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.”


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