The organisational implications of sustainability Kate Sherren PhD Candidate, Centre for Resource & Environmental Studies, ANU for
Crux I The best way for a group to be smart is to think and act as independently as possible. (p. xix) James Surowiecki, 2005 The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few The development of knowledge may depend on maintaining an influx of the naïve and the ignorant. James March Cited in Surowiecki 2005
Crux II It’s funny, I started off with all my environmental work as a real change agent, and I feel like what I’ve become in my maturity is an agent of stability. Somebody says, “Let’s change everything”, and I go, “But, why? Let’s just fix the funny little things that are broken and leave everything else as it is because it’s working alright.” Su Wild River, ANU
1973 OECD Conference on Environmental Education A problem focus Transdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity Involve all university activities Student initiative/curiosity Experiential education Future time orientation Entire brotherhood of man Comparisons across space Community action Education for employment and citizenship 2005 UNESCO ‘Decade of Education for Sust. Dev’ Problem-based Interdisciplinary and holistic (all 4 pillars) Life-long learning Critical-thinking and problem-solving Multiple method pedagogy Future focus Intergenerational and intragenerational equity World citizenship Participatory/team-based Applicability to day-to-day and professional life Literature in Stasis?
Assertions I support: Sustainability is relevant to much (if not all) of the programs offered at universities. University funding and workloads deters implementation of sustainability pedagogy. Awareness and capacity building is needed for staff to change their practice. Facilities management is a valuable partner in education for sustainability. Declarations like Talloires are only the first step in managerial commitment to EfS.
Assertions I am challenging: Universities are excessively resistant to change. Major changes to organisational and incentive structure are required for EfS. Academic silos are a big part of the problem. Interdisciplinary work is the pinnacle of scholarship, but suffers irrational barriers. Integrators are endlessly useful. Education should be for sustainability above all else. EfS should be a discipline of its own.
University resilience The ‘transformative agenda’ of EfS is entirely appropriate on a small scale (pedagogy, curriculum design), and this is where power does reside for academics. The traditional university structure has much to offer, and its resilience is an asset during a time when economic rationalism tests all goods and services on the market.
Organisational structure There are two basic structures for Australian universities, each of which result in different approaches to handling interdisciplinary topics. Where sustainability is infiltrating throughout the teaching and research of a university, the role of interdisciplinary academic organisational units (AOUs) is challenged. To stay relevant they must focus on the scholarship of integration.
Interdisciplinary inquiry Uptake of interdisciplinary research may be the responsibility of practitioners (rigour). There is a symbiosis between disciplines and interdisciplines, but disciplines are the limiting factor. University silos are designed to advance knowledge production and are valuable. Porosity in a liberal structure may ensure progress in sustainability better than porosity in a consolidated one.
Academic leadership Corporate leadership (managerialism) is the norm in the sector, rather than academic leadership (collegialism), and it is getting worse. The latter is necessary for progress in education for sustainability.
5. Innovative design a) Academic incentive and performance management systems have started to ‘wag the dog’ to influence work done. b) Similarly administrative systems & economies of scale limit the student experience, and • Homogeneity in universities stretches resources, increases competition & makes it hardto target appropriate audience. http://www.fujitsu.com
Incentives: Current incentive systems promote one successful career path, despite the diversity of activities, talents, and student needs. What about a trading scheme? • Systems: One subject with many modes of delivery results in lowest common denominator teaching methods (equity). Explicitly target different experiences in different modes of study. • Diversity: There are not undergraduate-only colleges in Australia? Should there be?
Summing up: Universities’ resistance to change is a blessing. There is a difference between putting staff in silos and keeping students in them (given porosity). Healthy disciplines are required for healthy interdisciplinarity; the latter needs to develop the rules by which it is undertaken and judged. How many integrators do we really need? Academic (rather than corporate) leadership can offset economic rationalism and foster EfS. Incentive schemes can be ‘robustly separated’, and we need to think of ways to do this. EfS should cherish it’s interdisciplinary nature.
Thank You. Questions? Kate Sherren http://cres.anu.edu.au/~kate