Improving strategy for the Canadian Wildlife Service: A comparative study with the Parks Canada Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Bickis, Lija Margaret Bebee
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This research evaluates the development of strategy and planning undertaken by the three federal protected areas management organisations in Canada. These organisations and the protected areas they manage are: the Canadian Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Oceans Act Marine Protected Areas), and the Parks Canada Agency (National Parks, National Marine Conservation Areas, and National Historic Sites). As non-renewable resources become more valuable, urban centres expand, and the climate changes, protected areas will face an increasing number of threats, the mitigation of which will require significant new financial resources. In order to acquire these new resources, protected areas management organisations will have to compete with other aspects of the government’s agenda. In this research, strategy is identified as an important component of successful competition. A review of literature from various disciplines explains some of the main theories of strategy development: strategic planning, strategic management, and collaborative planning. Management planning for protected areas helps to understand the congruence between strategy and site management. Using a qualitative approach, the research triangulates the results of interviews, reviews of documents, and participant-observation to evaluate the way that each of the organisations develops strategy and understands management planning activities. The research also includes a model strategic plan for the Canadian Wildlife Service protected areas network. The model plan stems from data collected during this research. This research supports the results from a previous study (Foresta, 1985) that found Parks Canada (now the Parks Canada Agency, or PCA) has been actively pursuing a coherent strategy through systematic management planning since the late 1960s. The PCA can attribute a significant degree of its ongoing success in creating and managing National Parks to its consistent strategy and systematic planning efforts. Another important part of the PCA success has been its external orientation, which demonstrates its awareness of the importance of maintaining public satisfaction and its high public profile. No prior research on the development of strategy or of systematic planning at the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was uncovered. This research concludes that the CWS, which has many strategic plans on paper, has not actively pursued strategic or management planning. The lack of strategic thinking and planning contribute significantly to the relatively low budgets of the CWS, and to its low public profile. The DFO has decided to take a “learning approach” to its protected areas, by creating a set of pilot marine protected areas and then identifying the policies and procedures needed to manage the sites. The public profile of the DFO protected areas is even lower than that of the CWS. The CWS and the DFO are internally-oriented, do not have significant public outreach programs, long-range or strategic planning, and do not seem to have champions. The most important contributors to the PCA’s success are the finite nature and the simplicity of their goals, which Parks staff can easily communicate to decision-makers and to the public. The external orientation of the PCA, demonstrated by extensive public outreach programming, such as natural history interpretation and the provision of camping opportunities, is also an important part of its success. Another important contributor, identified in this research, is the support of a small number of key political champions. This research identifies means by which organisations could improve their competitiveness, including by improving public profile. The research highlights the importance of externally-focused strategic plans that include certain elements that are well-defined in the literature, and the importance of strategic thinking. The results suggest that there is a need for a new approach to developing strategy, and proposes the exploration of collaborative planning as a potential model. This research contributes to the academic literature and to planning practice by identifying key elements that created conditions of success for the PCA. The PCA experience highlights the importance of strategic thinking, in the context of developing a strategic plan.