Better responses to biosecurity breaches

Better responses to biosecurity breaches

26 July, 2017

New ways to improve how we respond to pest and disease outbreaks have been found by social science researchers at the Plant Biosecurity CRC.

“By looking closely at the kind of human networks that are involved in pest and disease responses, from national committees down to farmers on the ground, we can better target capacity and support rules-of-behaviour that actually fit the requirements of the diverse tasks involved,” said Plant Biosecurity CRC project leader Dr Cathy Robinson from CSIRO.

A team of Plant Biosecurity CRC researchers used novel statistical network methods to analyse data from the 2010 Australian myrtle rust incursion, focusing on the working groups and committees that form during responses to biosecurity outbreaks.

“The logistical challenge of coordinating natural resource management actions across large scales is typically complicated by the diversity of stakeholders’ interests,” said report lead Dr Ryan McAllister from CSIRO. “Devising a plan is difficult. Getting diverse stakeholders to agree and stick to a plan is harder still.”

The researchers found that two factors make all the difference; coordination and collaboration.

Coordination is pretty straightforward – it refers to the logistical and practical actions involved,” said Dr McAllister.

“Stakeholders agree on what actions to take and instructions are followed, more or less without objection. Communication can be succinct and shared goals achieved without too much trouble.”

Coordination is needed to implement actions, but isn’t useful when making hard decisions or complex plans.”

“Collaboration on the other hand involves working together to develop decision-making processes as part of the partnership. In collaboration, relationships need to be more in-depth, you need to build trust and work in an agreed way – it’s a requirement for good coordination.”

The research team tested the mix of coordination and collaboration for various groups, depending on whether their role was to produce high-level decisions, make plans for on-the-ground action, or implement actions on-the-ground. Interviews provided some context on stakeholder behaviour.

They found more evidence of denser, overlapping stakeholder interactions – generally associated with collaboration - at national scales, where higher-level, strategic decisions tend to be made.

“Problems arise when one part of incursion response thinks it is only in the business of coordination, while another thinks it is only in the business of collaboration. Effective responses need a better mix of both swift action and informed debate,” said Dr McAllister.

“By understanding the different types of interactions across environmental governance challenges, differences of opinion can be made constructive and efficient,” said Dr Robinson. “Leaving them unmanaged causes delays we can ill afford during time-critical operations such as biosecurity responses.”

The paper Balancing collaboration with coordination: Contesting eradication in the Australian plant pest and disease biosecurity system was published in the International Journal of the Commons. McAllister, R.R.J. et al., (2017). 11(1), pp.330–354. DOI:

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Contact: Tony Steeper, Plant Biosecurity CRC Communications 02 6201 2882, 0417 697 470