Self resilience: what’s missing from the resilience conversation within institutions

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Yesterday, I was granted to share my thoughts and ideas about social values for resilient waterways at the Gold Coast Waterways 2017 & Beyond Symposium, which was brilliantly organised by the Gold Coast Waterways Authority. Please read on to take in my thoughts and ideas.

“I would like to acknowledge the Gold Coast Waterways Authority for putting on this event and their Chair, our panel moderator extraordinaire, Mara Bunn, for inviting me to set the social scene for imagining, stimulating and creating resilient waterways for the Gold Coast. I have 5 minutes to set the social scene. I’ll attempt to meet the challenge with 3 slides.

Slide 1: I begin with a finger painting. Why, you might be thinking? When it comes to imagining values that the community place on waterways it can get messy, unpredictable, and surprising and there are certainly no boundaries, or limits to the visible and invisible values. This sets the biggest challenge for managers and decision-makers within institutions who make management and investment decisions based on market-values and in principle cost-benefit analyses.

When looking at this finger painting you can assume that there is no order to the painting, no beginning or ending, no direct path of understanding when or how the yellow blends with the red or the why the purple was applied after the red, even why the artist left patches of pink paper, is the paper pink or was the paper painted pink? This is what I refer to as invisible mess, what’s missing from what we can see and for today’s panel discussion and symposium, it’s the invisible values, which in many regards are the social values.

While on the other hand what we can see is some order in the painting. We can make a logical assumption that the yellow and red created the orange and that the blue and red created the purple. This is what I refer to as the visible mess – and for some context to today’s conversation it is the organised, institutionalised community action. Action that although we can’t put a “metric” on it, we can put an assuming financial value on it, and extrapolate this value setting principle to place a value on let’s say a waterway where there is “known” community action.  However, the challenge with this way of valuing social values on a place, is that where there is no action we assume that the community doesn’t place a higher value on it.

Slide 2: In this slide, you can visually see the “known” organised, and in some regards institutionalised community action across the Gold Coast. Each drop pin represents a community group who come under the banner of Landcare, citizen science and sustainability. From this bird’s eye view of organised community action, we assume that the Gold Coast community value these areas. This action is highly valuable and we cannot exclude the value of this action when valuing social values. Given that volunteered motivation and commitment enhance other values we place on the environment, such as, clean water, accessibility, ecological health, wildlife, shade trees, etc., and such long-term effort and impact can be measured in time.

However, what I have observed over the years with my immersion experiences working for and with the community, is that where there is action it is in the presence of an issue. This sets another challenge when valuing the present value of an area. For instance, where a waterway or natural area might in principle be undervalued ecologically or rated as poor health or viewed as a wasteland, thus, economically might not have a viable value to justify investment, might perhaps hold more value in the eyes of the community, or the future community. Conflict can emerge when conflicting priorities do not align, especially when the community wants to see change, but such change does not hold up as a priority within institutions. This again presents more challenges when planning for resilient waterways, as community concerns and issues cannot be planned.

During my experiences, it’s been the community who have had the most innovative, creative and wild ideas. Ideas that ooze resilience that have transformed farm dams into functioning wetland habitat, bare sand dunes into a littoral rainforest, storm water drains into fish habitat and mangrove forests and golf course boundaries into secret gardens for endangered wildlife and urban bush food cultivation. These areas were once wastelands and ecologically insignificant. The community can now proudly justify reasons for institutions to buy-in into their ideas and plans; as such areas, can now be valued as productive places, places where tourists can visit and for the community to enjoy the lifestyle we are known for on the Gold Coast.

Slide 3: This is why I am optimistic about the future. The Gold Coast is an entrepreneurial water city that has pioneered many wild ideas for wicked problems. So, how can we get agencies and the community working together to create resilience waterways?

I think institutions could be more supportive of the community engagement process through co-designing for change.

If we get the co-design process right, which is what this afternoon is about, the next step is to support leadership development, so leaders for Gold Coast waterways can be resilient themselves. It’s a tough gig leading, volunteering and working in this space, and I think we step over this issue.

We also we need to recognise barriers as opportunities, we are a vibrant linear city with diverse cultures, polarising views and different expectations. For today’s symposium, I invite you to rethink how you view barriers and reflect on how we have achieved success thus far.

In conclusion, from a community perspective that I have been granted to share, to imagine, stimulate and create a resilient waterway network, I think we need to:

  • Value the messy side of the engagement process
  • Have fun co-designing the wildest ideas
  • And support leadership development to build resilient leaders

Because what we do will echo for eternity, so we better make sure what we do echoes resilience, and resilience starts with us here today, thank you.”

 

We got upgraded today – the practice of resilient communities

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#tacklebinproject upgrades Gold Coast’s waterways

Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade today and it came with complimentary carrot cake and a fresh juice (we have moved beyond a latte and bagel). In all seriousness this tangent is a celebration rather than a deep inquiry (well it kind of gets deep) into how and why institutions work or not work, as today like I said, Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade.

The upgrade feels like a lifetime in the making. After meetings after meetings, proposals after proposals, ideas after ideas, all while watching issues become more issues, today, the community of the Gold Coast launched the Tackle Bin Project – to help deal with the marine debris issues Gold Coast’s waterways are experiencing.

The Tackle Bin Project is the latest upgrade initiative of the Gold Coast Marine Debris Network. The idea came about after years of picking up fishing line and tackle and dealing with the onslaught of entangled birds, turtles and other wildlife being caught, hooked and killed by fishing line and tackle dropped by ignorant fishers. Enough was enough. So, the many community champions and groups collaborated to design a future with less fishing line and tackle entering Gold Coast’s waterways.

The Gold Coast Marine Debris Network designed and pitched the project to funding agencies and were successful in finding enough cash and free skilled labour to make the project happen. Almost a year since initial discussions, the project is now launched and it feels so good. Now it is time to watch and monitor the project to measure the impact. 

For colleagues and friends outside the Gold Coast you may be questioning, how did this project happen? It happened for many reasons (not exclusive of below) .

  1. The sheer volume of fishing line and tackle citizen scientists collect (the Gold Coast Seaway is the worst hotspot for fishing line and tackle in Australia) can not be ignored
  2. The impressive, well-organised (30-40) community groups who are active in this space also can not be ignored
  3. The natural beauty of the area makes it to be one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in south east Queensland
  4. Connecting these groups through a central network connected their stories, needs and wants to advocate for this project to happen – again you can not ignore 30-40 community groups
  5. Partners of the project share similar values, however, I think we are now beyond the stock-standard ‘shared-value’ approach, we are friends and want each other to succeed

With a little reflection on these points, one doesn’t have to inquire that far too realise what we do and how we do it on the Gold Coast is pretty special. Of course I am going to be bias. However, with wearing my academic hat what I am discovering is that the community functions with authenticity and integrity, an incredible foundation to build a resilient community network. The community have each other’s back. It’s a pretty cool space to create from. And live in. 

So the question I ask my colleagues and friends who work in this space on the inside of the institutions responsible for ‘managing’ our waterways, do you have each other’s backs?

Being that busy-body person in the community who has their finger on the pulse, it is unfortunate to end this celebration tangent with saying, I don’t think they do – in some aspects yes, but in many cases, no. Imagine what more could be achieved for the environment if we all worked with authenticity and integrity. Next project: how to build a resilient network for our inside colleagues and friends.

In many respects this concern of mine is the essence and motivation of my Phd research. I want to understand how environmental professionals value their craft and go about their craft. Perhaps it is time for our inside colleagues and friends to engage with their own profession and seek advice from the community on how they could move beyond the latte and bagel to enjoy the cream of any cake (lets be generous) and the nutrients of fresh ideas.

Lots to inquire…inspired to inquire.

What a day, congratulations to the community of the Gold Coast for acting with authenticity and integrity to make the Tackle Bin Project happen.

The Tackle Bin Project was made possible by funding from the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Healthy Land and Water, and the Gold Coast Waterways Authority.


This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

Honesty and humility – Part 1

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Taking in the sunrise show across the south coast

Last Sunday and well before dawn my friends and I woke up energised and some not so energised for a sunrise hike to take in the view of Drawing Room Rocks in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve on the south coast of New South Wales, not far from Berry. As we arrived at the beginning of the hike the black sheets of darkness around us blinded any beauty that was yet to be explored and experienced. With the starry-sky slowing turning from black to blue-black but before fluorescent orange, yellow, pink and purple, we started to ascend.

There were five lights ahead of me, one behind, and mine gave me enough light to make my way up the mountain through the forest and heathland then onto the plateau. Weaving through weathered-stunted tea-trees and leaping from one rock to one boulder, the weathering Hawkesbury Sandstone also illuminated my path with speckles of glitter. My imagination romanticised with the idea of following the bioluminescence of a mystical creature as I climbed the foreign mountain.

The morning choir of birds was yet to begin so besides the sounds of the wind, deep breathing, some panting and stomping, there was silence. We were focused on reaching the plateau before the blood orange sun broke over the horizon, across the Pacific in the near distance. With only a warm breeze to cool the body, sweat poured from my glands, so when I could I gracefully wiped my forehead free from my salt-infused perspiration. Not knowing how far or hard the hike was yet to be I paced myself, and reminded myself, there was no need to rush.

There was no need to rush. I reached the lookout before the sun-broke the new day. I found some carved rocks among a patch of healthy-green lomandras to soften a bed as I nestled into the bowls of the unique-looking volcanic rocks. I was surrounded by my friends as each of them also chose a space to rest and reflect while taking in the sunrise show.

As the sun rose the colour of the sky highlighted the low-lying clouds as they transitioned from fluoro orange to yellow and pink over what seemed to be a lifetime. Conversation soon turned from what cloud would you be, to favourite colours, and other favourite things. Then the conversation got more meaningful as we shared our favourite goals for 2017, and opened ourselves to embrace honesty and humility to show our real cards on self-awareness and development.

The practice of honesty with others and myself around my responsibilities is my favourite self-awareness and development goal for 2017. I think I am an honest person, however, I do know I do withhold information which I should be more generous with. What I do know is that I will struggle with practicing honesty, thus, I need to practice humility as well; rather than being honest for the sake of being honest (which I know and have been told can be disruptive and aggressive).  What I do know is that I have the best friends around me , which some of them were around me, and they will help me negotiate honesty and humility throughout this year.

Why is honesty and humility a hand-in-hand value? I will explore this next time!


This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). This tangent is a reflection from an experience during an Intrepid Landcare Board Retreat 2017 (a pretty sweet meeting spot!). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

 

Knowledge about Gold Coast’s waterways for the price of a latte and bagel

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My waterway the other morning 

The other week I got slightly peeved off because of the number of requests for meetings, email follow ups and phone calls to seek my input into projects, plans and strategies, as it was only week 3 of 2017. If it’s a community member wanting my input or a drink at a local pub I have all the time (well maybe a few hours) to freely-give them my knowledge, feedback and ideas. However, once it gets to high level government stuff where consultants are paid to dig their own hole of knowledge or build their own network knowledge database – argh!

But during the short and hot drive on my way to university today (post clean up with volunteers and a breakfast date with an out of town consultant), in a total of 7 minutes, I got some time to think, what I know it is actually not mine. It’s yours, it’s ours and it’s the communities and more importantly, it’s the places and species that don’t have a voice, it’s the environments. Because what I know, and the details of what I know, the personalities, dates of meetings, outcomes of reports, or no outcomes of reports, the results, the failures, the other person that knows everything and that I know they love olives and they give me mangoes, how to get cross-departments to work together, people’s and institution’s responsibilities, pipeline projects, investment ideas, strategies (I think I have already said that one), what the Mayor said when, which politician is dating who, or that they get their nails done there… and the best coffee places to take consultants. What I know is definitely not mine.

So what is my knowledge? How much is ‘this’ knowledge worth? And how do I value what I know? These questions are part of one of my five living Phd questions.

Let’s start with what is my knowledge? I have 20 years of institutionalised education. Once my Phd is done and dusted that will be 23 years, two undergraduate degrees, two postgraduate degrees, then there are the other million-and-one short courses to turn the font-size on my resume to 8 to try and fit everything on two pages. Then add up my 10 years of professional working experience (post first degree) and 10 years of volunteering experience, and at least 7 years of committee and board experience. I have acquired my knowledge through conversations, books and experiences. And I have a brain that files things in sync with the cloud, and a mind that is always in the clouds too. [I am yet to dissect the construction of my knowledge to drill deeper into the seeds of my knowledge].

Moving on.

How much is ‘this’ knowledge worth? Bucketloads more than a price of a coffee and bagel that is for sure. And here is the funny part, the consultant was seeking my input on the socio-economic values of Gold Coast’s waterways. I forgot to record it… damn it, as she was shocked to learn about the highly-networked community on the Gold Coast, who are incredibly passionate and active in caring for the waterways.

The stewardship of Gold Coast’s waterways is priceless. There about 30-50 community groups active in the waterway care network, let alone the recreational groups, there must be 500 or so of them! The ‘watch, land, science, school’ care groups that do stuff to improve the waterways are highly detailed and sophisticated. Then you have to consider their values, and then their values between and among groups. Even the years of trust-building to build trust between the community and council (not all of council). You can’t write that into a project plan, we are going to build trust with erecting 10 tackle bins. Which is why the consultant’s 6-month mission is, well, best of luck. Luckily they started with me.

The level of stewardship isn’t surprising when you admire the geography of the Gold Coast, as the Gold Coast is a water city. Soon enough the beauty of the waterways that attracts people in the first insistence rubs off on them. They could still be climate change deniers, but they care and want our waterways to be clean, and sewage and plastic free. Soon enough the waterways become part of you, as much as you become part of them. From the headwaters of the Coomera River, a world-class World Heritage destination, to the intertidal mudflats where solider crabs build sand cities twice a day, or the roosts that are home to some of the rarest migratory and resident shorebirds. Then between and among some of the most sophisticated canals and urban lakes, the emerald green fringes that are being added to with lots of tree planting, softens the checks and balances the greys, blues and golds of the Gold Coast. Gold Coast’s waterways are priceless.

But that answer isn’t good enough. Government can’t manage something that is priceless, they need a dollar figure. A dollar figure that will never reflect the values of someone in the future, which will be another limit to their study. What babies, toddlers, children, youth are they engaging in this socio-economic study?

I was then asked the comparison question, why is the  Gold Coast’s waterways better than other city waterways? Well, that is like asking why do you love your child more than the screaming baby that lives next door or your step-child perhaps? And I don’t have children.

In my words I said Gold Coast’s waterways are “prettier” because they are “special”. When I visit my local waterway I soak in the sun glitter, seek shade under the casuarinas, admire the rays, spot a few dolphins and enjoy the best latte or fish and chips. I enjoy the waterways because they are special. They trigger emotions and memories, foundation drivers that then trigger me to act to be an agent, to make them pretty. Then part of wants to make them prettier, and this is also the OCD and natural resource management junkie in me. So I come up with ways to make my waterway prettier to keep its special status, like influencing the council to control the weeds, thank the park cleaners in the morning, get on-leash signs erected to protect the birds, and have dog poop bags available…

I am one person among many more who are compelled to act as we also have a strong entrepreneurial spirit on the Gold Coast. If we see something that needs to be done, we find a way to make it happen.

So then how do I value what I know? Firstly, my time is very precious to me. If I am sharing what I know with a consultant, my mentor once said to me, make sure it is on your terms. So at 7am, on the way to university at my favourite cafe, down the road from my house, I honoured my knowledge by taking this approach (instead of meeting during business hours and in some bland meeting room too). I brain dumped everything I know that they may need for their study within an hour and a half, for you, the community and environment. They need to know what I know to ensure they capture the detailed personalities, the histories, the stories, even the characters and where to watch the perfect moonrise over the waterways. I know I can’t share everything in an hour and a half, but I can give them some leads, for a price of a coffee and bagel.

I really don’t want to sound wanky, or up myself either. But I value what I know so much I want to share it as much as I can, hence, this long tangent / Phd journal dump. I am sure there will be another socio-economic study about Gold Coast’s waterways and environment in the future, so next time I’ll be able to send the next consultant this link to save them buying me a coffee and bagel. Here are some links and leads.

Thanking for considering my knowledge to be of value to calculate a priceless part of the best city in in the world. Best of luck Gold Coast Waterways Authority! Looking forward to seeing the outcomes.


This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

Weird & wonderful ways to make things happen

 

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A humble group of committed professionals and citizens co-designing a coastal clean-up free future. 

While your news feed is being flooded with Trump news about him going down as the worst and most embarrassing President of the United States in history, there’ll be snippets of viral videos and humble updates about weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place, with less plastic too.

First off the rank is the 1 Million Women video about Boomerang Bags. The video went viral last week hitting 2.3million views and the ladies behind sewing the boomerang bags haven’t stopped responding to the calls to action to set up Boomerang Bags communities. Boomerang Bags is a national initiative that transitions communities to be plastic free, one hand-made, zero waste reusable bag at a time! I hope they haven’t missed Ellen’s email…

Next in line is Take 3 for the sea’s ABC News update about the hundreds of thousands of litter and marine debris items collected by everyday beach goers, where they collect three-bits for the sea, and then share their plastic bits on Instagram and hash tag #PICKITUPSNAPITSHAREIT. It’s a simple solution to raising awareness about plastic pollution. I recommend getting involved in this solution and it makes leaving the other 1000s or so littered items left on the beach seem OK! You’ve consciously made a difference, right?

Boomerang Bags and Take 3 for the sea are two great examples of the weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place with less plastic too. Keep in mind neither of them could happen in isolation. If anything the media have significantly contributed to their calls to action in the last week, almost as impactful as the Huffington Post and other campaigns that is currently slaughtering and scrutinising Trump. However, above all their impact couldn’t be possible without dedicated and committed citizens – keep this in mind too. It’s as if Margaret Mead is still trying her best to drown out the banging and destruction in our world – and this literally happening outside my office! Construction works for progress, meh.  

A much more humble yet equally weird and wonderful call to action is being crafted by the institutions responsible for managing our natural resources. Yes, finally! As I write the Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games Goldoc and Healthy Waterways and Catchments and the community (Gold Coast Marine Debris Network), have come together to revolutionise the way we track, monitor and report, and intercept litter and marine debris to protect our waterways. We sat around the table yesterday to break free of the institutional norms to co-design a better world with less plastic and perhaps a coastal clean up-free future. This is a major breakthrough that the community have been seeking for many, many, many years, ultimately a marine debris monitoring and management plan. Such a plan seems like a no-brainer, especially when the Gold Coast is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and waterways. However, the mechanics of the disintegrated institutions have limited any possibility thus far (and this is despite having a water economy worth over $5billion!).

The catalyst this time round is a major grant we are collaborating on, and if it gets up, not only will Gold Coast’s waterways and beaches benefit, the international community driven to have a world with less plastic will sleep better at night too.

The drivers that have influenced this possibility to be a possibility is inclusive of the exogenous influences playing a part in the negotiations with media, community leadership, cultural expectations, economies and civic ownership (plus many more).  

Then there are the agents… and in my opinion it’s the community leadership and civic ownership, which have finally tipped the negotiations to get a plan!

Above all, this wouldn’t be possible without the level of negotiation I (and others) have incurred for many, many, many years. Such negotiations have almost sent me to the crazy house, especially in some meetings where I had to spell out what marine debris is, and why current ‘solutions’ are not working… I am serious, and these institutions are responsible for managing our natural resources! Please note: there are good people inside the institutions, however, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that they have failed to successfully negotiate inside their own institutions to have marine debris as a key component in their waste and water management plans – some are better than others. [This consistent failure inspired me to take on a Phd in institutional leadership and change to understand how those in institutions can influence decisions, or really influence their higher officers].

While this is being played out on the inside my local community haven’t stopped coming up with innovative solutions I bet they wish they could coin (e.g. Boomerang Bags is a Gold Coast export!). Such solutions are solutions because they do more than just ‘manage’ the issue, they actually stop the symptom in the first place. “If we only ever clean up, that is all we will ever do”, I quote Heidi Taylor, who is an Australian-based international expert on marine debris and citizen science from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Move over Margaret Mead and everyone hail Heidi, who in my opinion is a key change agent at the heart of the progression on marine debris monitoring and management in Australia. With inspiration and guidance, my community have self-organised without the institutions (or in some incidences been drip fed with small grants and donations), and the meeting yesterday proved just how sophisticated citizens and citizen scientists have become when it comes to action on litter and marine debris.

To be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced on going to this meeting because I have spent hours and hours, goodness knows how many hours, sitting around tables, under fluorescent lights and contained within four walls meeting with clueless institutionalised bureaucrats about the plastic epidemic choking our waterways (I should also add the millions of dollars costing rate and taxpayers every year in clean up costs, and I better not forget the life threatening impacts on the 100,000 or so known wildlife too). That sentence was suppose to make you go out of breath, because I was almost out of breath – before yesterday. I had almost given up on trying to convince the institutions to invest in designing a monitoring and management plan for marine debris on the Gold Coast. Fortunately, a smarter than usual bureaucrat twisted my arm to attend that I thankfully attended…

Throughout the meeting I was in two-minds. Equally frustrated and equally thankful. Frustrated because the community, who are highly skilled, educated and experienced have been pitching such a project for many years. However, I was thankful that someone else was taking the minutes, someone else was responsible for writing the grant and I sat their gracefully sharing my ideas on how the community could be meaningfully involved. We are more than volunteers doing the dirty work!

As I drove home I gracefully smiled thinking, you know what, as much as the institutionalised bureaucrats and ‘science researchers’ in the meeting were frothing on the possibility of this project. None of it could be possible without the decade/s of community action already achieved. Today, my other frustrated self is thankful for being part of an incredible community that doesn’t stop until we get the outcome we know is the best-outcome for the environment. That is the ultimate goal!

If you have attended a clean up event on the Gold Coast I want to thank you because without your action I could not be in such positions (as much as they might seem frustrating) to put forward your ideas that add bucket-loads of soul to pivotal projects that will make our world a better place, with less plastic too.

I hope this tangent gives you some idea on what happens behind the scenes of cleaning up our waterways and beaches, inside the institutions that manage our natural resources. 

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate. 

URGENT // need portion control: the dilemmas of protecting the coast

URGENT // need portion control (pc: Photograph: Randy Mayor, Illustration: Brett Ryder)

URGENT // need portion control (pc: Photograph: Randy Mayor, Illustration: Brett Ryder)

This tangent is part of a private journal I am writing as part of my Phd. I don’t intend on sharing this journal (to often), however, today is one of those Phd days where I have realised that I am going to mad, I have put too much on my plate and need to go back to the beginning for some portion control. I wrote this motivation-journal-entry a few months ago and I don’t think I have progressed… mmm.


When your passion is your work and your work is your passion, negotiating the conflicting terrain between your passion and work will send you mad. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months and years trying to figure out the best way to negotiate conflicts. Conflicts that limit my passion and work to make a difference for Australia’s coast.

It is like being on a mice-wheel going around and around, going nowhere until the wheel falls off or I fall off.

I fell off a few years ago and now I find myself back on but on my own wheel. I didn’t want to be like the others and stay on the system’s wheel going nowhere. Instead, I signed up to do a Phd to understand why some stay on the wheel, why others fall off the wheel or how others find another way while on the wheel to make a difference. My motivation behind my Phd is part selfish, part selfless, because I didn’t want to be like those that stay on the wheel and go nowhere. I want to one of those that find the other way to make a difference.

I know that I am passionate about the coast and that I want to make a difference. But I am yet to know how and where I want to make a difference other than the entire system! I know I can’t research or make a difference to the entire system of coastal management. I have ideas (obviously) which have led me to begin a Phd in coastal management, and I am now at the crossroads of how, where and ultimately why I want to make a difference (and why bother at all).

I intentionally say difference rather than change because for my Phd what I do know thus far is that it is about being a difference maker. It is important to recognise this early on as the difference between difference maker and change maker is that difference makers focus on systemic change. Change needed for institutional-transformational change. Changing the institutions of coastal management is where I believe we need to make a difference (or at least make a dent in it), especially, to be able to address the unprecedented impacts that climate change poses on the coast. It’s a big statement and deserves critical attention (and has), and will seek the attention of many other Phds… not just mine.

Remembering that I am one of many who seeks such systemic change I start this Phd journal with asking myself, am I naive to think that a Phd on the cultures and conflicts of the coastal professional working in coastal management will answer the question we seek to know – how to influence systemic change to protect Australia’s coast?

The short answer is yes. So what, yes I am naive.

Anyway, it has now been 4 months of trailing through Google Scholar, attending conferences and symposiums, talking with coastal professionals, colleagues, students, friends and mentors. Each paper, experience and conversation has and will continue to shape my Phd. A Phd that will offer new insights before my (and other’s) passion turn into a nightmare, and have national and international significance. I also know the writing process (beyond my tangents) will help me document, scrutinise and re-imagine what could be possible to inspire myself, and perhaps other coastal professionals, to be difference makers to influence systemic change.

2016 >> 2017


I’ve had nothing scheduled to do or follow up in my Google Calendar for the last few weeks. Or rather only my travel app synced reminders to remind me where I am going and staying as I am traveling across Europe visiting friends. This way of being is a killer way for me to end a fast, jammed packed year. Because part of me and at times all of me throughout 2016 wanted to be free, schedule-free. My Facebook cover photo reminds me of this desire, to be free and perhaps free as a bird. 

But are birds actually free? I’m no Ornithologist and barely scraped through Zoology 1 at university (chemistry was my thing back then), but I do know birds live a territorial, frightful and demanding life. You just have to take a walk through a park during mating season (if in Australia I should say Magpie season) and if you are not looking ridiculous wearing zip-ties tied to a helmet, you’d get what I mean. It’s frightfully scary to think that a bird that territorially swoops can make a grown man duck for cover or wave a stick in the air shouting something obscenely inappropriate. All because birds are not entirely free, right? 

Where is this going? That’s right, it’s the end of another year and I haven’t had a reminder about it other than my Facebook feed reminding me that in fact it is that time of year and that time of year when we reflect on the passing year and pitch new year resolutions to the world. 

If I can bank on my experiences this year, learn from them and take my closest friends advice to slow down, 2017 will look like this… 

  • Eat less sugar 
  • More swimming
  • Less work
  • Less volunteering 
  • More writing 
  • More reading
  • More sleeping
  • More (time for) love 

Sounds idyllic, maybe I should schedule it in now before the next year is over (that was a joke, haha…actually I probably will to some extent). Although in all honesty I am stoked on what happened in 2016 so whatever happens in 2017 I know it’ll be perfect. Because I had massive wins and losses this year and the same happened in the previous year and the year before that one etc. 
So here are my top 2016 stoked moments (in no order of preference): 

  • Kick starting Intrepid Landcare with the coolest bunch of legends and getting some cool projects over the line without begging.
  • Being awarded the co-winner for the National Young Landcare Leader with the west-coast stella, Ella Maesepp and having my family and friends there supporting me.
  • Getting a PhD Scholarship from Griffith University and having an empowered team around me to take my ideas to the next level.
  • Letting go of my dreamboat…my classic 1962 VW Beetle.
  • Successfully completing the Introduction Leaders Program with Landmark Worldwide (that was massive!) and forming lifelong friends with the course’s participants. This will forever be lifechanging. Can’t wait to Coach this year!
  • Coaching people for them to see anything is possible, even plant 17,100 plants in one day.
  • Having my heart broken to remind me I’m not steel and that I have to nurture myself and be more accepting of others.

Lessons I’m taking into the new year:

  • Don’t ignore something or someone even when I’m flat out. Everyone is equally busy and important.
  • Write when I read and enter my references into the holy grail of my PhD (THE spreadsheet) straight away.
  • Park project ideas until I’ve complete current projects and have had a day off. 
  • Use the sleep app on my phone to put my want for more sleep into action.
  • Only buy what I intend on eating not what I might… that’s including sugary foods. 

I’m not going to gamble any new year resolutions rather than take lessons learnt, particularly mistakes, and make sure 2017 is swimmingly more fun, random and spontaneous. 
I want to thank all my friends and family for supporting me in 2016 and I look forward to an amazing year in 2017 (filled with more time for my friends and family). 

Love me xo

(Apologies for any bad edits on this post because I’m on my phone). 

The perfect organisational relationship

 

Either a tiny room or oversized flag?!

Either a tiny room or  an oversized, gigantic flag?!  

Since I first saw this photo on Sunday I haven’t been able to stop laughing. The room is either really small or we underestimated what 4 meters looks like in reality. Talk about an impact statement, hello, we are here, you’ll easily find us, we are the organisation with the gigantic flag!

Never heard of Intrepid Landcare? Well, you are bound to see us.

Oversized postcards / Megan has really small hands?

Oversized postcards / Megan has really small hands?

Pedal backwards to September, Megan Rowlatt (the other co-founder of Intrepid Landcare) sent me the other photo (to the left) when she picked up our postcard inspired flyers. Yet, again, what are postcards. Pfft. We don’t do mail, we are Gen-Y. But seriously though I definitely designed A6 cards and somehow they came out as A4.

What I am gathering to understand everyday with Intrepid Landcare is that we are definitely learning the ropes of un-schooling for social impact and design for change.  I pretty much race home (well, we are all flat out with work, study and other life commitments so I can speak for myself and say I  intentionally and presently race from place to place, task to task), to  get onto Google Hangout to discuss how we can test the waters and challenge our own institutionalised conditioning to come up with other ways of doing community engagement, youth leadership and Landcare. After all this is how and why we were founded as this is our trademark, to be innovative, bespoke and adventurous to inspire young people to act and lead with Landcare.

In all honesty we do have this change making stuff sorted. Our board, volunteers, advisors, mentors and supporters are a big deal (big deal almost / has made it into our membership structure, this will democratically go to a vote of course). We have an empowered, high performance team, with different skills, ideas and culture, though, grounded and connected with similar morals, ethics, values and beliefs. Setting up a national organisation for social impact in the Landcare space could have been hard work, challenging and emotionally draining. However, it’s been like a perfect marriage, maybe it is (I have nothing to compare at this stage).  I’ll go with the perfect organisational relationship.

Why? It’s been nothing short of incredible! We past our one-year anniversary and I actually can’t remember if we did anything, which goes to show the type of relationship I have with Intrepid Landcare (in a good way, time flies when you are having fun). It’s been a labour of love that so far hasn’t tied knots in our stomach, stabs us in the back or broken are hearts. As I said, the perfect relationship, maybe my perfect relationship or maybe a good excuse to be single as I am too pre-occupied to be bothered to have knots in my stomach, a stabbed back or a broken heart.

So, how have we achieved this?

Because we are serious about making an impact we started our organisation with discovering ourselves. This started with us and then internally as an organisation. What impact did we want to create for ourselves, each other and Intrepid Landcare, and who was going to be responsible for what, and what could we expect from each other?  How did we want to work and what is the best way to communicate with each other. For instance, there are a few of us that love tables, for others it’s about spreadsheets, some it’s all about verbal communication and then we have purposely made sure we have two Board members  living in the same city / close by to catch up face to face and share those random ideas when passing. This approach helps us to learn how to be effective communicators with all people and overcomes isolation when setting up a national organisation.

To start Intrepid Landcare from this conservation and lens has  given us the space to form deep connections despite being spread across the country. It has also even us the permission to be honest, straight and frank with each other. Criticism is seen as a contribution in our circle for change and if you can reach this in your organisation from the beginning impact will happen. Trust me… a 4 meter flag for impact, easy done! It will also make you more attractive to potential partnerships as people will want to work with you. They will want what you have, buzz, energy, ideas…

This is how and why I can sit back and laugh until I cry over the gigantic flag and postcards. Was it a stuff up, a lesson to be learnt or an intentional accident that still happens to align with what we stand for? A big impact.

I’ll accept all contributions.

Collaboration for conservation

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We know that we need to change the old way of doing conservation to transform our approaches to meet the demands and uncertainty of the environment. This is why collaboration for conservation gives me hope for the future. And this is why I am increasingly becoming more optimistic (can that be possible!) about the future because of the collaborative efforts behind the scenes that make wonder possible for conservation.

Being a networker with passion for innovative coastal management, natural resource management and Landcare (pretty much anything to do with improving the health and resilience of our land and water), gives me access to, can I use Intrepid Landcare’s tag, ‘a backstage pass to nature’. But to be politically correct here  I would have to say a backstage pass to the conversations for conservation.

Today, I have had conversations with volunteers, coordinators, a CEO and a politician about various projects and the theme in all those conversations has been about how we can we approach conservation differently through collaboration (broadly stated). And yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Lockyer Valley in south east Queensland to see the collaborative efforts of approaching catchment management through an entire new lens.

The Lockyer Valley is prime agricultural land and produces approximately 40% of the fresh vegetables consumed in south east Queensland. The rich black soils boost the productivity. It’s the black gold of our regions agricultural heartland. However, the land and water have been under significant pressures for many years. Unsustainable farming practices and development have impacted this heartland, with overgrazing, vegetation clearing, weeds and soil erosion impacting the entire region’s catchment.  The loss of vegetation and overgrazing has rapidly increased the mobility of sediment in the upper catchment with it ending up in Moreton Bay. The models show that this increased mobility has been occurring for many years with some sediment slugs moving at a rate of 30 years. What this means is that we have productive rich soils that are 60,000 years old moving through the creeks and rivers of our central catchments, reducing the health of the waterways. This isn’t news as we have watched the health of south east Queensland’s waterways decrease despite investment efforts in catchment management. However, what is news is the new way of approaching this issue.

What is unique, actually, transformational in this new approach is the collaborative effort to do something about the dying needs of south east Queensland catchments. It did take for a flood to shift cultural ideologies, however, we are getting there through collaboration. Here we have the Port of Brisbane spending big dollars on dredging and offsets every year. They are paying for the end result of sedimentation building up in Moreton Bay. Then we have the farmers upstream that are losing productive land. So, a handful of  collaborative conservation leaders got together to do something about this mis-matched approach and thought, how can we shift investment spent on mopping up the downstream issues to clean up the symptoms of the upper catchment issue. How about we invest in the actual issue, rather than pay to clean up the problem. This has seen a shift in investment from downstream to upstream to revegetate creeks and in time with monitoring we will see if this approach works.

To the outside world this seems like a no brainer. But inside the tent it took a natural disaster, and a flood of convincing and influencing from collaborative leaders to make this happen. And of course, a central networker to make this possible, that being Healthy Waterways and Catchments.

Unfortunately how this project was influenced and by who, their characteristics, value systems and ways of doing business isn’t captured in project or monitoring reports. Something we forget to capture, and I certainly didn’t see it showcased on the project sign hanging up in the local hall. But I think in time the value of collaboration will be communicated, celebrated and embraced more and more, and to be honest I think it’s the younger generation’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas that have a lot more value waiting to be untapped and added to the ever increasing pie of collaboration.

A new uplifting regional legacy

Video: three decades of natural resource management in south east Queensland in 4 seconds.

Today could have been like any other day. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was a warmer than usual Spring day and people just went about their day. But today wasn’t like any other day. Because today marked a milestone for south east Queensland’s environment – a strategic planning day for the newly formed Healthy Waterways and Catchments. 

Now for some context: A few months ago there was a historic merge between SEQ Catchments and Healthy Waterways to form Healthy Waterways and Catchments. A new natural resource management organisation to drive and lead natural resource management in south east Queensland.  What that means is that in south east Queensland we now have one ‘organisation’ to lead transformational, cutting-edge research and practice for the care, protection and management of the natural environment (and not just south east Queensland, as it can go international). Bascially, we have a pretty sweet deal, imagine a two-for-one deal, as we have merged two leading organisations into one. There are a whole bunch of reasons why this happened which could make this tangent go for years as it did. But what you really need to know is that there is no doubt that the new company will be a game changer and ice-breaker for south east Queensland’s natural environment.

Lining up to pledge our support for the future direction of Healthy Waterways and Catchments.

Lining up to pledge our support for the future direction of Healthy Waterways and Catchments.

Cracking jokes. There champions are funny!

Cracking jokes. These champions are funny!

Birds eye view of the champions

Birds eye view of the champions

Tea, coffee, coloured pens, play dough... we have got this!

Tea, coffee, coloured pens, play dough… we have got this!

Some ultra cool future ideas. Did someone say Instagreen?

Some ultra cool future ideas. Did someone say Instagreen?

Time to be creative: our future where the environment is everything.

Time to be creative: our future where the environment is everything.

Now for some inside inspiration: I feel extremely privileged to have been part of the merge and now the cultural change to create the personality, vision and future of Healthy Waterways and Catchments. For a moment I sat back , closed my eyes and took in a deep breath so I could remember the experience. I needed a moment to myself to remember that this was actually happening and that I was there contributing to the future of Healthy Waterways and Catchments. I must add I was there alongside and with 80 or so other champions who bought nothing else to the table other than energy, passion and commitment to create an exciting new culture and future for the new organisation.

There were some laughs, sighs and challenges, but most of all  future-focused tech-savvy, institutional-changing, market-based ideas that will no doubt transform the way we manage our natural resources and most of all communicate it to the world.

At my table, we spoke about how the environment needs to hold us for it to become the core value for everyone in south east Queensland. Technology and real-time information will be lifeline for the lifeblood of our region, and to also turn the tide on the ignorance is bliss. Because ignorance is not bliss.

At the end of the meeting there was a deep consensus for the change (I am saying change instead of merge),  which left me uplifted and excited about the future we now to get to live.

Congratulations to the team behind today’s meeting. I am 200% behind Healthy Waterways and Catchments to take the lead for the future of south east Queensland’s environment. Looking forward to seeing the outcomes of today’s meeting.