19942019

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Personal profile

Biography

I have spent much of the last twenty years seeking to catalyse change in environmental management, through roles in government, consulting, NGOs, and universities.

Using professional practice as a medium for action research has been central to my work. My action research frame is: In many respects, we don't know how to sustain the socio-ecological systems in which we are embedded. So appropriate environmental management will commonly be exploratory, and often innovative.

I research and design practices, and various kinds of supports for changes in practice (e.g. policies, strategies, capacity building processes, and decision support tools).

Research interests

My research is organised around practical questions - ‘how to ...’ questions:

  • how might we manage socio-ecological systems sustainably?
  • how can we catalyse change in the management of socio-ecological systems?
  • what shifts in business models and public policy might be transformational?
  • how can we foster innovative practice?
  • what approaches to researching practices, and designing new kinds of practice, are fruitful?
  • what micropractices underpin effective and innovative practice (e.g. heeding our ‘feel’ for situations), and how can these be developed and taught?
  • what is ‘skillful practice’, in general? 

As a result, much of my research has a design focus: designing policies, strategies, systems, and practices to support shifts to socially, economically and ecologically sustainable forms of life.  

My academic roots are in philosophy and social psychology, and they remain a strong influence on my research.  My focus is applied however: I explore problems seeking practical solutions, so for that reason my work is transdisciplinary: bounded by what needs to be explored to find approaches that work, rather than by the limits of disciplinary questions.

Much of environmental management is about influencing people, and generalist skills - organising, innovating, reflecting, negotiating, etc. - make a large contribution to successful practice.  My research interests reflect this.  I am interested in both the landscape of practical skills that underly successful professional practice in general, and ecosystem management strategies for particular places and systems.  (The latter are probably better described as ‘approaches to influencing the dynamics of socio-ecological systems so that what occurs is relatively welcome’; in this context, ‘management’ does not imply control.)

Some examples of my specific areas of interest are as follows.

  • Technical / political / managerial triangulation
    Employing technical / political / managerial triangulations (e.g. systems analysis, stakeholder analysis, management system design) to design socio-ecological policy and management approaches.  Sustainable development, catchment management, water cycle management, biodiversity conservation generally, and fostering ecological permeability in mixed use landscapes in particular, are five areas in which I work. 
  • Capacity building
    Building the capacities of organisations to approach opportunities and problems in new ways, by undertaking innovative (for the organisation) projects and leveraging these as capacity building processes.  This involves widening the dialogue around key project decisions (they can be made in expert supported workshops, for example).  This approach (i) legitimises shifts in practice because the organisation tries something new, (ii) builds informal networks amongst staff who value the shift, and (iii) builds individuals’ capacities through exposure to expert input and dialogue.  (This is an approach taken up and widely used in the water sensitive urban design area, for example.)
  • Sensibility modelling
    Modelling the sensibilities of skilled practitioners to build decision support tools to share know-how in ways that support ‘reflective transfer’ - innovative, locally astute decision-making.  Models of sensibilities help practitioners both draw on their practice traditions more effectively (particularly in areas where we don’t have well defined decision logics), and leverage their evolving feel for the specific situations they are in.  (See my ‘Reflective practice experiments’ and ‘Adaptiveness and openness in ecosystem management’ papers.)
  • Reflective practice experiments
    Fostering improvement in professional practice by encouraging a shift to intentionally reflective practice, in which one approaches practice experimentally (as exploratory, move-testing and/or hypothesis-testing), paying particular attention to microprocesses and micropractices, and specifically exploring a gestalt shift into heeding one’s evolving ‘feel’ for a situation (which is inherently holistic and open) systematically.  (See my chapter ‘Felt knowing: a foundation for local government practice’ - for which my title is ‘Felt knowing: a foundation for adaptive ecosystem management practice’ - for more on this.)
  • Redesigning institutions and markets to better serve the public interest

    (1) Both top down approaches (governments addressing market failures) and bottom up approaches (e.g. helpful disruptions with the emergence of new business models, as is occurring now with renewable energy) can make large contributions, and weaving these together is often what’s needed. 

    (2) Working on two underlying tensions: (a) Between the political self-interests of political actors, and (in democracies) their commitment to serve the public interest which legitimises their leadership.  (b) Between placing shareholders’ interests at the centre of corporate governance, to free up capital for productive use, and institutionalising selfishness in powerful organisations in ways that undermine these organisations’ ‘citizenship’.

Two short videos that describe my research and teaching are:

Adaptive professional practice in ecosystem management - reflective practice experiments
(PhD research overview, prepared for a Macquarie University award presentation)
http://goo.gl/VGQhq5 (1:50 mins) (35Mb)

Reflection in Learning: Discipline case study - Adaptive Management 
(prepared as a teaching resource for students engaged in Macquarie University’s Participation and Community Engagement program)
http://goo.gl/mwu0JM (4:46 mins) (60Mb) 

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