Sustaining places: sensibility models as decision support tools for messy problems

Greg Walkerden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Methods for passing on findings of ecological research are well established; methods for passing on what is learned in environmental management are much less institutionalized, and much less comprehensive. In particular, questions that are less disciplinable are less likely to be investigated and the learnings shared. A key challenge is that the orderliness of knowing-how is not nearly as systematic as science, law or ethics. It is shaped by practical exigencies, and so is profoundly historical-reflecting tradition and experience. Felt understanding, researched through disciplined reflective practice, provides a valuable empirical opportunity. It is the layer of knowinghow that practitioners rely on (consider, for example, the importance that feeling uncomfortable in a negotiation has). Secondly, it is a window on the field of possibilities practitioners are considering, so it offers a wider lens on know how than research that focuses on what practitioners are observed doing. Thirdly, it makes complex practice skills such as acting simultaneously as scientist, politician and manager researchable. Decision support tools built from explicating felt understanding therefore better support flexibility and openness, and are better suited to scaffolding expert practice than, for example, documenting repertoires of procedures. They are particularly well suited to sharing expertise related to 'messy problems' encountered by sustainability practitioners. The 'sensibility model' explicated here is a proof of concept of an alternative way of researching know how, and supporting reflective transfer amongst sustainability practitioners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1725
Pages (from-to)1-37
Number of pages37
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Adaptive management
  • Ecosystem management
  • Knowledge management
  • Planning
  • Reflective practice
  • Tacit knowledge


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