Fits and misfits of linked public participation and spatial information in water quality management on the Great Barrier Reef coast (Australia)
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Public participation is experiencing increasing recognition as an indispensable component of effective communication and engagement between resource users and managers in natural resource planning and management. To bridge a gap between communication, information and participation, natural resource management agencies have increasingly used the visual capability of spatial decision support tools, such as geographic information systems. Nevertheless, both participation and the use of spatial technologies have been promoted without much consideration of how particular stakeholder groups participate and use existing decision support tools. This paper analyses the current state of public participation and the extent to which spatial data and geographic information tools are used by stakeholder groups to facilitate access to information and to support communication in water quality management on the Great Barrier Reef coast. Data were collected via document analysis, participant observation at stakeholders' meeting, face-to-face interviews and questionnaires. Qualitative data were coded for themes using coding analysis processes, whereas quantitative data from the surveys were analysed using standard exploratory and descriptive statistical techniques. Results reveal that reliance on the natural resource management officer, established networks and personal relationships, and provision of property-scale spatial information are important aspects of a meaningful public participation process. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.