SWOT Analysis for
Participatory Research in the Pacific
Strengths | Weaknesses
| Extending the concept of Social Obligations
Agenda 21. Principles:
Environmental issues are best handled with the
participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant
have a vital role in environmental management and
development. Their full participation is therefore
essential to achieve sustainable development.
creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world
should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in
order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a
better future for all.
people and their communities and other local communities
have a vital role in environmental management and
development because of their knowledge and traditional
practices. States should recognize and support their
identity, culture, and interests and enable their
effective participation in the achievement of sustainable
The common vision provided by
Agenda 21 is based on an open exchange of information at all
levels of society and between all interested parties. Where
barriers to information flow exist, conflict follows. The case
histories summarized in the preceding two sections of this report
offer abundant examples of conflicts and constraints in the
gathering, analysis, and use of environmental information for
economic decision making.
The greatest and most debilitating
barrier in flow of information for sustainable decisions on
resource use is the sharp divide between the colonial-imposed
European government system, usually based almost entirely in one
city, and the hundreds of small, isolated rural villages
scattered on different islands or separated by difficult terrain.
There is actually better interchange of environmental information
and ideas between the countries, via regional organizations, than
between the national governments and their own village people. It
is as if the rural villages continue to exist as separate,
isolated groups with local needs, interests and knowledge quite
separate from the regional and national visions.
Most countries have some form of
provincial government. In the Melanesian countries of PNG, the
Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji the provincial
governments are distinct political entities, but suffer from even
greater financial and manpower constraints than the National
governments. In Polynesian and Micronesian countries, the
"provincial" government structures are extensions of
the national governments. Information exchange between the
provincial and national governments is generally done by
individuals, like extension agents, whose jobs bring them back
and forth between the national capital and the provinces.
European style government differs from the shadow traditional
|English or French
||Island or even
village specific language
||Barter or local
Extraction of Resources
survival and small markets
|Relies on foreign
||Semi self reliant
|Relies on foreign
expertise for resource assessment
||Relies on direct
observation for resource and self-assessment.
from foreign nations via colonialism and now via
|Other directed -
welfare state (adopted by necessity).
||Self directed -
welfare state (adopted by preference).
without major revisions
||3,500 years of
Villages in all countries have
their own autonomous, traditional government system based on one
form or another of a council of elders. In some countries, such
as American Samoa, this secondary government system pervades the
whole society and acts as a secondary National Government.
The bulk of the population of the
Pacific islands relates, on a day to day basis, to their village
government system. Since the villagers are the resource owners,
it is the village government system that makes the final
decisions on resource use. The village elders are likely to have,
or have access to, a considerable body of local knowledge about
their own resources.
The examination of how conflicts arise in resource use plans in the Pacific
islands supports the Agenda 21 vision for improving information
linkages between the local, national and regional bodies. The
regional organizations have recently begun a major
effort, in concert with
the World Bank, to improve information exchange between
themselves and their member countries which includes a component
to improve information flow to the public.
The ESCAP country and local case
studies on "integrating Environmental Considerations into
Economic Decision Making Processes" revealed a number of
Pacific island countries and regional organizations that are in
the experimental phase of improving the links between the local,
national and regional levels. These efforts are generally
described as "participatory." They take the form of
participation in gathering research information (such as
Participatory Rural Appraisal), setting up community based
resource use plans, and more recently, developing long range
sustainable development policy starting with the local (village)
government's own vision and integrating this with provincial,
national and regional policy decision making processes
(Participatory Integrated Policy (PIP)).
An overall analysis of the
Successes, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of the
Pacific islanders provides insight into the long term benefits of
participatory approaches to sustainable economic policy making.
analysis summarizes the ESCAP case histories and information
presented in Sections 1 and 2. It is not comprehensive nor do all
the features apply equally throughout the Pacific islands, but it
does provide clear support for the move towards participatory
How do participatory methods fit with the
Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT
Analysis) of the people and governments of the Pacific Islands?
Strengths, Advantages, and Abilities
Strengths that can help
support a participatory integrated policy for resource
- Social cohesiveness
of family or one-talk or church systems. If
decisions on how resources are to be managed are
integrated with this basic cohesiveness, they are
likely to be successfully implemented and
- Willingness to share
with family, one-talk or church members. Often
seen as an impediment to economic development,
this is a key requirement for agreeing to
restrict or regulate resource use.
- Oratory in the
indigenous language, often with an excellent
sense of humor and justice. Although many
concepts related to sustainable development are
presented in modern English jargon, they are all
basic, easily understood ideas that can be
discussed locally - providing someone makes an
effort to bridge the language gap.
- Able to work
together, pooling labor and talent, to achieve
projects that are important to the community
(like building and maintaining a church). When
villagers work together on a community project it
gains a powerful element of support. Village
nature sanctuaries are not likely to be violated
whereas National sanctuaries set up at the behest
of international organizations are not likely to
- An ability to solve
conflict by negotiation and unanimity or by
inaction (patience). Inaction - again seen as an
impediment to economic development - is
frequently the key to prevention of resource
abuse. A lengthy discussion at the village level
on selling trees or developing mineral resources
might go on for years; discouraging those with
aspirations of a quick buck.
- Strong moral and
religious convictions. When the people understand
what is right and what is wrong they are willing
to defend the moral and righteous position in
defiance of their own perceived short term
- A tradition of
sustainable resource use. Many of the tiny
villages on small islands of the Pacific have
been in exactly the same place and of almost the
same size for more than 2000 years. The marine
and terrestrial landscape is a cultural
landscape, fashioned exactly the way the people
want it to be.
- Traditional knowledge
of plants, sustainable gardening practices, and
marine resources. Individuals within the island
villages have considerable knowledge of how to
use and maintain their local environment on a
sustainable basis. There are a number of efforts
currently underway to gather this information.
Some of the most insightful methodologies for
fisheries resource use were derived from
listening to elder fishing chiefs.
- Relative food
security. With few exceptions, Pacific islanders
currently have enough food to eat. But their
local food security is in constant danger from
natural threats such as drought and storms. Their
present health is a vital advantage compared to
countries where their first priority is not
starving to death.
- Equitable climate and
scenic beauty. As with food security, climate
security allows Pacific islanders an opportunity
to treat their financial and resource needs with
leniency. In harsh climates necessity may force
people to use every resource to survive.
Hurricanes and droughts do happen in the South
Pacific and were it not for rapid aid supplies,
the climate might seem less hospitable.
- Low population
densities (with some local exceptions). There is
still room to experiment and expand in most
Pacific islands. Land is available for new
agricultural efforts - providing the land owners
want to become involved in them.
- General lack of
valuable resources and geographic isolation (in
all but PNG, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia
and Fiji) reduce the threat to the small
populations of strong foreign competition. This
is an odd advantage, but indigenous peoples
throughout the world often suffer when they are
the custodians of resources of great value to
more powerful peoples.
- Community control of
land (sometimes marine) resources. National
governments often bemoan custom land as a curse
because without ultimate control of the land
government becomes almost impossible unless, of
course, the custom owners participate in
- Lack of ethnic
problems (except Fiji, Northern Mariana, and New
Caledonia). When ethnic groups fight each other
the environment often suffers. Each ethnic group
seems intent on blaming the other for a country's
problems. Most Pacific islanders can only blame
themselves for unsustainable behavior. And this
is a major advantage when attempting to reduce
policy conflict through participatory methods.
- Freedom of religion.
Pacific islanders are mostly Christians, but
include nearly every kind of Christian
imaginable. This is both an advantage and a
disadvantage for participatory policy making. The
advantage is that a mono-religious environment
can be highly inflexible while a multi-religious
community develops a sense of compromise for
practical matters. The disadvantage is that
meetings might need to be held several times in
the same village to reach the whole community.
- Democratic societies
(Tonga included). This is essential to
participatory policy methods as it assures the
right for everyone to have some say in their
governance - and to vote out politicians who
interfere with the public will.
What do Pacific Island
governments do well?
- Co-operate regionally
on international matters. Sustainable development
policy and an understanding of sustainable
resource use has spread rapidly throughout the
region because of the hospitable and democratic
- Obtain foreign aid
and assistance. The small governments of the
Pacific have been highly successful at gaining
funds, equipment, and guidance from the
metropolitan countries. This will be an obvious
advantage in the development of an information
- Pacific islanders
mediate internal disputes well. There is a unique
sense of justice in the Polynesian and
Micronesian countries. Senior government
officials in Polynesia and Micronesia are often
master social strategists. This can be of great
advantage providing they are willing to
participate in a participatory process.
- Maintain law and
order, peace and harmony (with some obvious, but
minor, exceptions). Somehow this does not extend
to enforcing national laws concerning economic
and environmental issues. But crimes of a
physical nature are dealt with rapidly and
Weaknessesof the people and governments of the
Pacific Islands relating to sustainable development:
What could be improved by
- A sense of
self-sufficiency in contrast to the pervasive
"dependency role" assumed by many
communities (and Governments).
- Bridging the gap
between European and Island governance.
- Methods for
- Information recording
- Socially permissible
systems for information exchange, vertically and
horizontally (professional cross-sectoral
committees are a step in the right direction on
the government level).
- Community level
understanding of resource problems and economic
opportunities of sustainable development.
appreciation of their own resources and
capabilities compared to the desire for western
goodies inspired by the media and by overseas
- Responsible behavior
on the part of resource users.
- Time management and
efficient use of the limited staff.
- Career development
and opportunities for youth
government policies to minimize conflicts.
- Establishing a common
vision for the future.
What is done badly that
might be improved by training in participatory
- Enforcement of
environmental and economic laws and regulations.
- Business, especially
in rural areas.
- Accounting of all
- Recording traditional
resource management information.
- Reading and writing
- Sharing authority.
- Listening to the
- Learning from the
villagers and resource users.
- Recognition of the
gap between colonial export policy and
- Recognition of the
ecological basis of the economy.
What should be avoided
that might be facilitated by participatory processes?
- Dividing the country
into two major sectors with conflicting
objectives; export oriented, cash and foreign
dependant national government versus subsistence
oriented, self-sustaining local communities.
- Making government
policy without consideration of and participation
by all interested parties.
- Liquidating natural
assets (soil, forests, minerals, marine
resources) to buy non-essentials and transient,
- Confusing scientific
issues with political loyalties (Scientific
issues are often less important than maintaining
solidarity. A professional dare not contradict a
superior's opinion or position regardless of the
- Confusing moral
issues that need the involvement of the church
with government policy.
- Selling or
misrepresenting non-existent resources to foreign
- Using prime
agricultural land to grow low-value crops for
What external opportunities and threats facing the people and
governments of the Pacific island countries might be influenced
by participatory methods?
Opportunities the Pacific
Islanders don't control but would like to take advantage of:
What external threats do Pacific island countries
face that might be abated or mitigated by improvements in linkages
between local, national and regional organizations ?
What obstacles do the
Pacific island countries face?
- Decreasing food
security, calling for a more efficient use of
land and sea resources.
- Health problems from
poor nutrition caused by improper diets of
"convenience foods." Specifically heart
disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Increased problems
with agricultural pests due to biologically
stupid commercial agricultural practices.
- Sea surface pollution
and consequent lowering of marine resource
resilience, requiring greater care in nearshore
marine resource use.
- Rising sea levels and
incidence of tropical cyclones due to climate
change requiring fewer people settling in
low-lying coastal areas.
- Increasing incidence
of bad weather (floods and droughts) in the
metropolitan countries reduce agricultural
production in those countries and this increases
prices of imported foods presently essential to
survival (rice, flour, tinned meat and fish),
needing improved local food supplies and dietary
- The obvious economic
disadvantages of distance from economic markets
and small size, which increases the need for
self-reliance and local co-operation.
- Lack of natural
resources of value (e.g. Except for Melanesian,
most countries have no valuable mineral
resources, a diverse and unstable inshore
fishery, few forest resources even for internal
use, limited agricultural land beset with land
- Decline in foreign
aid. If a country begins to show solid
improvements towards sustainability it is much
more likely to attract further support.
- Unsustainability of,
and dependence upon, regional programs set up
with foreign assistance.
- Decline in technical
and scientific advisors assigned to countries and
regional organizations means that less assistance
must be utilized more efficiently.
- Plummeting budgets of
international organizations again demand greater
efficiency of what aid is available. And, in
turn, international organizations must improve on
the ground progress.
- The rise of
anti-immigration politics in New Zealand,
Australia and the United States will swell
population numbers in the Pacific islands that
now rely on emigration to counterbalance
population growth. This will result in a need to
involve people, especially youth, in policy
decisions at all levels.
- Reduction of tourism
during global recessions can rapidly deflate
economic spirits, increasing the need for
self-reliance and a fall-back system of
- Development projects
that utilize time, effort and resources but
siphon profits out of the country. Such projects
are less likely when all stakeholders have an
opportunity to debate their pros and cons in an
What is the competition
- Increased competition
from in-country tourism development in New
Zealand and Australia will increase the need for
Pacific island tourism destinations to present
the best possible aspect, and this requires
public participation in maintaining village and
public property tidiness.
- WTO removal of trade
barriers defeats preferential trade agreements.
This may result in poor opportunities for
manufacturing in the Pacific islands and increase
the need for activities for unemployed people,
- Increased population
and development in Asia promotes unsustainable
harvesting of forestry and fisheries resources in
the Pacific. Although rural islanders are
conversant with the problems adherent in resource
abuse, the existing policy conflicts between
government levels erodes community solidarity
against large scale development.
- Boycotts of
unsustainable activities reduce opportunity to
liquidate natural assets such as tropical
forests, gold, and marine products (black coral,
precious coral, sea turtle products, giant clam
shells, and other handicrafts that use endangered
species). Villagers who rely on handicraft sales
for added income need to become aware of such
problems and produce materials that do not
endanger the wildlife.
Can the Pacific islands
keep pace in a rapidly changing world?
- The global explosion
in computer technology requires early training of
youth in computer literacy (computers are common
in primary schools in Australia, New Zealand and
the United States and nearly ubiquitous in
secondary schools). The Pacific islands are
falling behind, unable to obtain and maintain
computers for schools. Participation in national
and international data gathering projects can
assist schools in learning and applying practical
skills leading to sustainability
- Software updates are
an annual or semi-annual event but many
government agencies are using software that has
been extinct for a decade. Participation in
regional and international information exchange
programs can provide government workers with up
to date software that can facilitate their work.
- Skills in repair and
maintenance of electronics and mechanics require
updating on a regular basis.
- Communications are
increasing in both volume and complexity in all
fields of resource information. There is so much
of interest that small government agencies cannot
hope to canvas the literature even in narrow
fields, such as organic farming, biological pest
control and marketing of organic products. The
rapid advancement of data storage and retrieval
on Internet can help governments keep up to date
and, at the same time, provide information needed
by global policy making bodies.
Bad debt and cash-flow
problems plague the Pacific island governments.
- Obtaining development
funds is difficult for the private and government
sectors in the Pacific islands. When projects are
hampered by conflicts over land or other
resources, investors are frightened away. By
encouraging participation of the resource owners
at the very outset of development policy making,
many of these conflicts can be resolved.
- Imports have exceeded
the value of exports for so many years most
Pacific islands have acquired massive foreign
- Currency evaluation
and even the printing of money is controlled by
- Foreign investment is
now seen as extremely risky due to a long history
of project failures in the region.
- Increased auditing of
foreign loans and aid funds reduces opportunities
to skim funds for on-going government costs that
are normally not included in aid grants.
Extending the concept of Social Obligations
The key to obtaining and using
environmental assessment and monitoring information, and to
harmonizing resource use policy, is found in the acknowledged
strengths of Pacific islanders, sometimes idealized as "The
Pacific Way." The ability of island communities to work
together (within family, one-talk or church groups) is perhaps
the greatest asset for sustainable resource use in the region.
Social pressures enforce the basic concept of sharing with
equality, and the importance of altruistic behavior. People
regularly do things that is to their own economic disadvantage to
conform to socially accepted behavior. This is the missing link
between environmental policy and action.
Extending the concept of social
obligation to cover the long term protection of the living
resources is inherent in many traditional belief systems of the
Pacific islands. But these understandings have been or are being
lost as the traditional values are eroded by a variety of forces.
The modern problem is understanding the scientific truth that:
- Living resources, including
the soil, the forests, the coral reefs, and the fresh
water systems are part of the fabric of the people and
- Living systems have limits
- They can be irreplaceably
- Living resources are supposed
to be used, but also cherished. To damage them is against
the best interests of everyone in the community and
contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
Government officers complain of a
lack of co-operation from communities regardless of ownership
rights of the resources. There are innumerable examples
throughout the Pacific of rural communities destroying their own
resource base, practicing irresponsible and destructive
agriculture and fishing; selling forests and standing by while
foreign companies clear-cut mountain slopes and pollute water
supplies the villagers depend on. Education campaigns, even where
successful in instructing villagers about environmental issues,
have had little success in changing people's behavior. The
problems on the community level are the same ones hampering the
adoption of sustainable practices on the government level;
- Governmental adoption of
responsibility for the survival of the resources and
consequent alienation of community and personal
- Money and the temptations of
all it can buy (actively promoted by export ethics of
government economic development policy and foreign
- Lack of Church involvement
with environmental issues and subsequent lack of
understanding of the moral component of resource abuse.
- Poor understanding of the
real needs of the living creatures and the links between
the resource base and the well being of the people.
- Poor definition of specific
actions needed and why they are needed.
- Unwillingness of governments
to shift production and marketing to small scale,
sustainable, environmentally friendly enterprises (see
reason 2, above).
This is a positive feedback loop.
The more the government tries to push development the more people
become involved in the economic loan/repayment/loan cycle. The
more the government tries to control resource use through laws
and regulations the less responsibility people (and the Church)
take upon themselves. This promotes individual lack of compliance
with regulations and generates conflict and lack of understanding
between government agents and resource users. Credibility and
co-operation are further damaged by the use of foreign scientists
whose studies are unlikely to be understood (or reviewed) by the
resource users. Financial, human and living resources are wasted
on unsuccessful large-scale projects and get rich quick schemes
that further alienate communities and cause governments to push
development even more, starting another cycle.