I love Sandy Creek

How many Sandy Creeks are there in Australia? Too many to count, but I love the Sandy Creek at the bottom of my 5 acre property in Riddells Creek at the edge of the Macedon Ranges. Armed with absolutely no experience and the most basic equipment, I went down to the creek to capture the feeling of being there, and made a short video. See it at http://vimeo.com/70311691

I sent this link to the General Manager of Waterways at Melbourne Water, who kindly referreed me on to Kylie from Communications. I raised a few possibilities. The MW’s Stream Frontage Program gives people on waterways grants to employ contractors to spray weeds, cut down exotic trees, fence and replant, all things that will improve the health of the waterway. I wondered aloud if there might be other people like me interested in sharing why they love their creek, and what they are doing to look after it. Why not invite people to put up photos and video?

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This might be the genesis of a community of practice between people passionate about    their creeks, people currently separated by distance. We’re each in our valleys – perhaps we could leap over those distances, and start talking online, forming a platform of relationship from which we would support each other, inspire each other, and draw in MW’s technical expertise on questions we each have. Should I worry about this weed? Why has this replanting not done so well? How do I get rid of the rabbits?

My starting point is to invite people to say what they love about their creek. From working with landcare groups, and living here beside Sandy Creek, I’ve come to understand that love of place is the seed for responsible action, and leads us out to others, to share what we love, and get and give support.

So what’s happening at Melbourne Water. Kylie tells me the new website has blog capacity, and that the terms and conditions of use by staff and the public are currently being sorted out. We’ll see what eventuates.

The Governance Project

The Governance Project

With Moragh Mackay, whose PhD research focuses on natural resource management (NRM) governance, I am helping to design and facilitate a systemic inquiry supporting innovation in NRM governance in the Corangamite Region of Victoria. Backed by a consortium of Landcare Networks, the Governance Project has conducted two workshops, and plans two more. We define our scope as follows…

Why governance? Every biophysical problem is also a social situation; every environmental crisis is a challenge to improve governance—the way the political, social and economic sectors make decisions and take action for the common good. Governance operates from national down to regional, sub-regional and local level. Each level has its practices and knowledge base. But do accountabilities and relationships help or hinder the contribution of each level?

The assumption is: We can do it better. We can work together better, and gradually improve practices and structural arrangements in NRM to make better use of resources and capacities.

Why a systemic inquiry? The Governance Project is a space for the science and practice of change in social systems. Systems thinking is a way to make sense of what causes what, for what purpose. A systemic inquiry supports people in a system looking at what is happening, designing a better way to do things, and learning as they put that into practice.

The assumption is: First solutions often reproduce a problem. You won’t shift a pattern until you change the habits, assumptions and structural arrangements that hold the pattern in place. Real change requires digging down to challenge those forces.

Building up from the grassroots

Landscape scale projects are a high priority for funders in natural resource management (NRM), and a big opportunity for the federations of local Landcare groups known as Landcare Networks. Since around 1995, local groups with a sense of affiliation based on geography, agricultural systems and social community have been organising themselves into Landcare Networks. Here, they go beyond their local affiliation and think and operate in terms of the large landcape.

Landcare networks are a way to integrate goals and action between community groups, agencies and industry. Asked to help Landcare groups in the Mornington Peninsula as they formed a network, I went back to material from a forum I convened a few years ago asking Landcare staff and community leaders to share what they found supported success in forming a network. Here are the conclusions they drew:

Starting small is the only way you can start. The presenters were from strong, established Networks. When you’re just starting out to build a Network, it’s easy to feel over-awed by established Networks. But every Network starts small, and builds up the commitment of landholders and partners organisations slowly, by doing what Landcare is good at – showing through action what can be done.

Success brings partners on board.  When you’ve got something going at community level, agencies want to back you. You’ll have to put your work in front of them, but don’t assume they won’t be interested. Local government, CMAs and agencies like DEPI are on the look out for projects that have community support. If your project can help them get their job done, and make them look good, then they are interested.

Landcare has vital connections at local level. Landcare has credibility with landholders and good social networks. That credibility multiplies when a Landcare Network links local groups. Landcare staff and management know their communities. When setting up a project, they know who is onside already, who might be interested and who is not interested at all. That’s social knowledge. Put this knowledge to the foreground when negotiating with funders that want results on the ground but don’t have those networks.

 Get your planning tight. Government agencies are all about planning, and corporate sponsors want to support people who know what they are doing. Develop your own planning processes so you can give a clear argument for your priorities and show how plans can be translated into action on the ground. Landcare has always been good at action on the ground, but you need systems for planning.

 Get close to your partners and potential funders. They like personal attention as much as you. They expect ask for your plans and funding bids, but make it personal and talk to them. Once you’ve got a project going, keep talking to them.

Diversify your funding sources. Don’t wait for a miracle. Open up relationships with different agencies and sponsors. Be prepared to put the time in getting to know them and them getting to know you. Don’t expect immediate results.

 Stay close to your community members. The community is your foundation. If you haven’t got them there with you, sooner or later, projects will fall over. Your members have to understand your goals and believe in them as much as you do. If that means pulling back a bit on some of your wilder ideas, then pull back. Talk more at local level. Wait till the time is right. Work with the interest that’s there.


Smart Water Fund

I’ve been engaged by John Saward, a drupal developer working with the Smart Water Fund, to research options for SWF’s Knowledge Hub and its joint venture partners, the water utilities of Victoria.

The first generation Knowledge Hub makes research commissioned by SWF available to water utilities, the water industry and the general public. Water utility users want a stronger focus on
research that meets their needs, and an easier way to search for information on innovation. What else they might want
and how best to meet their needs, is the focus of this research. Framed as a question: What web-based facilities will best support innovation by water utilities?

My job is to find out how people in water utilities currently search for and test out new ideas that might support innovation in their area of responsibility, and to facilitate discussion on how some kind of web facility can support this. John Saward is proposing a process of agile development, where development proceeds in small steps, with testing for use as facilities come on-line.  I am facilitating the process of research in the midst of action that will inform that agile development.

We worked with staff from utilities this week, people who sit at the interface between staff (and potential innovators), and research (and researchers). We asked them how people currently search for ideas when they see a need for a change in what things and how are done (innovation rather than just efficiencies). Their answer was this:

If you want to find new ideas, solid research and good people in a field, then a) consult your own network first, or b) talk with someone who has good networks in the area in which
you are interested.  Best of all, c) find someone with good networks who is a generous networker, and they’ll tell you not just who to contact and where to search, but also why that person and that resource is useful.  If you get really lucky d) they might introduce you.  So e) put time into building your own networks, so that when you have a need for connections to people and resources, you’ve got a broad palette to choose from, and people who know you and are willing to help you.

This reminded me of a study of high performing researchers at Bell in the USE, where the principal finding was that these people invested time in prompt responses to others researchers’ inquiries so that when they in turn had a need to ask for help, they had plenty of brownie points. Norms of reciprocity meant these researchers got much faster replies than average researchers, allowing them to drive their own research faster.

It also brought back an old project, “Working the Networks”, which used action learning to develop networking and network building skills amongst extension staff, 1999-2001, AgWA. Same skills. Strangely, I recently had an email via LinkedIn from one of the project managers of that work, who gave me some feedback on that job:

I am still in awe of the work you did on active networking. The pity is that there are probably only two or three people that really appreciated the rigour of the work and its relevance.” Nice to hear that!

Civil society will drive social transformation

Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian management educator, has written bracing critiques of management faddism, amongst these corporate strategy making and MBA-obession.  He’s started a series of e-pamphlets on the role of civil society in social transformation.

“Our governing structures are stuck in an 18th century form of individualistic democracy, while these problems require cooperative efforts, internationally as well as domestically. And don’t expect corporate social responsibility to compensate for corporate social irresponsibility.

Radical renewal will have to begin largely in the plural sector, albeit partly as a means of provoking reforms in the established institutions of government and business. Community groups in this sector are best suited to creating the kinds of social initiatives we require. A multitude of such initiatives are now underway, networked across communities through the social media”.

Community-based governance in social-ecological systems

Community-based governance in social-ecological systems: An inquiry into the marginalisation of Landcare in Victoria, Australia, 2006-10<spaån lang=”EN-US”>. PhD, 2011.  Using action research, peer groups of staff and members of management committees of Landcare Networks met to improve their effectiveness and influence in landscape change. Initial meetings identified a breakdown in collaboration with government NRM planners and programs, in particular with CMAs. Participants developed a critique of this situation, and initiated stronger advocacy and some activism on behalf of community interests. This change is theorised as a process of reframing within a community of practice, in which doubt leads to examination of failure and a search for more effective action. Analysis also developed a description of Landcare Network governance practice as supporting relationships of mutual responsibility that will maintain
the momentum of change across the social-ecological system.

I have the thesis here for download

Critique as a challenge to what is

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault developed “a history not of the prison as an institution, but of the practice of imprisonment”. Those working in the prison system who read his critique found themselves with no possible room for initiative; it looked as if they were totally locked into a system where they had little influence. Asked to comment, Foucault said …

“… it seems to me that ‘what is to be done’ ought not to be determined from above by reformers, be they prophetic or legislative, but by a long work of comings and goings, of exchanges, reflections, trials, different analyses. If the social workers you are talking about don’t know which way to turn, this just goes to show that they’re looking, and hence are not anaesthetised  or sterilised at all — on the contrary.

“The necessity of reform mustn’t be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce or halt the exercise of criticism.  …. critique doesn’t have to be the premise of a deduction which concludes: this then is what needs to be done. It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesn’t have to lay down the law for the law. It isn’t a stage in programming. It is a challenge directed to what is.”

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Politics and the study of discourse.

In The Foucault effect: studies in governmentality,

edited by G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.