Correcting misinformation and unrealistic expectations

During any planning exercise, some key messages or information may become deliberately (or inadvertently) distorted or mis-represented by those who are opposed to the process. Many people believe everything they hear (without always checking the accuracy) and are also suspicious of any changes proposed by bureaucrats. Every time these concerns are passed onto others, they are embellished, leading to distortions from the original facts. Furthermore some stakeholders selectively quote from ‘research’ when it suits their concerns whilst ignoring evidence with a contrary position. Some stakeholders have unrealistic expectations and do not understand what is possible, or impossible, as part of the planning process. Unless this misinformation is addressed, the public may only hear the distorted or unclear messages which may then become reinforced by others with similar perspectives. Such misinformation, and the consequent fear and uncertainty, resulted in some of the largest public meetings during the GBR planning process. To counter some of these problems and address unrealistic expectations, GBRMPA produced a fact sheet titled ‘Correcting the mis-information’ - this was widely distributed, especially at large public meetings.

During the rezoning, the scientific experts were unable to provide 100% certainty. They did, however, provide a strong scientific consensus for the recommended levels of protection based on theoretical and empirical evidence. In doing so, they also took into consideration:

  • the national and international expectations associated with managing the GBR, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem; and
  • international experience and opinion advocating increased protection of the world’s oceans.
  1. Many stakeholders were initially misinformed about what were the key issues and pressures and what was needed to address them.
  2. People needed to understand: there was a problem with biodiversity before they would accept that a solution was required (i.e. a new zoning plan was needed); that the rezoning was not about managing fisheries, but about protecting all biodiversity; to focus on the problem (protecting biodiversity) rather than on what the consequences might mean (i.e. reduced fishing areas).
  3. Be prepared to refute contrary claims and correct misinformation, irrespective of whether it is due to a misunderstanding or deliberate mischievous behaviour – and address it as soon as possible (leaving misinformation out in the community just exacerbates the issue).
  4. A lack of perfect data or lack of 100% scientific certainty may sometimes be given as reasons to delay progress or to do nothing; but if you wait for ‘perfect’ data, then nothing will ever happen.