February 1, 2012, Ottawa, ON – The Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fishery Initiative (AICFI) represents a unique and successful program for Aboriginal management of natural resources, specifically in program implementation, conception, and delivery. These are the conclusions of a major evaluation of the program carried out by Professor Jacquelyn Thayer Scott for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) and released today.
AICFI incorporates the lessons learned from the 1999 Marshall Decision, which gave Mi'kmaq and Maliseet First Nations (MMFN) in Atlantic areas the right to fish commercially for "a moderate living". The economic benefits to those MMFN that participated were estimated at $35 million in 2009, up from $4.4 million in 1999. The program resulted in increased employment, reduction in the employment income gap, and encouraged MMFN fishing and fishing-related businesses to grow in number and scope. With the AICFI up for renewal on April 1, 2012, Professor Scott concludes that these successes warrant its renewal. At the same time, she examined the AICFI program in order to discover the lessons to be learned from its operation and how to apply them more widely to Aboriginal enterprise programs.
According to MLI Managing Director, Brian Lee Crowley, "At a time when Aboriginal consent to and involvement in the development and management of so many of our natural resources is becoming ever more indispensable, a program that succeeds in creating genuine opportunities for Aboriginals while managing a scarce natural resource in a thoughtful and sustainable way, is something that should attract the attention of policy makers and all Canadians. That is what Jacke Scott has achieved with this insightful paper."
In the study, Professor Scott outlined four main barriers that either slowed or prevented the program's objectives. These barriers included funding constraints, limited support from experienced business specialists, low awareness of AICFI among some MMFN, and inadequate regional involvement at the appropriate level.
Professor Scott's analysis found that 12 core principles and values made AICFI successful and have the potential for replication outside of Atlantic Canada and potentially in areas outside fisheries resources. They include the following:
1. Voluntary participation. Transparency has to start at the beginning so participants know what is expected of them and by them.
2. Political firewalls are needed between the contractor and the government, and between the contractor and the client to build programs that are based on performance and trust.
3. Continuous and systematic client consultation is the sine qua non of program planning. This needs to include a mix of face-to-face and at-a-distance means of receiving and processing information, allowing the program to make changes that can improve the chances of successful outcomes.
4. Confidentiality for individual or corporate proprietary information must be firmly applied so the client has confidence information won't be given to competitors or politicians. Breaches must be punished in draconian ways.
5. Advisory services should be provided by a highly-skilled core program team and occasionally a contract specialist.
6. Stages and linkages in program design are important. "Measurable bites" that build to a next level of competency when successfully completed encourage clients to participate, and make it possible for the program to measure competency over time for increasingly complex skills.
7. Information infrastructure is critically important. A program must help its participants use data analysis as a basic building block for decision-making for long-term sustainability.
8. Simplicity and clarity in all program communications is possible. The AICFI applications and background information
for its participants/clients (available online) are easier to understand than
the short-form CRA individual tax return.
9. Flexibility is best utilized when the community/client identifies a need for it that arises from a comprehensive project plan.
10. Performance-based outcomes need to be determined at the beginning of the process and expanded midway through.
11. Tight management controls, meaning there is a high level of information exchange among all program staff. There should be a management committee with breadth in functional management and program skills that meets regularly with the objective of identifying significant problems and dealing with them through program changes or managerial action in a timely manner.
12. Program length and renewals. Experience and research show that a five-year term is minimally required for impact, with the stated intention of renewing for a second five years if the performance-based measures are trending positively by the end of the first term.
Professor Scott concludes, "The Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fishery Initiative has been a completely new and different policy approach unlike anything seen before in Canada. Its lessons have high potential applicability in First Nations issues at a range of social and economic levels. Its lessons also reach farther afield and offer promise for improved policy and practice in a large country with widely differing inter- and intra-provincial differences and characteristics."
Jacquelyn Thayer Scott is a Professor of Organizational Management & Strategy, and Past President of Cape Breton University (CBU), in Sydney, Nova Scotia. She is author of An Atlantic Fishing Tale 1999-2011 released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
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