participants in the process.
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Author:Browne, Sarah A.; Rutherford, Murray B.; Gunton, Thomas I.
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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