People from diverse cultural backgrounds participating in a project workshop in Broome, Western Australia.
Credit: Karen Dayman.

By Milena Kiatkoski Kim, Ken Wallace, Jorge Álvarez-Romero, David Pannell, Rosemary Hill, and Melissa Marshall.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

It is widely acknowledged that the changes associated with development and environmental conservation can affect, positively or negatively, people’s wellbeing. It is also recognised that affected groups should have a say on development or conservation options potentially impacting them. However, such debates on wellbeing are particularly difficult when they involve groups from very different cultural backgrounds.

All these themes are represented in the Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) catchment in Western Australia, where governments and diverse communities, including Aboriginal groups, environmental groups, and the agricultural, mining, and tourism industries, are discussing development plans and their potential impacts on the catchment’s rich and globally significant biocultural landscapes.

We developed a ‘wellbeing language’ that was used by people from these diverse groups to assess the potential impacts of alternative future scenarios on their wellbeing. The ‘wellbeing language’ included a common wellbeing definition and a set of categories (such as having ‘enough food and water’, ‘satisfying work’, and ‘spiritual fulfilment’), which were culturally adapted to those different groups. In this paper, we evaluate the effectiveness of the wellbeing categories used to assess the potential impacts of scenarios.

Our analysis shows that participants effectively applied most wellbeing categories, and the use of these wellbeing categories in the discussion allowed for the expression of both western and Aboriginal cultural elements. We conclude that the interaction among different worldviews generated valuable knowledge and that, with further adaptation, the framework shows promise for application in other debates on the impacts of conservation and development in culturally diverse contexts.