Discussions on relations among human, society and nature concerning biodiversity and ecosystem services have drastically increased in recent years, making Social-Ecological System (SES) draw incrementally more attention. The frame of SES is on the basis of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, and it integrates the probable outcome value and profit in the ecosystem in order to utilize resources on a sustainable basis [1
]. The so-called concept of socio-ecological production landscapes (SEPLs) is originated from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The concept of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) was proposed in 2002 with a view to preserve, in the process of social modernization, disappearing natural environments including traditional farming technology, landscape and, even more, agricultural village culture and facilitate sustainability utilization and management measures. The regions designated by GIAHS are generally called SEPLs [1
SEPLs refer to landscapes with sustainable production systems indicating harmonious interaction between humans and nature. It forms a dynamic mosaic biological habitat and land use activities maintaining biodiversity and providing materials needed to pursue human well-beings. In Japan, SEPLs studies are mainly highlighted in the concept of Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment (JSSA) to undergo SEPLs evaluations [1
]. Since the Noto Peninsula at Ishikawa, Japan was designated as a SEPL by GIAHS in 2011, the assessments of rice paddy farming history and tradition, culture, rituals, tribe formed by industries of agriculture and forestry as well as mosaic landscapes composed of farmlands and artificial forests [1
]. As for other countries, Suzuki attempts to assess Satoyama of Sabah State in Malaysia with Satoyama agricultural development tool and happiness index [3
]; and Kaoru Ichikawa tries to assess SEPLs in Cambodia via approaches of structure, profit and changes [4
Many important SEPLs need collaborative conservation performed by local government and civil organizations. In recent years, people have gradually understood the importance of conserving all types of natural resources of ecosystem services, and have raised the conservation activity of SEPLs in regions. Therefore, for SEPLs conservation method, besides the previous government-led and top-down administrations, many regions choose alternative measures by combining local strength in local communities and conducting bottom-up approaches under the condition of the government’s limited resources. Taiwan launched the community development policy in 1994 advocating the comprehensive community development with bottom-up decisions in community, empowerment and human building which means community members change to form a civil society. The subsequent promotions include EcoLife by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [5
] and rural regeneration policy by Soil and Water Conservation Bureau, Council of Agriculture [6
], and in multiple prominent cases for example 3, Taiwanese communities that joined the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) [7
] are highly connected to community-oriented natural resources management.
With such a trend, residents in the community play the roles of SEPL administrators, and residents’ empowerment and knowledge capacity becomes the key to effective administration. Therefore, upon elevating knowledge learning and activity opportunities for community residents on SEPLs conservation, social learning is a crucial process. Mostert et al. [8
] indicated that the social learning among the river basin administration members can increase understandings and regeneration of important issues or building trust relationships and developing new organizations, etc. Craps [9
] indicated that content management and social participation are the two major parts in the social learning process of integration river basin administration, the former emphasizes true information management process, and the latter poses concerns on the process of social exchange.
However, as information technology development progresses, commonly used ICT media such as computer and smartphone blend in natural resources conservation activities and become an ICT model, namely the social learning propelled by ICT to conduct information exchange and discussions on SEPL conservation activities. According to Onitsuka and Hoshino [10
], the ICT tool social network services (SNS) refers to rural community communication taken on the basis of social capital and social network theory as foundations with an expected outcome of fulfilling community vitalization or heightening social capital. In the meantime, ICT takes the critical role in actual promotion, and it can balance instantly discussed information from each type of key-informant, and it allows the collective learning approach. Such a method assists in inducing each key-informant’s perspectives and actions and lets community members mutually understand in order to advance mutual relations [9
], thus social learning effectiveness can be facilitated.
So, what is the social learning process upon which SEPL conservation activities in communities through ICT is built? How can conservation outcomes be fortified? Scarce studies can be found currently. This study aims to understand social learning process and condition used at ICT on SEPL conservation activities and furthermore aims to discuss the social learning effect through ICT dissemination process, including time, quantity and content of content management as well as actors’ participation benefits and adversities in social participation.
2. Materials and Methods
Many studies focus on ICT as a new communication tool in the rural context [12
]. Similarly, for people using portable internet devices, for example smartphones and tablet PCs, ICT is popular even in rural areas [15
]. In Taiwan, internet availability, including broadband access, is constantly expanding. The LINE, particularly, is one of the prevalent freeware apps for instant communications on electronic devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and personal computers in Taiwan. Hence, considering LINE use among multiple actors, including rural leaders, for collaboration purposes and for solving common problems together about SEPL collaborative conservation is quite a new and important concept. In this sense, this study targets a special case that consists of four rural communities that the Balian River flows across in Sanzhi District to conduct research on SEPL conservation activities. Actors of these activities are mainly members of Balian River Conservation Watch (BRCW), and members have applied an ICT tool (LINE) for communication (Figure 1
and Figure 2
The BRCW is proposed as a collaborative activity of SEPL conservation, because of the irrigation system drawing water from the Balian River. Most of the actors concern both agricultural water resources and SEPL conservation in the meantime. In other words, it is undivided between the quality of agricultural water resources and the outcome of SEPL conservation.
We attempted to understand the duration, method and content of the actors’ uses to capture dynamic characteristic of SEPL conservation activities. Furthermore, qualitative in-depth interviews are introduced to understand the type of their social participation and to analyze the basic characteristics of the conservation content.
BRCW of Saizhi Disrict, New Taipei City is an unpaid community volunteer group. Actors from the four rural communities started their collaboration and commenced discussions on River Closing and Fish Conservation back in 2006. Owing to over fishing and environmental conservation awareness, in 2007, after the announcement of by New Taipei City government, fishery activities such as angling and catching are prohibited throughout the entire river. In the same year, the BRCW assembled on the river case basis to devote themselves to SEPL conservation. Since 2014, they attempted to perform natural resources conservation activities with the help of the group feature of LINE. The scope of river Conservation starts from the water catchment area of Balian River at Datun Mountain in Sanzhi District, New Taipei City to the estuary with a total length of 11 kilometers and flowing area of 15 km2.
The study sets the scope of research at the four rural communities that the Balian River flows across, and the communities were studied in order from upstream to downstream are Ankang Community, Kongrong Community, Fucheng Community and Sanhe Community, with the main research subject of key-informants in BRCW. The inner organization network in the BRCW currently consists of 34 people (Table 1
). The patrol areas are deployed with teams according to scope of community; each team has a director and 7–9 community members. Scope of communities was not segmented based on administrative areas of villages but obvious rural landscape and objects were. Fucheng Community and Sanhe Community have experienced more development and have higher populations, households and urban planning area; however, the Ankang Community and Kongrong Community have lower populations and consist of all non-urban area.
To explain and explore a phenomenon regarding collaborative conservation activities based on the ICT tool, we conducted a mixed method [18
]. The quantitative method basically explains the communication frequency and contents. The qualitative research basically tried to realize behaviors of the interviewees when using ICT tools while taking part in the SEPL conservation activities.
The study adopts chat contents of LINE as research information and performs content analysis. After consent of interviewee, captured samples of this study are from 19 July 2014 to 30 September 2014, and such contents are used for analyses of total use frequency, participation frequency, frequently discussed events and graphic assistance conservation activities. Changes of total use frequency are analyzed by the day and are analyzed periodical and frequency on the foundation of statistics of all LINE group members’ messages during research; actor participation frequency analysis depends on message sending quantity of each actor during the period; frequently discussed events refer to analysis of chat logs each day with over 50 messages; graphic assistance conservation activity is an analysis on photos and videos sent by actor in drawn group chat data.
For qualitative research, the study took field surveys and in-depth interviews during 8 March and 22 April 2015 with interviewees of BRCW and related actors (Table 2
). The study investigated BRCW activity processes, contents and ICT using experiences via a semi-structured interview outline, and each interviewee received the interview for one to two hours.
2.2. LINE Group Actors
The actor network inside the BRCW organization can be separated into four patrol areas in accordance with upstream-downstream relationship: Ankang Community, Kongrong Community, Fucheng Community and Sanhe Community. Most actors in the BRCW have joined LINE group, including director, executive secretary, patrol team leaders and members, with a total of 27 people. The 27 people contains 5 people from Ankang Community, 9 from Kongrong Community, 7 from Fucheng Community and 6 from Sanhe Community, and public-sector actors include 1 Chief and 2 staffs from Agriculture and Economic Development Section (AEDS), Sanzhi District Office, adding the aggregate to 30 people. The official book record contains records of 34 people whose information are kept by AEDS and the information is reported to Agriculture Bureau, New Taipei City, moreover, 1 staff with alias K10 is unregistered and doesn’t join in Line group. LINE group actors are organized in Table 3
2.3. Activity Content of Community Actor
The study organizes the work content through in-depth interview and LINE group conversation information analysis as such:
2.3.1. Patrol of Illegal Fish Catching at Stream
In accordance with Article 44 of The Fisheries Act, New Taipei City announced Balian River was Closing and the Fish Conservation section where angling and catching take place was now illegal. Patrol works are performed by the BRCW approved by New Taipei City Agriculture Bureau. If any illegal catching and angling is found at patrol, an exposure will be performed together with AEDS of Sanzhi District Office and Police, followed by staff of the division creating an event report for report to Agriculture Bureau of New Taipei City as a reference of penalty.
2.3.2. Water Potential Monitoring and Damage Inspection Works
BRCW inspects water potential, level surveillance and damage of Balian River before and after typhoon, then reports results to Sanzhi District Office, whose officers report to other related units for assistance of pre-damage preparation and post-damage rescue and patrol tasks.
2.3.3. Cleaning and Maintenance Tasks
BRCW performs routine stream cleaning and maintenance by assigning each team to clean their own section as well as supporting other teams on cleaning their sections.
2.3.4. Stream Project Construction Supervision Tasks
BRCW considers that related remediation of Balian River may deteriorate the neighborhood ecology; therefore, in the process of relative construction, all tasks will be photographed at site by BRCW members, along with supervision and understanding of construction status.
According to previous research, ICT tools are the important bridges for internal or external communication and interactions of communities. The studies also point out that the Internet and SNS are helpful communication systems when it comes to the current development of communities in rural areas [19
]. The network is conductive to facilitating the interactions among residents in rural areas and further forming regional network community [20
]. In consequence, ICT tools cannot only shorten the gap among persons but also facilitate the cross-region (such as up and downstream communities) communication and promotion. Furthermore, the SNS can be a means of communication for community organizations and a way of providing supportive efforts in rural mosaic landscape conservation activities. Besides, just like other SNS tools, LINE and Facebook are effective in improving the social capital and network relations within and out of organizations.
From content management in social learning, the working contents of actors in SEPLs conservation activities carried out by communities including patrol against illegal fishing in river, water flow supervision and loss and damage inspecting work before and after typhoon, cleaning maintenance work and supervisions on river construction. According to the findings, the benefits from SEPL conservation activities by ICT tools including effective tool in interactive supports for community actors, efficiency improvement of member communication and discussion, assisting in patrol work by the application of image transfer and shortening the bridge between BRCW and public sectors. However, there are still problems and restrictions when using LINE, for example, LINE serves as an internal communication tool and some disclosed information or social public opinion should rely on Facebook for the purpose of reaching benefits from SEPLs conservation activities.
The chatting function of LINE is similar to an internal group broadcasting that is one-to-many sharing the same message simultaneously. In addition, the LINE group of BRCW was defined as a message delivered on the river case basis to devote themselves to SEPLs conservation so that it would function to promote an instant reaction to the events such as illegal fishing and disaster preventions. This function makes it difficult to identify the direction and connection of every single message from the outsider’s viewpoint. For example, the leader F1 drove the discussions approximately 91 times of total 560 messages, the function of LINE limits the exact response directing to someone so that the number of responding would be less statistical meaning. So, a precise questionnaire survey to ensure the announcers and receivers will be necessary in future studies.
From the perspective of social participation of social learning, the frequency of ICT tools will increase as the elongation of activity time. And ICT tools are gradually developed into important tools for communication and discussion in SEPLs conservation activities, suggesting that the social participation has gradually been stable. And as for the changes in social participation frequency of individual sector, it can not only play a part in understanding the discussion situation but also make us find out that the leaders within our community organizations are frequent in contacting with governmental units, showing that the joint collaboration and relations between community actors and basic staff from governmental units as well as private sectors have definitely played important parts.
Compared with ordinary communication tools (such as telephone, letters and others), the considerable elongation of social participation duration of actors with ICT tools are beneficial for social learning. Furthermore, with ICT tools, we can understand ordinary members’ daily discussion time duration, which ranges from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the time with most frequent discussions are between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. On a yearly basis, SEPLs conservation discussion are often focusing on June to August and summer is a season most likely to call together illegal anglers and suffer from natural disasters. In consequence, apart from reinforcing SEPLs conservation activities under effective application of LINE, ICT tools can also be references for future activity holding for community members.
The consistent application frequency and distribution scope of ICT between community leaders and all the members suggest that the leader serves as a social participation facilitator and this is important when conducting SEPL conservation activities. Also, the overall social participation will be promoted if the said facilitator is active enough. In this sense, transformational leadership must be based on facilitating communication or collaboration among a variety of external and internal actors. It manifests leaders’ ability to network with a variety of actors inside and outside the community to ensure the collaborative progress. Transformational leadership thus circles around the concept of social capital which attracted scholars from a variety of academic disciplines, and numerous positive effects on society have been reported [21
], yet some scholars found its negative impacts [24
The concept of social capital is useful for understanding rural communities [25
]. However, social capital is created through social networking in communities. Social capital studies often employ social network analysis to visualize and quantitatively measure social structure [27
]. During the research, we have observed the differences in participation levels among community members. The concepts such as “building people”, “empowerment” and “bottom-up” are important as the power of network structure are the key point of community research among members. Thus, it is recommended that the social network analysis can be applied to understand the relations of actors when carrying out SEPLs conservation activities and then measure power centrality.