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Concluding reflections and planning the next research cycle
[Chapter 12 in: Allen, W.J.
email@example.com (2001) Working together for environmental management: the role of information sharing and collaborative learning. PhD (Development Studies), Massey University.]
This chapter summarises the aims and activities of the work undertaken through this action
research inquiry, and briefly reviews the outcomes as a means of demonstrating relevance. Future
areas of activity with the potential to leverage improved information flows within environmental
research and management are suggested as: i) improving participation and the use of local
knowledge in the research process; ii) improving the dissemination and use of this knowledge in
the wider community through improved networking and collaboration; and iii) capacity building
-- supporting these approaches -- through participatory monitoring and evaluation. A fourth
version of ISKM is outlined, however, it is suggested that this should be implemented in an
environment characterised by high social capital. Action research is seen as a process which both
helps the development of this social capital, and provides lessons into how it can be expanded.
Moreover, building capacity for the use of participatory learning processes should be part of the
method, that capacity cannot be assumed to be there. The role of evaluation in building capacity
for participation and measuring process success is highlighted. Finally, this chapter points to the
need to draw out lessons from across action research case studies, and suggests some challenges
for action research to help in large-scale collaborative learning.
In sustainable development, everyone is a user and provider of information
considered in the broad sense. That includes data, information, appropriately
packaged experience and knowledge. The need for information arises at all levels,
from that of senior decision makers at the national and international levels to the
grass-roots and individual levels. ... Special emphasis should be placed on the
transformation of existing information into forms more useful for decision-making
and on targeting information at different user groups. Mechanisms should be
strengthened or established for transforming scientific and socio-economic
assessments into information suitable for both planning and public information.
Electronic and non-electronic formats should be used. (UNCED 1992 Ch.40
Research aims and activities
As outlined in Chapter 1, this thesis represents an action research inquiry into how an adaptive
management or 'learning by doing' approach, consistent with the concept of sustainable
development, can be initiated and implemented in complex, regional or large scale contexts. In
particular the inquiry focusses on the social and institutional issues that arise in ensuring
adequate stakeholder participation in generating and managing information to support
collaborative decision making and subsequent change on-the-ground. Action research provides
an appropriate methodology for an intervention-based approach which is concerned with how the
different groups and individuals involved design and implement action in relation to one another.
This starting point highlights that action research is focussed on possibility rather than prediction.
Because it is not value neutral it is therefore important to state any underlying values in advance.
In this sense, most action research can be seen to be guided by two fundamental principles: i) that
there is a need to democratise the knowledge process -- so people normally shut out from
research and information become involved in the research itself, learning how to obtain
information and how to use it; and ii) that it acknowledges a social change emphasis -- whereby
the goals of research are to engage in action that reverses inequalities, empowers the have-nots,
and ultimately transform society so decision-making becomes more transparent and democratic.
Within these broad principles my work as outlined in this thesis is undertaken within an
environmental research institute, so the focus is on finding ways to improve people's relationship
to the environment, and help environmental decision-making to be built on the improved use of
As a starting point for this research an initial framework of ideas and concepts was outlined as
consistent with the aims of adaptive management, and capable of guiding different stakeholder
groups to work collaboratively to identify and implement more sustainable resource management
practices. What can be regarded as the first version of the Integrated System for Knowledge
Management (ISKM) approach (Figures 4.3 and A1.2) sets out a number of steps suggested as
necessary components within any approach designed to achieve this. In particular this approach
acknowledged that: i) relevant and practical strategies for action could only be developed through
a co-operative and integrated process which combined knowledge from both manager experience
and conventional science; ii) there was a need to document these for the benefit of the wider
user-community, along with supporting information, through a user-friendly and accessible
computer-based information system; and iii) the continuing input of new science and
management-based experimentation was needed to maintain the relevance of such an information
system over time.
This framework was also shown (Chapter 4) to be supported with underlying concepts of the
need for participation, emphasising the importance of local knowledge, experiential learning and
systems thinking. This framework was then applied, and refined, through a case study approach
to guide the development of ecologically-based research and development efforts. The research
involved one main case study (tussock grasslands) and three smaller, but related, ones (black
stilt, Tb vector control, NRM-changelinks website development). The tussock grasslands case
study began in June 1994 and remains ongoing at the completion of this thesis inquiry in June
Consistent with an action research approach, the inquiry design was shown to be emergent,
progressively developing as it was influenced by the events that took place during the case
studies and by the subsequent analyses that are made. Each subsequent chapter represents one
plan-act-reflect cycle within this larger inquiry. Thus, within the tussock grasslands case study
Chapters 5, 6, 8 and 11 deal with a number of different issues that arose from the implementation
of ISKM in a decision-making environment characterised by multiple social perspectives. These
were, respectively, how to manage: i) forums which support constructive community dialogue; ii)
evaluation processes which meet the need of the different parties involved; iii) multi-stakeholder
information networks; and iv) integration of both 'soft' and 'hard' inquiry processes within
Chapter 7 looked at conflict through one of the smaller-bounded case studies using a dispute
resolution exercise around the management of a rare wading bird (black stilt). Chapter 9 involved
the application of ISKM to improve the identification and uptake of Tb vector control, and also
how groups can be supported as part of this process. Finally, Chapter 10 used the experience
gained in the development of the NRM-changelinks website to investigate the potential use of the
Internet to leverage improved information dissemination and networking. In all of these cases the issues under investigation were related back to how they fit into the larger tussock grasslands
As its name implies, action research inquiries can be viewed as having two main outcomes:
action and research. The focus is action to improve a situation and the research is the conscious
effort, as part of the process, to formulate public knowledge that casts light on the functioning of
the client system or the action research process itself, or both. These outcomes are generated
through the iterative use of a 'plan--act--reflect' cycle of collaborative inquiry, which in this
thesis is illustrated by each of chapters 4-11. The subsequent material in this concluding chapter
provides a wider cycle of reflection which first reviews the 'act' outcomes of these different
cycles and then provides some thoughts that emerge from this study to help guide the planning of
future inquiry cycles.
What is significant about the tussock grasslands case study is not that it has resulted in a regional
adaptive management approach to tussock grasslands management -- it has not yet -- but
rather that those involved (researchers, farmers, conservation managers and local government
staff representatives) have learnt more about the processes and issues involved in working
together and sharing information, and continue to seek ways to implement adaptive management.
During this process the ISKM framework has been progressively refined (see Figures A1.2, 1.2,
5.7, 8.1, 9.5 and 12.1, respectively), and it has been used to support the efforts of increasingly
larger ecologically-based research programmes. Its initial development and use was undertaken
to help a team of researchers (in the wider sense of the term) address the issue of an invasive
weed (Hieracium spp.) in the tussock grasslands of the South Island high country. Subsequently
the ISKM approach was used to underpin the work done of the Tussock Grasslands Programme,
which was until June 2000 the major research programme in this area of New Zealand. Through
this programme the application of ISKM was extended to address more general issues of tussock
grassland dynamics, nutrient flows, and ways to better integrate conservation and pastoralism in
this scenic region. This work remains ongoing as the 'montane objective' within an expanded
research programme, 'Changing landscapes and restoration of biodiversity', which represents the
main focus of New Zealand research into the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in
Moreover, the design of several major science programmes has been influenced by this work. For
example, the importance of ensuring that the 'participatory' component of a science programme
is integrally linked with other aspects of the research, and that the outcomes of stakeholder
involvement are fed into the research design to influence subsequent activities and strategies as
discussed in Chapter 11 is now evident in the Landcare Research-managed biodiversity in
productive landscapes (see above) and 'Integrated land and water resource management in
complex catchments' programmes. Equally the action research nature of this research to date,
particularly as it relates to drawing out public knowledge for use in other environmental
management situations, is evidenced by a number of published papers that have addressed those
social and institutional factors having an impact on the implementation of ISKM (see for
Within the tussock grasslands of the South Island high country several stakeholders from outside
the science sector who have demonstrated their commitment to contribute to the ongoing
development of the ISKM approach. Key among these are the farming groups who are using the
condition assessment model and have agreed to look at how the monitoring results from their
properties can be shared as part of a wider 'learning' process. These groups are, in turn,
supported in their efforts by the Otago Regional Council. Similarly, the Department of
Conservation continues to support the ongoing development of an Internet-based Tussock
Grasslands Management Information System (http://tussocks.net.nz/ ), which is seen as
complementing these efforts.
In the Waitaki/Mackenzie basins activities to build trust between the Department of Conservation
and the local farming community have been initiated following a conflict management exercise
(see Chapter 7). This is part of an ongoing process to help the two groups improve their
communication and the subsequent management of wildlife in the district. While both parties
would undoubtedly agree that this will be a long process, a subsequent evaluation I undertook
with agency staff highlighted improvements that had been implemented (unpublished minutes 9
December 1999). These included the publication of a regular newsletter, the holding of open days
jointly organised by the Department of Conservation and local farmers, and an increasing focus
on how conservation, farming and tourism activities could be integrated.
In the work funded by the Animal Health Board to improve the identification and uptake of
effective ferret control efforts in North Canterbury (see Chapter 9), the question of how agencies
could better support community-based groups to provide a vehicle for improved information
sharing and collaborative learning to influence behaviour change was investigated. The
subsequent findings are now used to support the functioning of Tb vector control groups
throughout New Zealand (e.g. Oliver et al. 2000).
Finally, Chapter 10 documented the lessons learnt through the development of the NRM-changelinks website (http://nrm.massey.ac.nz/changelinks/) as an exercise to look at the potential
for Internet-based information sharing and networking in the area of developing collaborative
approaches for environmental management. In terms of outcomes, this has now become one of
the larger participatory resources on the Internet in terms of site traffic (see site statistics
Collectively, these examples of outcomes in practice help to verify the findings of the action
research inquiry. By definition it is a science of implementation, and as practitioners (science
programmes, agencies, community groups, etc.) take up the results they are confirming their
confidence in them -- or at least, their intent to pursue them to see what happens! This does not,
of course, mean that the inquiry is finished, as the approach also aims to leave practitioners with
the capacity to question and improve those practices. The same applies to the action research
process itself: it is important to show that the process is enabling more targeted questions to be
developed as the inquiry progresses.
Emerging research directions
In this regard we can see that, from the rather open-ended approach to the action research inquiry
process that began with the Hieracium Management Programme, subsequent activities have
become more clearly specified. For example, in the research programmes cited above our future
action research inquiries are focussed on three linked areas, which appear to have the potential to
leverage improved information flows and collaboration in natural resource management:
- improving participation and the use of local knowledge in the research process,
- improving the dissemination and use of this knowledge in the wider community through
improved networking and collaboration (including the use of the Internet),
- and capacity building (supporting the above approaches) -- through participatory
monitoring and evaluation.
From my own perspective these emerging directions for exploration have developed through the
experiences documented in this thesis, and similarly the way in which they will be investigated in
practice builds lessons and insights gained from this study. Accordingly, this final chapter can be
seen as a wider process of reflection covering the research undertaken over the past six years as a
guide to planning the implementation of future action research-based initiatives centred around
A collaborative approach to managing information
As discussed in Chapter 2, contemporary development-literature promotes a more embracing
development paradigm that places people at the centre and seeks to empower stakeholders to
influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which
affect them. Even as macroeconomic policies and trends continue to shape resource development
opportunities, the move away from centralised planning by governments is requiring R&D
initiatives to work towards empowering communities to deal with their own needs. In this regard,
the challenge for researchers is to work with communities and undertake inquiries that begin with
the search for solutions to social (community) problems -- placing an emphasis on problem
context and identification.
Because one of the main issues related to establishing such a collaborative approach within the
wider social and institutional contexts of catchments and regions is one of implementation, an
action research approach (see Chapter 3) provides an appropriate methodology. This is directly
applicable to the study of how individuals and groups design and implement action in relation to
Moreover, there is an increasing realisation that new sources of 'expert knowledge' and
databases are needed to identify persistent resource management practices more clearly (see
Chapters 4 and 5). In many cases, the knowledge that is required about the past and present state
of our natural resources, and about the relationships between social and environmental systems,
is held within local communities and implementation and policy agencies. Accordingly, it
follows that the task of organising information to understand better the links between natural
resource management, social realities and ecological dynamics should be a collaborative venture
between research scientists and the different stakeholders involved.
In this regard, a first version of the Integrated Systems for Knowledge Management (ISKM)
framework was outlined at the beginning of this inquiry (Chapter 4) as an approach for
supporting such a collaborative approach for managing information. A second version, which
included positioning information technology as a supporting rather than a central component was
set out in Chapter 5. Subsequently, Chapters 9 and 10 highlighted the growing role of the Internet
in allowing people to create, annotate, link together and share information from a variety of
sources and media. It appears to have considerable potential in multi-stakeholder situations to
extend information-sharing, learning and networking. A third version emphasised the need to
build relationships for change and identify clear roles for all the parties concerned at the
beginning of such collaborative initiatives (see especially Chapters 9 and 11).
Finally, a fourth version is outlined below (Figure 12.1) which acknowledges that
implementation activities and their subsequent monitoring and evaluation should be seen as
separate activities. As Chapters 6 and 9 illustrate, effective collaborative environmental
initiatives are the ones that pay attention to both the task and the process, and so meet the needs
that the different participants have in both areas. The task can be defined as what those involved
have to do (e.g. reduce pest numbers). The process is concerned with how people and groups
work together and maintain relationships. Experience shows that people often neglect process
issues (commonly to concentrate on the task). However, both task and process will suffer if they
are split from each other.
Similarly monitoring and evaluation need to be seen as distinct but related activities. Monitoring
provides the raw data to answer questions. But in and of itself, it is a useless and expensive
exercise. Evaluation puts data to use and thus gives them value. Evaluation is where the learning
occurs, questions are answered, recommendations made, and improvements suggested.
Figure 12.1 ISKM (ver. 4) and its relationship in practice with social capital.
Information management and learning as linked social activities
In practice the use of the steps within ISKM remind us that an information system cannot be
regarded only in terms of its transfer component (often a paper, or a computer-based
model/DSS). Rather, as Chapters 2 and 4 highlight, such a system is better viewed as a 'social
system' within which people interact to create new knowledge, and broaden their perspective of
the world. This is a significant perception distinction for science whereby dissemination
(information technology/extension) and users form elements of a larger knowledge system
(Figure 4.2). This concept is synonymous with the idea put forward in Chapter 8 that learning is
socially constructed, occurring through interactions between individuals, between individuals and
groups, and between groups of groups. Learners learn to function in a community by developing
a shared language and acquiring the community's subjective viewpoint.
Learning, in this sense has two components: its process and the outcomes of that process. Change
can be observed as an outcome of learning. This, in turn, must be viewed as an accumulative
process which builds on existing practices and norms through interactive learning. While
information is central to this process, Chapters 9 and 11 remind us that there are some supporting
social processes that are required for this to happen. These include forums to develop a shared
understanding around issues, management of a moderate degree of conflict and the provision of a
supportive environment. Central to the notion of this supportive environment is the concept of
social capital -- the framework that supports the process of learning through interaction -- and
which requires the formation of networking paths that are both horizontal (across agencies and
sectors) and vertical (agencies to communities to individuals). The quality of the social processes
and relationships that social capital supplies -- within which learning interactions take place --
is especially influential on the quality of the learning outcomes in collaborative approaches.
Taken one step further, this suggests that this social capital plays an important role in influencing
change, and sustaining a social and institutional environment that is ready to adapt. Equally, it
explains why change is much harder to achieve in some situations than in others. In many cases
stakeholders will lack the culture for participation in multi-stakeholder processes. Thus, building
capacity (or social capital) for participation should in many cases be seen as a first step. That
capacity should not just be assumed to be there.
Nor is this capacity-building just a function for science. It is something that needs to be built into
all development activities -- public health, education, environmental management, etc. Thus
each sector will contribute to the development of social capital, which will, in turn, provide a
richer social environment for subsequent efforts to operate in.
Building capacity for change
In this context efforts for change will need to be centred around supporting groups of people
working together. As Pretty (1998) emphasises, true participatory projects are those which
empower people by building skills, interests and capacities that continue even after the project
ends. This implies the institutionalisation of such initiatives and the corresponding capacity for
activities to spread beyond the immediate project in both space and time.
Increasingly the role of groups as a catalyst for change is becoming well accepted in terms of
environmental management. These groups may be formally constituted (e.g. a landcare group, or
agency team), or they may comprise members of a working group that has come together to
undertake a one-off task. Such groups will have been formed for a range of reasons: to build trust
between different parties, to develop best-practice guidelines, to establish community monitoring
schemes, to develop a shared vision across a district or catchment, or to learn to use the Internet.
However, if we are serious about the need to foster a more collective approach to environmental
management that is capable of the transformational change being sought, we have to do more
than just work together to undertake specific projects. Roughly put, the collective vision that
emerges is one which establishes an ongoing process for sound environmental management
within and among the many groups involved in some way (see Chapter 9). For this to happen
groups need to develop the capacity to move beyond the completion of task-bounded activities to
more actively catalyse change within their immediate membership first, and to spread that culture
to others in their respective groups over the longer term.
More than any other activity and by its very nature, building the capacity for groups to mature in
this way depends for its effectiveness on participant ownership and commitment. Its success will
rely on the use of participatory and formative evaluation exercises (see Chapters 3 and 6) that
strengthen the ability of groups and group-members for ongoing self-assessment and correction.
It is by engaging in such exercises that groups will be able to progress through the continuum
outlined in Chapter 9, moving from dependency to interdependency. The monitoring and
evaluation component of environmental research and development programmes, then, needs to
be equally about building capacity, diagnosing constraints and opportunities and trying to make
programmes grow and expand, as it is about measuring and describing on-the-ground progress
against pre-set targets.
Measuring success in collaborative ventures
Evaluation has a value beyond the immediate role of supporting capacity development within the
immediate group. Because of their nature, collaborative initiatives are only made possible with
support from a number of different parties, all of whom need to be kept informed of progress and
outcomes. Funders need evidence that their investments are paying off. In particular, there is a
need to develop intermediate indicators of success (e.g. within the time-frame of funding cycles)
for process-oriented initiatives such as capacity building. Equally, other stakeholders who are
giving of their time to help the particular effort (e.g. land managers providing information,
agency staff facilitating projects) are also important audiences for information about the progress
of the initiative. They too need evidence that their input is having an effect -- at the least, to
maintain their motivation for continued involvement.
Good evaluation is also needed to generate useful feedback to guide implementation. Managers
need feedback to assess progress, assist with planning, and guide ongoing refinements to
operations. Moreover, such collaborative initiatives are essentially experiments providing
opportunities for practitioners and action researchers to test their knowledge and experience. In
this way much can be learnt about fundamental and cross-cutting questions concerning the best
way to model programmes, or to examine more closely the role that 'social capital' and
'capacity-building' can play in helping achieve more environmentally sound management. This
information, in turn, can be fed back to shape future policy and research agendas.
Need for analysis across-case studies
As we go about developing these lessons we also need to remain aware (Chapter 10) that learning
from single case studies is problematic. There is, therefore, a need for action researchers to
undertake cross-case analysis, which can provide more valuable and robust lessons by sharing
reflections across programmes and projects (Figure 12.2). In this way our understanding of the
variety of forms that interventions can take will be increased, shedding light on implementation
issues, and increasing user confidence in the external validity of findings.
Figure 12.2 An across-case study approach to action research.
Moreover, there are other reasons why the action research component needs to be managed 'in
conjunction with' research and development programs, rather than as a totally dependent
component. By definition the goal of the action research team is likely in practice to be slightly
different from the research or development programme. The latter is more likely to be aimed at
developing outcomes in a particular topic area, while the action research component is equally
concerned with looking for broader process lessons that can help with implementation issues
across topic areas. Within this broader process, therefore, it is also important that science be seen
as one of the 'stakeholders', and not as outside the process of change.
Moreover, if too much emphasis is placed on developing agreements and fostering improved
working relationships to meet project deadlines it is likely to merely reinforce the status quo of
the existing system (see Chapter 6). Action research, in this context, can merely lend itself to
single-loop learning, focussing on changing individual and collective action strategies, while
leaving underlying values and norms unchanged. In the end, this may be counter-productive in
facilitating double-loop learning, which involves a more critical inquiry into and changing of
underlying goals, values and performance measures, as well as strategies and assumptions.
As collaborative learning approaches are scaled up they will bring different challenges for action
researchers. Most action research efforts that are reported involve the action researcher as closely
connected with the changes being studied. However, as Ledford and Mohrman (1993) point out,
in large-scale action there is a need to develop a strategy for learning about loosely coupled
activities that occur in multiple locations. Increasingly in these situations, the client system will
become predominantly policy makers, rather than managers and groups/teams.
This is particularly true in the New Zealand situation where action research studies such as those
described in this thesis are undertaken more from the point of view of research, than to fill an
extension function. Science programmes neither have the resources, nor the mandate, to
undertake environmental extension/education in this area. It is therefore necessary to work
alongside agency groups (often local government) who have the mandate and resources to use
research findings to 'make a difference' on the ground. To help in these larger scale policy
situations, we need better measures of process change as outlined above and some of these will
have to be developed using quantitative methods.
As shown in this thesis, good information management and the development of constructive
learning environments are key to bringing about change in environmental management. If these
changes are to be achieved, individuals and communities must be supportive and directly
involved in research and decision making. In these cases action researchers can play a major role
in providing the tools and approaches to ensure that policy initiatives can be 'seen primarily as
experiments, and dealt with as complex and uncertain ventures in which the participation of
those who are expected to benefit is essential' (Rondinelli 1983).
If we assume that in the short term there will be no major shifts in financial resources to the
environmental or development sectors, nor will current policies be massively altered to change
the status quo, then we need other strategies for empowering people and changing current
practices. The use of action research approaches to find out how to improve information flows,
and strengthen and harness many existing aspects of social relationships in environment and
development, may work to foster constructive change.
POSTSCRIPT (September 2001)
Some final reflections
Since this thesis was submitted more experience has been gained in the implementation of ISKM in
the tussock grasslands case study, and there has been more time for reflection. In particular the
Internet-based Tussock Grasslands MIS has now been made publicly available providing more
lessons about both the Internet and the wider ISKM process. Similarly, the focus of our future action
research inquiries have expanded to address the need for social capital highlighted in the closing
chapters of this study.
The role of the Internet in ISKM
With the benefit of hindsight, my thesis construction and timing underplayed the achievements and
significance in developing an Internet-based MIS as an integral output of the ISKM process. At the
initiation of the main tussock grasslands case study in 1995 the researchers began by outlining ISKM
(Chapter 4 and Appendix I) as a participatory framework for developing a comprehensive
management information system (MIS) to underpin adaptive management. The Internet was chosen
as a platform because of its potential for providing access, easy updates, and supporting learning
and communication across different groups. However, as evidenced by the content of subsequent
chapters, the significance of an Internet-based MIS as an output was perhaps overshadowed by a
more process-oriented focus on different aspects of stakeholder involvement in managing
information. Moreover, the Tussock Grasslands MIS was only made available for public access on
the Internet in June 2000, and that the site was not actively promoted until after this thesis was
submitted in October 2000.
One major reason for the delay in implementation was the emphasis placed on trying to develop a
comprehensive MIS before releasing it. This was not consistent with the original notion of using a
prototyping approach for development (p. 60). Accordingly, the subsequent MIS not only took a
long time to develop, its size and interlinking pages also made it difficult to referee. A lesson from
this is to take advantage of the Internet's ability to accommodate progressive site development, and
make future material available by posting even single pages as they are completed.
A subsequent evaluation of its use by Department of Conservation staff was undertaken in April
2001 by a colleague, Chris Jacobson. This showed that the MIS is being used by staff to support
their decision making. Staff stated that it is a valuable resource and that similar sites in other areas of
interests should be initiated. A number of specific requests for improvement were made (see Tussock Grassland MIS evaluations http://www.tussocks.net.nz/evaluation1.html ), and these
are being addressed during the 2001/02 year.
The lessons learnt in the development of the Tussock Grasslands MIS highlight the need for science
agencies to take advantage of the Internet to support stakeholders in accessing and debating
information pertaining to complex environmental issues. One major problem for environmental
decision makers is that information held by different stakeholders (local, tradition and science) is
rarely available on a collective basis (e.g. Chapter 4 p.59). In this regard the Internet provides us
with a new and convenient system for managing complex information which allows people to create,
annotate, link and share information from a number of disparate sources and media. Similarly, the
linking abilities of the Internet enable scientists, and other information providers, to display any
new piece of information in relation to how it addresses knowledge gaps in a wider context. This is
important as solutions to emerging environmental issues are rarely provided through the
development of discrete pieces of information and technologies. Rather, the act of developing new
ways forward is more likely to be characterised by the need for debate and ongoing information
distillation and synthesis among different stakeholder groups concerned with the linkages between
different pieces of information, management systems and scales.
The need for this debate is often not appreciated by scientists who often see the use of the Internet as
yet one more way of 'getting the right information out there' (p. 160). However, as the farmer group
leaders involved with our Tb vector control case study indicated, 'their vision for the Internet MIS
was as a focal point around which to build more opportunities for farmer/scientist discussion and
learning' (p. 160). This is consistent with the steps outlined in the ISKM framework for engendering
a collaborative approach to generating and managing information, through which different groups
and individuals interact to learn together and broaden their perspectives of the world.
With the recent evaluation of the Tussock Grassland MIS (http://www.tussocks.net.nz/), we can see
that this case study has involved the use of all the steps and feedback loops outlined in the latest
version of ISKM (Figure 12.1). It has resulted in a demonstrable information system that is being
used in practice, and is being improved with user feedback and new information. From a research
point of view the case study has contributed to the development of a participatory approach to
information management that emphasises a number of key steps applicable to developing the
understanding, knowledge and action needed to address environmental issues constructively.
Looking to the future, ISKM can provide a common framework that enables action researchers
working in different case studies to develop process lessons relating to the various steps involved.
This is important if we are to learn lessons across case studies (pp. 219-220). It also provides a
guide to help science leaders looking to improve the responsiveness of their research programmes to
end user needs, and the subsequent participatory management of that information through to its
provision on the Internet.
Developing a supportive environment for wider learning
Even when science technologies (e.g. best practices, DSSs, models) have been developed with a
high degree of awareness of stakeholder needs using processes such as ISKM, getting this
information used to support management decision making at a wider level is still a major problem.
Research teams can at best only work with a few representatives of stakeholder groups, providing
limited opportunities for engendering social learning beyond this immediate level of engagement.
This is particularly true in relation to many environmental management issues characterised by large
geographic scales, many players, multiple perspectives on the situation and where science and other
information is subject to diverse and contested interpretations.
In this regard, Internet-based material only provides the potential for different stakeholder groups to
more readily access information. In the Tb vector control case study for example some group leaders
and facilitators recognised that Internet-based material could provide a community resource which
could be easily updated and shared with others - who may not have Internet access - through their
involvement with groups (p. 160). The advantages of the technology are not in creating new 'virtual' communities, but in strengthening already existing social networks (p. 186). This is illustrated in
Figure 12.1 which points out that processes such as ISKM need to operate in a social environment
that supports learning.
This diagram highlights that while information is key to learning and subsequent informed and
collective action, such learning will only happen at a societal level if it is supported by social capital
(trust among the different players involved, mechanisms to develop shared understanding, and
strong horizontal and vertical networks between agencies and stakeholder groups). In turn, this
implies a need to ensure that the different interest groups involved have adequate capacity to
participate in such multi-stakeholder processes. Therefore agencies seeking to support improved
stakeholder participation in R&D, both at operational and policy levels, need to support both process
outcomes (creating the conditions for participation) and task outcomes (getting information flows in
Exploring how agencies can achieve this increased level of societal capacity for participation is then
another important area for profitable action research study. Because science agencies and
programmes do not generally have the resources or mandate to work at this scale, this will require
action researchers to work with environmental agency staff as they seek to support regional and
national management and change initiatives. In these situations action researchers need to negotiate
a role for themselves as evaluation specialists assisting those involved in such multi-stakeholder
processes to assess progress and guide ongoing programme improvement. Such evaluations will also
serve to build capacity to support improved participatory processes, as well as developing lessons
that can be used to shape future initiatives.