Episode 2: Parks, plastics, and problem-solving

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Full transcript available here. 


In this episode, we’re looking at the idea of working across disciplines. What are some of the challenges, opportunities, and examples? Below are some notes from the show.

This episode was recorded on 5 August 2019. We had the honour of speaking to Kate Auty on 21 March 2019, Cynthia Burton on 6 April 2019, and Brett McNamara on 3 May 2019.

“Parks management is about people management”

  • Introducing Brett McNamara, Senior Manager at ACT Parks & Conservation Service
  • The values in a landscape and what is considered to be “well taken care of” are defined by whoever or whatever is using the landscape – management is in the eye of the beholder
  • Many of the problems faced in national parks, such as invasive species, resulted from human actions especially following European invasion of Australia. So the key to effective management is managing human behaviour
  • Aboriginal and First Nations people have cultivated, managed, and lived with the land for millennia, as written about by Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu, 2016) and Bill Gammage (The Biggest Estate on Earth, 2012)
  • When Europeans arrived, their way of conceptualising the human relationship with Country was fundamentally different from Aboriginal people here

The fourth pillar

  • Apart from the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainability discussed in episode one, there’s one more: culture. It’s a tricky thing to describe; it has to do with people’s beliefs, values, relationships, and paradigms
  • False dichotomies are a logical fallacy that is present in some discourses about sustainability, where the arts and STEM are pitted against each other
    • In fact, neither is closer to some objective “truth”, but instead build off of one another in interconnected ways
  • All knowledge – including that of sustainability – has to evolve with and adapt to new information
    • Brett: Parks needs to find a way to be and stay relevant to the people, as populations change and so do cultural relationships with conservation spaces
    • Cynthia Burton, then-vice president of the National Parks Association of the ACT: Creative outreach strategies across age groups and backgrounds, to build community, network, and empathy for national parks
  • Both the NPAACT and ACT Parks are facing a communication problem, which requires understanding human psychology, best practices in communication
    • In addition to knowing about conservation, people need to also believe in its value in order to care, and encourage others to do so as well

Working across disciplines

  • Introducing Kate Auty, then-Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment
  • Their staff is made up of a lawyer, water ecologist, environmental engineer, spatial mapping expert, a human ecologist … people from a number of disciplinary backgrounds, all with the goal of thinking across disciplines in the work the office does
    • Most people there are young, so there are fresh ideas and perspectives coming in, especially about communicating beyond dense reports that they’ve always done
    • Even so, still stuck beneath the grass ceiling, and like Cynthia’s and Brett’s work, having issues with communication
  • Defining working across disciplines
    • Multidisciplinary: Combining several academic disciplines to a single topic or issue
    • Interdisciplinary: Going between two (or more) disciplines (e.g. biochemistry)
    • Transdisciplinary: Across disciplines
    • The difference between these terms is confusing, but the spirit is similar; “bringing together multiple disciplines”. We may use all three interchangeably (multichangeably? transchangeably?)
  • Kate: Networking, forming relationships outside of one’s disciplinary bubble is key to working across disciplines
    • Perhaps this puts the onus squarely on the individual within a role, with little view to longevity of interdisciplinary relationships within institutions. Or, could baking it into the institution mean that there’s less flexibility for successive position-holders?
    • What kinds of relationships might one build, and how might the choices of relationships to foster differ between people based on their values, knowledge paradigm, existing networks?
  • Brett: Restorative justice for vandalism in ACT Parks
    • Exchanging values, mutual learning, and building empathy

Scale and focus

  • When tasked with coming up with a solution to plastic packaging on fresh produce for a uni class, some vastly different examples emerged
    • Nick’s group went with a global plastics convention, while Sumi’s came up with a soupermarket
    • Neither one is necessarily better than the other, but in fact have to work hand-in-hand in order to work
    • There’s a whole range of reasons why plastic is so pervasive in our lives
  • Prioritisation of responses: Top-down, or bottom-up? Global or local? Individual or institutional?
    • It may be a false dichotomy in some cases, but due to scarcity of time and resourcing, sometimes we do have to make a choice
    • Feasibility, affordability are key factors. Culture can play a huge role in the feasibility of a change (e.g. reducing meat consumption)
  • Innovation is a key driver of change, but the effects are not always clear from the get-go

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