Now that we accept that we are living in a climate change world there is going to be even more focus by policy makers, planners, advisers, regulators, politicians and researchers on actions that have as their ultimate aim (even if not acknowledged) the desire to change someone else's behaviour. In my travels over recent weeks I have become aware of how pervasive this practice is becoming- whether in research on farmer's attitudes in the UK, studies to elicit awareness of climate change in certain constituencies in the EU or Australia, public health campaigns, knowledge transfer strategies by Universities and other organisations etc.
From my perspective much of this practice is unethical and reflects a poor understanding of how change occurs. It seems that many contemporary research funders and policy makers know little of the past scholarship on this issue, especially that associated with 'agricultural extension'. This is a subject I have spoken and written about. A keynote address I gave to the Australian Rangeland Society in 1992 seems just as relevant to my concerns today as it did then. The talk was subsequently published as:
Ison, R.L. (1993) Changing community attitudes. The Rangeland Journal 15, 154-66.I imagine this has not been widely read so I am posting a version of it here:
The highlighted theme of the Seventh Biennial Conference of the Australian Rangeland Society is "the dynamic nature of rangelands and rangeland management". In the context of this invited paper, I felt it pertinent to explore whose attitudes were reflected in the decision to highlight this theme. Does it reflect the conference organisers' attitudes, those of the community of scientists and advisers we call rangeland researchers and extensionists, the community of pastoralists who occupy the rangelands, or the urban electoral majorities, who through the exercise of their democratic rights, now have the bulk of the political power?
My title also refers to "community" but in what sense? As I have used it above to indicate "a common professional interest" or "a body of people living in the same locality" or to indicate "a state of being shared or held in common"? Finally, it is worth considering whether the concept of attitude or attitudinal change, is in itself of any utility in our conversation about rangeland dynamics and change? These are questions which this paper explores in developing the case for a new ethos for rangeland research and development (R&D) based on a commitment to participative design which is sensitive to context and issues of power.
Attitude Studies in Rural Areas
As humans we have no way of referring to ourselves or to anything else outside of language. Since language, or what we more commonly refer to as communication, creates what we call reality, developing a 'shared meaning' will involve participation in the task at hand by all those who will be affected by the outcome. These might be called stakeholders. Based on his neurobiological research Maturana (1988) has defined human social systems as `systems of co-ordinations of actions in language or networks of conversations'. He thus argues that a change in a human social system can only take place in the network of conversations that its members generate. From this perspective a community is seen as those people engaged in a network of conversations. This definition shapes a different metaphor for that of community than is now commonly perceived; it captures more elegantly the meaning associated with the word's roots in the Latin "communis", literally "with exchange".
Shaping new conversations
Myths arise when ideas, models or theories relating to social or natural phenomena become sacred in traditional narrative or discourse in ways beyond their original intention or scope. In the rangelands three powerful discourses which have shaped rangeland R&D practice and which appear to have reached mythical status are: (i) the "transfer of technology (TOT) paradigm; (ii) what "extension" has come to symbolise and (iii) the belief that institutionalised R&D has changed things for the better.
The word "extension" arose in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, meaning to "extend out from centres of learning". Extension and extension science further developed as a discourse in the Land Grant System of the USA. There and in Australia it remains today captive of its original linear and elitist meaning. It is time to abandon the term and the network of jaded concepts at its core. It is probably too early yet to make claims as to what should replace it but alternatives are emerging under the rubric of action learning or research (eg. Webber et al. 1992) and second order R&D (Russell and Ison 1992).
Discourse and Power or Has Anything Changed in Over 100 Years of Institutionalised R&D?
The plains were dust in Ninety-two, and hard as bricks in Ninety-one.
On glaring iron-roofs of Bourke the scorching, blinding sandstorms blew,
No hint of beauty lingered there in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
The end result is a R&D system which can be viewed as a network of system-determined problems (Ison 1992) with each institution or sometimes an organisational programme or arm determining or formulating problems in isolation from its external environment. Put another way, these institutions act as if they were closed systems (Holt and Schoorl 1990) and little to no attention is paid to the quality and nature of the relationship between the system and its environment. In the context of integrated catchment management this has led Hollick (1992a) to advocate (i) the use of a variety of design instruments which are sensitive to the needs, aspirations and concerns of the farming community, and based on a balanced assessment of their strengths and weaknesses; (ii) cooperation based on shared understanding and appropriate incentives rather than statutory controls and (iii) farming community involvement in developing statutory controls where these are necessary.
The alternative to system-determined problems is problem-determined systems (Ison 1992). The challenge is to create processes and institutions which give rise to problem determined systems. Almost a century after the 1901 Royal Commission there is a need for change which makes a difference. We can no longer afford more of the same. Participative ecodesign provides one way of developing problem-determined systems.Participative ecodesign
(ii) Response - communication is reciprocal. There is here a moral obligation : to learn to understand, to pay attention, and to respond.
(iii) Symmetry - in opposing and balancing each other, parts must be equivalent because the purpose is not to "win" or to dominate, but to block thereby producing further balance.
(iv) Autonomy: no species, no group, or country is "boss" for another; each adheres to its own Law. Authority and dependence are necessary within parts, but not between parts.
Citizen Values Not Individual Preferences
* Projects have the potential for more mutually satisfying outcomes when an invitation is extended to participate and the resultant communication is based on conversations which acknowledge each person's experience as unique and valid;
* it is important to understand that experience and knowledge is related to context and that it is necessary to attempt to appreciate particular contexts;
* enthusiasm, which may be triggered, appears to be an emotional state predisposing individuals to action which is meaningful to that individual;
* matters individuals are keen to take action on may or may not concur with institutional priorities;
* pursuit of these matters in open, collaborative and critically informed ways can lead to locally meaningful and adaptive changes;
* knowledge is both individually and socially constructed and because of this, processes are necessary to create learning networks;
* pastoralist families and communities already do "research" and "extension" (share experience and knowledge - but they place importance on waiting to be asked);
* diversity of experience, knowledge, research and "extension" action is an asset of equal importance to the diversity of the biophysical environment.
The question we might ask of the rangelands in the future is: "Is that how it really is?". The answer will be in the interpretation and in the dialogue that ensues. The challenge for future R&D practice will be to design processes that allow, through dialogue, for the range of interpretations to be brought forth. The worlds of the graziers and those of the scientists may remain as in the case of Fortmann (1989) as stories which do not intersect. Each is a mystery to the other and where there is mystery then the possibilities of design are removed from effective dialogue. Random dialogue is not enough - the potentialities of mutually satisfying conversation is itself a process for design - who is to be involved in the issuing of invitations and who is to be the recipient of them? Gender and ageism, or its reverse, become critical in this context - decision making and thus agreement about what is desirable change has for too long in rural Australia suffered from the lack of full and open participation by women. We also run the risk of constantly making decisions which are generationally skewed as those in positions of power draw on experiences which are past and no longer relevant to the experiences of the present. These are all difficult questions but once acknowledged they may help to shape the design process in ways that lead to altered or enhanced perceptions and to changed emotions. - this is more likely to lead to meaningful action than relying only on objective science and logic and on efforts to change attitudes.
I thank the organising committee for the invitation to present this paper and the support and collaboration of all my colleagues in the CARR project, amongst whom I include graziers north of Broken Hill. The research was supported by the Wool Research and Development Corporation. I also thank Craig Pearson and Cathy Humphreys for comments on early drafts of the paper.
Chatwin, Bruce (1987). The Songlines. (Picador: London).
Ison, R.L. (1989). Teaching threatens sustainable agriculture. Gatekeeper Series No. 21. IIED Sustainable Agriculture Programme, London. 16p.
Walters, C.J. and Holling, C.S. (1990). Large-scale management experiments and learning by doing. Ecology, 71: 2060-2068.
Table 1. Attitudinal positions held by participants in community consultation processes conducted by the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council (Source: Anon. 1991)
a) Most significant attitudes:
* avoidance of further regulation
* support for the family unit enterprise
* encouragement and self-determination
b) Other attitudes:
* the family farming unit is being undermined;
* natural resources infrastructure should be a cost to the nation as the nation shares the benefits;
* on-farm decisions are being constrained by increased regulation;
* farmers are good conservationists by definition;
* governments join partnerships they can dominate and control;
* research knowledge is secondary in value to experience;
* many environmentalist's statements are ignorant of production processes;
* many farmers are unaware of the long-term damage they are causing to the environment;
* farmers are unemployable outside farming;
* big business gets assistance to survive that is not available to smaller enterprises;
* existing environmental control regulations are not policed or enforced
* up-river has little regard for down-river
* down-river refuses to understand up-river
* environmentally sound enterprise management practices are expensive and threaten the survival of the initiating manager
* incentives not punishments will lead to effective change in management behaviours.
Figure 1. The language associated with the diffusion and adoption of innovations model of technology transfer and some of its questionable assumptions for rangeland R&D.
Figure 2. Current planning is characterised by forecasting whereas a move to backcasting is advocated for participative ecodesign (Source: after Hooker 1992).
1 Foucault used the term discursive formation in referring to the overall structure tying together discourse, (a systematically ordered set of statements, often scientific, but not necessarily so, centred on a particular object or objective), institution and technologies/practices. Discursive formations, in their construction of an object of investigation and regulation, operate as apparatuses of power.