Introduction, structure and outline

[Chapter 1 in: Allen, W.J. (2001) Working together for environmental management: the role of information sharing and collaborative learning. PhD (Development Studies), Massey University.]

This thesis represents an inquiry into how an adaptive management ethic and practice that supports the concept of sustainable development can be initiated and implemented in complex, regional or large-scale contexts. An action research inquiry process is used to find improved ways of managing collaborative or multi-stakeholder approaches to environmental management, and to develop an integrated information framework to underpin subsequent decision making. The research involves one main case study (tussock grasslands) and two smaller, but related, ones (black stilt, and bovine Tb vector control).

At least three significant problems face any author of a case study describing an actual experience. First it is quite impossible for any account of a study to approach the richness of the study itself. This would be true even if we abandoned the would-be-scientific approach and wrote a novel out of the experience. For the novel would be from the author's point of view. That is the second problem; there is no study, as any kind of unitary object, only a set of happenings in which a number of people took part, happenings which each participant and each observer will interpret in his or her own way. Thirdly, any limited written-down account of a study will be defenceless against comments which suggest that it should have been done more quickly, or better, or that some other approach would have been more effective. Such comments are not very interesting, since they are in principle in capable of refutation, but they do illustrate what a tender flower a related case history is. (Checkland 1985b p. 822).

Research context

The main case study around which this thesis revolves began with a research and development initiative in mid-1994 to address the problem of an invasive weed (Hieracium spp.) in the grazed tussock grasslands of the South Island high country (mountains) of New Zealand. Consistent with an action research process, an initial framework for supporting a collaborative approach to addressing this problem is outlined at the beginning of this study. This is the Integrated Systems for Knowledge Management (ISKM) approach.

What is significant about this case study is not that it has resulted in a regional adaptive management approach to tussock grasslands management -- it hasn't -- but rather that those involved (researchers, farmers, conservation managers and local government staff representatives) have learnt more about the issues involved, and continue to seek ways to resolve them within the framework of adaptive management. Moreover, the programme has now expanded from its original focus on Hieracium, to cover more general issues of tussock grassland management and seek to better integrate conservation and pastoralism in this scenic region. Within this context the corresponding evolution of the ISKM framework is documented, along with the insights and generalisations that emerged as the study progressed. Finally some suggestions are made to guide further action research initiatives in this area.

Although the tussock grasslands form the main backdrop for this project, relevant experience has been gained in other projects I have been involved in during this time. One of these looked at how to improve the identification and uptake of bovine Tb vector control technologies, and another involved conflict resolution about the management of a rare wading bird. However, in both these cases the issues under investigation are related back to the main case study. The links between these different issues are explained further in the content of the relevant chapters. An Internet site was also developed to illustrate the different skills involved in change management and to network among professionals in this area.


Action research has been chosen as an appropriate methodology for this study. This is consistent with an intervention-based approach where 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 adds to theories of action that promote or inhibit learning in behavioural systems. One of the key characteristics of this approach is collaboration, which enables mutual understanding and consensus, democratic decision making and common action. The process that the researcher uses to guide those involved can be described as a spiral of action research cycles consisting of phases of planning, acting, observing and reflecting.

In this thesis these cycles can be seen to have taken place at a number of levels, each involving different 'learning' groups. The main learning group should be seen as the core research team involved in the implementation of the ISKM framework within the case studies described here. For the past six years this core team has comprised Dr Ockie Bosch (who managed the tussock grasslands research described here, and is also one of my thesis supervisors) and myself. Over the past three years we have been joined in this work by Margaret Kilvington (a social researcher). However, in the sense that the research described here is participatory, so our involvement in the different case studies has provided the opportunity to actively collaborate with a wide number of co-researchers -- individuals, community groups and agency and local government representatives. Finally, this thesis provides my own broader reflection on the lessons that have been learnt through my own participation in the different initiatives reported here and how they fit together.

My main involvement within these linked case studies has been that of an action researcher, although this has involved me in different roles. I have, for instance, been involved in activities ranging from accession and collation of farmer information, to facilitation and conflict management, to the design and development of Internet websites. However, during the course of this study I have maintained a consistent focus on how to improve the use of collaborative approaches in environmental management.

The professional background that I bring to this study comprises five years in the development and execution of agricultural communication, extension and education programmes, and a further five years managing a commercial sheep and beef farm in New Zealand. I have also worked for two years in the area of environment and development with the Environmental Liaison Centre International and UNCHS(Habitat) based in Nairobi, Kenya. For the past six years I have been employed by Landcare Research as a social researcher.

My personal values that I bring as an action researcher to the project are guided by two fundamental principles. Firstly, 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 secondly, that my work has a social change emphasis -- whereby the goals of research are to engage in action that reverses inequalities, empowers the have-nots, and ultimately transforms society so decision-making becomes more transparent and democratic. Within these broad principles my work is bounded within an environmental research institute, such that its focus is on finding ways to improve people's relationship to the environment, and promote environmental decision making based on the improved use of sound technical information.

Thesis structure and outline

What follows is best regarded as an illustration of action research using actual experiences. This is, as Checkland (1985b p. 822) points out, 'the best that can be hoped for, given the impossibility of capturing the actual richness of an intervention in human affairs'. The documentation of the lessons or insights that were gained along the way are shown here through a series of already published (or submitted) material. Each of these publications (in one case, a website) documents a research activity or intervention, and can thus be regarded as the expression of one action research 'plan--act--reflect' cycle and the basis of a chapter in this thesis. Overlaying this are a few pages of my own wider 'reflection' provided at the beginning of each chapter to introduce each publication and illustrate where it fits in the larger plan-act-reflect cycle of this thesis.

Papers and reports from other forums have not been re-edited for this thesis, although every effort has been made to ensure consistency in formatting. Figures, tables and boxes have, however, been renumbered according to chapter and chapter position to assist the reader. To save duplication all references are attached in one section at the end of the thesis(1).

Chapters two and three provide a context for this study and detail the inquiry methodology. Subsequent chapters concerned with specific issues arising through the course of the study are ordered chronologically, although at times they overlap. A simple time-line has been included in each chapter to provide a sense of how this study has evolved. This time-line is meant to illustrate the period during which a serious and well-documented attempt was made to address an identified issue -- in some cases the issue may have been identified earlier, and/or subsequent work may have been undertaken. This is an attempt to bound an open inquiry process for the sake of clarity. An abstract (and, where appropriate, a time-line) for each chapter is appended below to provide the reader with an overall sense of the main content and structure.

Chapter 2: The role of adaptive environmental management within sustainable development

This chapter sets out the wider context within which this inquiry is set. The need for new approaches to natural resource management arises from the relatively new, problematic demands posed by the concept of sustainable development. This chapter examines these changes through the outcomes of two major United Nations conferences. The importance of information, integration and participation are noted. Next an outline is provided of the way in which science has changed to involve people more closely in research and development. Particular attention is paid to the challenges being posed for science as it seeks to more explicitly deal with the human dimension of natural resource management. The potential for adaptive management as an approach to more closely link research with management and policy is discussed. Finally this chapter outlines some key social and institutional barriers to achieving this potential.

Chapter 3: The role of action research in improving the realisation of adaptive and people-centred environmental management

This chapter begins by outlining the underlying concepts of action research in more detail. Some differences between action research and mainstream science are then explained, particularly to justify its use as an appropriate methodology to the research and development challenges outlined in earlier sections of this chapter. Some more practical details of practising action research are then discussed. Finally, the process of critical reflection in action research is highlighted, and an illustration given of how it can help in getting people to think more deeply about the use of environmental practices.

Chapter 4: Getting started: a case study in community-based adaptive management or 'learning by doing'

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This chapter provides the background to the start of the wider case study reported in this thesis, which can be seen to have begun with the two-year Hieracium Management Programme (HMP). This involved a participatory research initiative to address the issue of an invasive weed (Hieracium spp.) in the grazed tussock grasslands of the South Island high country. The first version of a framework (ISKM) that can help the introduction of an adaptive approach to more closely link management and research is outlined, along with a framework for researching the facilitation of its implementation. Supporting material is presented that addresses challenges of sustainability and the emerging paradigms of research that are emerging in response.

Chapter 5: Sharing experiences and developing 'useful knowledge'

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The background to the second version of ISKM, and a re-evaluation of the need for such an adaptive programme approach, are discussed in this chapter. This highlights the importance of seeing the outcome of research as to develop 'useful knowledge' rather than a 'decision support system (DSS)'. This change in focus is also set against the emergence of a growing split over the past 200 years between science and management. The need for improved forums for communication is shown, along with examples. Finally, some lessons are provided from experience with science farmer workshops to show the need to develop a common language although, as pointed out, this will sometimes require the use of less commonly used communication approaches such as pictures.

Chapter 6: Evaluating multi-stakeholder research and development programmes

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This chapter opens with a discussion of the need for new approaches to evaluation, particularly in programmes which involve a number of different interest groups. Some implications for science of these more participatory approaches are highlighted, particularly the need to be more questioning of hidden underlying assumptions. The ways in which society's perception of land use has evolved over recent years are offered as a catalyst for a new participatory approach to evaluation. Finally, the results of a participatory evaluation of the HMP are presented, to illustrate how formative and participatory evaluation can be used in the light of current issues facing both evaluators and natural resource managers. This shows the need to develop improved ways of evaluating such multi-stakeholder programmes to provide better shared understanding and agreement about goals.

Chapter 7: Addressing conflict in multi-stakeholder situations

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The importance of conflict as a condition for learning is discussed, as are some of the challenges posed for action researchers as they manage processes which are conflict-laden. Involving the right groups from the beginning is suggested as an important step in multi-stakeholder projects wishing to minimise conflict. An example is provided of an actual conflict management exercise involving a rare wading bird (black stilt), a conservation agency and farmers. The suggested approach differs from the more conventional approach to conflict where the aim is to 'solve' the problem; here it was to initiate a process which would facilitate ongoing communication and begin to build trust between the two parties as part of an ongoing process to help them manage adjoining land and local wildlife. The accompanying chapter report documents the approach and outcomes from this exercise.

Chapter 8: Social and organisational issues with adaptive management for environmental management

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Although the HMP concluded in June 1996, its work carried on within the expanded tussock grasslands research programme, which still emphasised the need for adaptive management and ISKM as a framework. However, despite the availability of an Internet-based Management Information System (MIS) and monitoring tools for measuring community species in the tussock grasslands, these tools are not being used. This chapter highlights an ongoing participatory inquiry processes into this lack of use. This, in turn, illustrates the difficulties with implementing environmental management technologies -- which often have a significant public-good component. It highlights the need for a more co-ordinated approach to adaptive management involving agencies, researchers and land managers, and draws attention to some of the emerging social and organisational issues entailed. Some solutions to overcome these problems related to information sharing are then suggested.

Chapter 9: Helping groups to learn enthusiastically -- roles for information, the Internet, and agency support

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This chapter looks more closely at the application of ISKM through a case study to improve the use of information within bovine Tb vector control, paying particular attention to the lessons that emerged within different steps. Some considerations about the growing role of, and potential for, using groups as a mechanism to manage and foster change in natural resource management are highlighted. The role of social capital (social networks, norms and trust) in supporting the process of learning is highlighted, and a model is presented to categorise group development in these terms. The accompanying paper draws attention to different approaches to extension, and how their use in practice should often be seen as complementary. The third version of ISKM is presented, emphasizing the need to put more effort into building relationships and clarifying goals as a starting point for collaborative initiatives. Finally the paper looks more closely at the potential role of the Internet in supporting information management and networking. The need for action research to learn case studies across lessons and programmes is also noted.

Chapter 10: Developing an Internet presence and the value of networking

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The use of the Internet for managing a diverse range of information is illustrated through the accompanying website, and it is used here as a case study example. The growing need for this sort of support for action researchers is shown. Different approaches to support interest-based communities and peer-based communities with the Internet are highlighted. Finally, benefits from using the Internet as a component within a wider networking strategy are discussed.

Chapter 11: The need to link 'soft' and 'hard' research activities within multi-disciplinary science teams

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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, is discussed. It is also suggested that the value of such participatory work can be increased if it is implemented as action research; this can also help to derive more generic lessons for environmental management. Learning is observed to not only require relevant and timely information, but also processes for shared understanding, moderating conflict and providing a supportive environment. Case studies are used to outline a useful role for action research practitioners within multi-disciplinary research teams. These show that efforts to share information need to build trust and confidence between information providers and users if they are going to be successful.

Chapter 12: Concluding reflections and planning the next research cycle

This chapter summarises the aims and activities of the work undertaken through this action research inquiry, and briefly reviews the outcomes of this work 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, along with the suggestion 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 across action research case studies, and suggests some challenges for action research to support large-scale collaborative learning initiatives.

1. Where previously published or presented papers have been included in this thesis there may be slight differences in reference format styles. Permission to reproduce already published or submitted material has been obtained where appropriate.


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