In June 2012, UNESCO listed a new World Heritage Site: The Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy.

Programmes such as UNESCO’s World Heritage Cultural Landscapes are often criticized for neglecting the local and indigenous communities that exist within them. In response, the Government of Indonesia has created an innovative plan for a democratic Governing Assembly to manage the Cultural Landscape of Bali.

The creation of the Governing Assembly launched an important social experiment, empowering local communities to work with consultants, advisers and staff from many Indonesian government departments to design a successful new World Heritage Cultural Landscape.

The focal point of this site is the traditional Balinese system of ecological management by subaks. These thousand-year-old democratic assemblies manage Bali’s water resources for the benefit of local communities. They are among the world’s best-known systems of common property management, famous for coordinating irrigation flows and controlling rice pests at the watershed scale.

But Bali’s subaks face many threats to their continued existence; currently about a thousand hectares of rice paddies go out of production each year. The surviving subaks still hold monthly meetings in which decisions affecting local environments are made by consensus, but until now the subaks have had little success in coping with the very rapid expansion of tourism and unregulated development on the island.

By order of the Governor of Bali in 2010, subaks located within the Heritage sites have been given enhanced legal authority and a mandate to regain control over their local environments.

This novel governance system empowers 22 rural communities to work closely with government departments and advisers, to maximize the benefits from a proposed World Heritage site.

SEI has been asked by Indonesia’s Minister of Culture and the Governor of Bali to assist with the implementation of the management plan of the Governing Assembly, and the design of an interactive and integrated model for Heritage Site management that ensures the incorporation of key factors such as income generation and poverty reduction. Benefits extend beyond the success of the project in Bali, because both Indonesia and UNESCO are treating it as a model for a new governance system for UNESCO heritage sites based on principles of adaptive co-management of social-ecological systems.

At the request of the Government of Indonesia, SEI will take an active role in the formation and growth of this new governance system to ensure that the strategic priorities in the management plan are implemented, and help the Governing Assembly to develop an effective monitoring and evaluation system.