The ten regional IFCAs and researchers from Newcastle University are working on a national project which explores existing contributions and further potential of the IFCA model to deliver improved industry engagement and effective co-management of marine resources.

Leading the research is Dr Sarah Coulthard a marine social scientist at Newcastle University with experience of applying social science theory and method to understand the complex relationships between society and the marine environment. This is with a view to support sustainable marine resources, flourishing coastal communities and healthy marine ecosystems. More details of the project follow.

Project title: Developing a theory of change which explores existing contributions and further potential of the IFCA model to deliver effective co-management of marine resources.

Duration 2023


The Fisheries Act clearly lays out in its post-Brexit vision that the fishing industry should play a greater role in managing fisheries. The Act recognises existing models of participatory decision making that are in place across the UK but commits to “further developing and strengthening these arrangements for moving toward co-management of our fisheries and promoting inclusivity and involvement in our management approach across all parts of society”. More specifically, the Act commits to developing “new management practices and contributing to fisheries science, being more actively engaged in fisheries management decisions, and co-designing future policy” (section 3.4.1).

Co-management is a set of arrangements for policymaking and management that involves inputs by all affected stakeholders in decision-making at all stages of the policy and management process. In practice however, this is hard to achieve, so it is useful to consider co-management as a continuum that ranges from a ‘utopia’ of complete joint decision-making at all stages of the policy process to the involvement of some stakeholders in some of the key decisions in the policy process; different management realities will likely be located at different points along this continuum.

Importantly, the ‘co’ in co-management stands for cooperative rather than consultative management (Jentoft 2004). Also important is that ‘co’ does not mean community-based, where decision making powers are entirely devolved to the community level. Co-management seeks to combine strategic long-term policy planning, where the national interest and international commitments are often of central concern, with the realities of stakeholders operating at regional and local scales. This can only be achieved through dialogue, shared understanding, and sustainable partnerships where respect for different visions and priorities can be realised. This requires some devolution of decision-making powers to accompany capacity for implementation through a hierarchy of organisations and institutions.

The IFCAs are a core part of a devolved institutional makeup with some regional powers to evolve and deliver their own management through regionally-specific byelaws. This already enables IFCAs to be responsive to local stakeholder needs, although tailoring regionally-relevant management must often be balanced with efforts to harmonize policies at national levels.  Furthermore, IFCAs offer a long-standing model for co-management of fisheries and marine resources through its democratic approach to decision-making via a diverse membership that represents multiple coastal interests.

Capacity to deliver co-management by “promoting inclusivity and involvement of management…across all parts of society” (Fisheries Act 2020) will progress at different rates in different places and contexts. However, a universal pre-requisite to delivering co-management is capacity to conduct meaningful engagement through constructive multi-way dialogues with an ever-diversifying mosaic of coastal stakeholders, who will often have competing agendas. Currently this capacity is limited by a lack of workable platforms for engagement, a lack of trust amongst stakeholders, especially the fishing industry who frequently doubt the worth and influence of their engagement, and lack of buy-in from government of the important role that good engagement can play in informing management proposals, both in terms of their initial design and workability, and perceived necessity and legitimacy that is required to support implementation.

A Theory of Change (ToC) is an approach to map out in detail, how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It describes the ‘missing middle’ between what an organisation does in practice (its activities and interventions) and how these then contribute to achieved goals.  The first step in designing a ToC is to identify desired long-term goals and then work backwards to identify the conditions that must be in place for the goals to be met. These conditions (or outcomes) provide the basis for identifying pre-conditions necessary for achieving long-term goals. ToC seeks to more precisely link activities and the achievement of goals and can improve evaluation as it measure specific progress of the achievements of agreed long-term goals.

This project will develop a Theory of Change approach to ascertain:

  1. key IFCA goals in a post-Brexit reality,
  2. IFCA-led views on current progress in meeting those goals, identifying areas of strength and limitations,
  3. Opportunities to strengthen what IFCAs can and would like to contribute in the context of delivering co-management.

As a part of developing a ToC for the IFCAs this project will also incorporate the ‘lived experience’ of staff working within the IFCAs, IFCA chairs, and IFCA members, to gain a deeper understanding of how and why things work, identify barriers and enablers to meeting IFCA goals, and the perceived impacts/outcomes of IFCA activities as understood by IFCAs themselves. The ToC will identify modes of good practice across all IFCAs and develop several specific case studies to help inform IFCA development moving forward.

Project activities:

Stage 1 – collective visioning of goals

Collective visioning workshops – 1 national, 10 regional

Workshop 1 – national (across IFCAs)

  • Where are the IFCAs now
  • Where do they want to be in a post Brexit future
  • What do they need to reach their goals?

Workshop 2 – regional (within IFCA) visioning work (staff plus members) – chair one visioning session as part of an IFCA quarterly meeting

Stage 2 – Indepth interviews – identifying goal enablers and disablers.

Within each IFCA, indepth interviews will be conducted with IFCA staff and members to identify and collate goal enablers and disablers, and perspectives on how to maximise the enablers, and mitigate the disablers. These will be conducted over the phone/ teams and utilising key AIFCA meetings in person.

Stage 3 – development of case studies

Building on the indepth interviews, a series of indepth case studies will be developed, which detail specific innovations and activities that are already contributing to the delivery of co-management and more broadly, the achievement of IFCA goals.

Case studies will detail what works/ what didn’t work, identify areas requiring further support / resource, and will constitute part of a growing evidence base as to the impacts IFCA engagement has on outcomes for IFCAs, IFCA members and stakeholders.

The development of case studies will connect with and utilise regional marine social scientists working in co-management, to help capture and interpret key learning on what is working and why.