Saturday, June 29, 2013

OU (UK) in THES top 100 under 50 Unis

Rankings are pervasive. Because the criteria are never readily apparent, and unlikely to be systemic, rankings always need to be treated with caution.  That said it is good to have some differentiation in the rankings system as with the global top 100 under 50 year old universities. From my perspective ranking still has a long way to go to capture the essence of what a university's purpose is - the transformation of learners and society in line with an espoused social mission.  This makes the traditional ranking system, which puts Oxbridge etc at the top, very dubious from a policy perspective.  I feel sure the current top crop would come much further down the list if the value they added via transformation was the key measure. For this reason I am delighted the OU features in top 100 (just) in the new rankings.

The OU ranks 99 in the 100 global under 50 years old universities 2013 published by the Times Higher Education (THE).  The Times Higher Education 100 Under 50 is a ranking of the top 100 global universities under 50 years old.  

It provides a glimpse into the future, showcasing not those institutions with centuries of history, but the rising stars which show great potential.  The ranking was described by THE editor, Phil Baty as “the next generation of world class universities”. 

The latest edition of University World News contains a number of reports on ranking, incuding one from a 2011 UNESCO sponsored conference

Friday, June 28, 2013

Political troubles with the new MDB plan

Governing and managing the MDB (Murray Darling Basin) in Australia is regarded by many as a classic 'wicked problem' but it has rarely been framed as such by policy makers.  Developing, and now adopting a MDB plan has been a frought process.  The saga continues.  Victoria, the ACT and South Australia have formally signed on to the plan but not NSW or Queensland as this piece 'Murray-Darling stoush helps no-one' notes:
26 June 2013

"The standoff continues between State and Federal Governments on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Queensland and New South Wales Governments believe the current deal on offer leaves them holding the short straw, and now say they won’t sign up until they are offered a fair compromise. The Federal Government’s plan is technically legally binding, so there may not be a great deal the States can actually do. Jonathan La Nauze from the Australian Conservation Foundation says, “The Commonwealth now has the power to set limits on how much water can be taken out of river  valleys... that's an important independent power that they have to look after our shared interests”, but those rivers are still managed on a day-to-day basis by State Governments. They're the ones who actually own and manage most of the dams and the channels, the regulators that control where water flows... if the Commonwealth actually has to intervene and force them to comply, it'll be quite an expensive exercise that's really not the best way to achieve the outcome”.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman seems resolute in his stance, saying the Plan would have dire consequences for rural communities, and he won’t accept funding or take responsibility for implementing the plan until changes are made.

Ultimately the states must conform to the Federal Government’s impositions, reports say that trying to impede progress would only chew up taxpayer funds before finding in the Commonwealth’s favour."

I wonder if the Liberal (Conservative) premiers of NSW and Queensland know something others do not? For example is there a 'behind-closed doors' deal within the Liberal-National Party that parts of the legislation will be repealed or manipulated when (if) they are elected federally?

In my view Australian water governance suffered another blow this past week when Indpendent MP Tony Windsor announced his intention to resign from Federal Parliament.  We gave evidence before a Parliamentary Committee he chaired and I found him open and receptive and above all polite - more than could be said for some of the National Party members of his committee. Tony Windsor had a systemic sensibility.  He has also achieved a lot in parliament (e.g. his role in recent legislation restricting coal seem gas exploitation), particularly over his period of minority government, as this testimonial from GetUp outlines:

"I just wanted to let you know about some good news this week – and share an opportunity to say thank you to the MP who helped make it happen. Parliament passed the ‘water trigger bill’ which will ensure the impact on water is considered before CSG or coal projects are approved.
One of the many scary things about CSG mining is the threat it poses to our water supply. Pumping huge volumes of chemicals underground, at high pressure, can have a detrimental impact on our water reserves. 

Until now, the Federal Government has had no legal power to intervene in cases where water resources could be put at risk. This week, Parliament agreed to change that. As a result, the Federal Government is already contacting scores of mines and CSG projects to demand a thorough analysis on the impact of their plans on ground and surface water.

Independent MP Tony Windsor introduced and championed the Bill to make this happen. It’s been a long fight, and we reckon he deserves a huge “congratulations”.

We’ve booked a huge “thank you” advertisement in Mr Windsor’s local paper so his constituents can see what he achieved this week. Wouldn’t it be great if thousands of us from across the country signed it, to show that good deeds and hard fights pay off?"

Bernard Keane writing in Crikey made excellent points about Windsor and his fellow Independent Rob Oakeshott:

 "For much of the last three years, Windsor and Oakeshott have looked like the only adults in Parliament -- particularly Windsor, who always seemed to take seriously the stuff that needed to be taken seriously but knew that most of the rest was nonsense. Windsor also had a healthy scepticism of the media, deriding the pretensions of News Ltd, which openly declared war on Oakeshott, and noting the inability of press gallery journalists to cope with the idea of a hung parliament and the scary idea that legislation might actually be debated, negotiated and amended rather than being rubber-stamped by Parliament."

"Tony Windsor began and ends his political career with hung parliaments. He was elected as an independent to the New South Wales Parliament in 1991, at the same election that reduced Nick Greiner, remarkably, to a minority government. As for why Windsor was an independent, rather than the Nationals MP he originally was a candidate to become, you can ask the NSW Nationals. As they would learn repeatedly over the ensuing two decades, you mess with Tony Windsor at your peril.
Greiner himself didn't last much longer after the Metherell affair. But the Greiner-Fahey government, despite its minority status, ran full term, with Windsor's support -- demonstrating that hung parliaments can be stable and deliver outcomes. Bob Carr only narrowly won power in 1995.

Windsor, knowingly or not, created a brand -- the independent who saw how much for granted the Nationals, particularly in NSW, took the bush, and offered an alternative. He held his seat in 1995, again in 1999, and then in 2001 tried for a federal seat. And not just any federal seat, but New England, Nationals heartland and the one-time kingdom of Nats leader Ian Sinclair. Windsor handily defeated Sinclair's successor, Stuart St Clair. Six years before, Peter Andren had entered politics and seized Calare from the Nationals."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Systemic water governance - what prospects?

An international conference on water governance called 'Water in the Anthropocene: Challenges for Science and Governance' has recently been held.  I had hoped to attend but some personal matters interferred.  Several friends and colleagues attended so I have been asking for feedback.  I have been keen to know what was discussed and where they felt, as a result of their attendance, water goverance (including research and policy) was heading.

The conference organisers have been very professional - they have an excellent website and already most (but not all) of the presentations have been posted (though at least one is attributed to the wrong presenter).  Among these is a presentation Catherine Allan (Charles Sturt University) and I co-developed:  Exploration of metaphors to transform water governance praxis. A copy of the abstract of the talk is given at the end of this post. I also participated vicariously in a session concerned with transboundary water governance.

One of the outcomes of the conference was the Bonn Declaration on Global Water Security. It can be signed here. Also produced was 'a film charting the global impact of humanity on the global water cycle' [because] 'evidence is growing that our global footprint is now so significant that we have driven Earth into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways.'

Despite these achievements many of my collegues were disappointed with what was discussed. Most felt that, in the 'mainstream' sessions at least, little new and needed was adequately addressed. This is clearly the perspective held by Brian Richter in his artcle: 'My fellow scientists: no more chicken little'. He says:

"When I heard that the Bonn conference participants had issued a new “Declaration on Global Water Security” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I’m under-whelmed.
Not to take anything away from the wonderful work that these scientists have been doing to document the changes the Earth has experienced under the heavy hand of humankind.  But they have not yet learned how to translate their science knowledge and findings into tangible, implementable solutions.

The Declaration proclaims that we need six things: (1) More science. (2) More science. (3) Train more scientists. (4) Expand monitoring (i.e., more science).  (5) Consider ecosystem-based alternatives to costly structural solutions for climate proofing. (6) Change water institutions."

Other comments I received included:

"I had high hopes in the opening session of this conference; all sorts of ideas about changing approaches needed for the big changes happening....but by the time I gave my paper on day two I was feeling a bit frustrated. I have a list of Words I heard a lot at the conference and these include trade off, models, trade offs, models....and lots and lots of global maps with colours on them. There was plenty of identification of the need to talk with stakeholders, and policy makers, but almost always in terms of "them", and never once in my hearing any consideration that the people in the room were also stakeholders. There has been some talk of language, but almost invariably in the form of how do we get our message across to policy makers in a way they will understand, never about co-creation of messages. And then I was in a session where the need to engage with stakeholders was raised with the comment that we need to do it but we don't know how to engage yet, we don't have the methods, or something like that. I mean, honestly, we don't know how to engage with stakeholders? Anyway, what this meant was by the time I presented yesterday I was calling for revolution...and began the presentation with that call.'

So I am left with the sense that I have had for some time that there remains a major failure to adequately frame the issues of systemic water governance and to appreciate the praxis elements needed to effect on-going systemic governance.  Fortunately there were exceptions to this generalisation such as the presentations by James Patterson, Ryan Plummer and colleagues, Rob de Loe and Andrea Gerlak and colleagues.  Those who participated are listed here. Related projects and initiatives mentioned included:

GWSP: Global Water System Project

GLOWA: Global Change and the Hydrological Cycle

Water Challenges for a Changing World Joint Programming Initiative:

European Innovation Partnership on Water:

UN Economic Commission for Europe:

UN Watercourses Convention:  [regarding cooperation on the equitable and reasonable use and management of international watercourses, with a view to attaining their sustainable utilization and adequate protection].

GEF International Water Programme:

Abstract: Exploration of metaphors to transform water governance praxis

Catherine Allan, Ray Ison & Kevin Collins

Failure to slow or reverse anthropogenic climate change in the next decade will have catastrophic economic and social consequences. Radical action is required to maintain human wellbeing, action that includes not only mitigation, but also ‘adaptation’. Adaptation is urgently needed within contexts of water governing and managing, but the record of innovation and reform in these contexts is poor. Internationally and nationally there has been a shift in the discourse around rivers and their management away from water management to water governance. This presents an opportunity  to develop processes and techniques to draw attention to fresh understandings of operational framings and narratives, which in turn will enable and encourage adaptation. 

The processes and techniques we discuss in this paper are based on the exploration of metaphor.  In doing so we build on two emerging traditions in metaphor research: (i) the purposeful use of chosen metaphors to learn about and reframe organisational activity and (ii) the emergence of what is now called Contemporary Theory of Metaphor (CTM, formerly Conceptual Metaphor Theory).  Our recent experiences in Australia and the UK suggest that metaphors associated with two contrasting, yet pervasive rationalities are conserved in the latest ‘water governance experiments’. In Australia metaphors that enable neo-classical economic theory to operate can be found, such as ‘waterway assets’ and ‘water assets management’. Others such as ‘river or waterway health’ conserve a particular lineage of ecological rationality. In the UK, as part of the enactment of the Water Framework Directive, metaphors such river “condition” and “pressures” on that condition suggest a new ecological rationality is competing with an older technical rationality.

Systems thinking expanding in the health field?

Like in most fields there is no shortage of systemic health issues that would benefit from attention by practitioners and researchers well versed in Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP). It is thus good to discern a trend of increasing interest and application of STiP in the health field.  Take this paper for example:

Rethinking health systems strengthening: key systems thinking tools and strategies for transformational change

  1. Allan Best10
+ Author Affiliations
  1. 1Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA, 2Health Services Research and International Health, Institute for Maternal and Child Health, Trieste, Italy, 3Yale School of Public Health, Global Health Leadership Institute, New Haven, CT, USA, 4National Health Foundation, Bangkok, Thailand, 5Imperial College Business School and Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, UK, 6Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA, 7International Hellenic University, Thessaloniki, Greece, 8Swansea University, Swansea, Wales, UK, 9University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA and 10Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, West Vancouver, BC, Canada
  1. *Corresponding author. Brigham Young University, 1668 North 1590 West, Provo, UT 84604, USA. 

While reaching consensus on future plans to address current global health challenges is far from easy, there is broad agreement that reductionist approaches that suggest a limited set of targeted interventions to improve health around the world are inadequate. We argue that a comprehensive systems perspective should guide health practice, education, research and policy. We propose key ‘systems thinking’ tools and strategies that have the potential for transformational change in health systems. Three overarching themes span these tools and strategies: collaboration across disciplines, sectors and organizations; ongoing, iterative learning; and transformational leadership. The proposed tools and strategies in this paper can be applied, in varying degrees, to every organization within health systems, from families and communities to national ministries of health. While our categorization is necessarily incomplete, this initial effort will provide a valuable contribution to the health systems strengthening debate, as the need for a more systemic, rigorous perspective in health has never been greater.

My colleague Helen Wilding advises that Chad Swanson has recently been working with a group of interns to disseminate the potential of systems thinking to build capacity in global health.  They received funding from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to do this. They are planning a social media launch (facebook, twitter, a blog and LinkedIn) and are also preparing a number of 'white papers'.

Their website/blog is up and running.  

I wish them well