Crafting Gentleness

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ten common mistakes to avoid in trying to create a better world

Professor Stuart Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney, a Blue Mountains resident and Australia’s leading educator in social change, will explore this topic in his last public talk before retiring.

On Saturday 5 April he is the keynote speaker at a public discussion day. A passionate instigator of lateral thinking and holistic problem-solving, Professor Hill will consider initiatives to address these common mistakes. After his address at the Mid Mountains Community Centre in Lawson (from 10.00am till midday) there will be an opportunity for questions. Further discussion and workshops (for graduates of Social Ecology, their friends and interested members of the public) will continue in the afternoon.Where and when? The Mid Mountains Community Centre (Joy Anderson Hall), New Street, Lawson at 10.00am until 5.00pm, Saturday 5 April.

What are these ten ‘mistakes’ – and what is needed to avoid them?

1. Getting the usual ‘experts’ (mostly older males) together to talk & plan

Need to involve mostly ‘different’ people and to start by focusing not on plans, but on values, beliefs, worldviews and paradigms.

2. Taking problem-solving approaches

Need to redesign existing systems (and design new systems) to make them as problem-proof as possible.

3. Getting stuck in activities ‘pathologically’ designed to postpone change

Need to recognise postponing pathologies, expose them for what they are and take collaborative action.

4. Trying to solve problems within the discipline or area responsible for creating them

Need genuine transdisciplinary teams.

5. Patriarchal and ‘driven’ do-good approaches are rarely what is needed

Need inclusion of those most affected by proposed improvements.

6. Planning ‘mega-scale’, heroic initiatives with no follow-through or provision for ongoing support

Need diverse, mutually supportive, do-able initiatives that have long-term support.

7. Over focus on knowledge and data, and neglect of wisdom and experience

Need to be much better at recognising, valuing and involving the wisest and most experienced in our society.

8. Over focus on ‘productivity’, profit and quick dramatic results

Need much more focus on ‘maintenance’ activities and caring for one another.

9. Homogenisation tendencies

Need openness to appreciation of the value of hererogeneity and ‘functional’ diversity within all systems; and lateral and paradoxical thinking.

10. Neglect of the arts

Need recognition of the arts as being essential part of achieving genuine and sustainable improvement.

What is Social Ecology?

According to Professor Hill, Social Ecology programs at UWS provide ‘a holistic framework that emphasises the interrelationships between the personal, social, environmental and “spiritual” domains for understanding our past and present, and for collaborating with others in visioning and implementing an improved future. ‘Most of the learning is experiential and involving projects concerned with working with change - change within one’s place of work, local community or environment, and in one’s ways of being and doing in the world; and most often in all of these. Most of the research involves working with others in processes of change - often using an approach called “participatory action research” or “collaborative inquiry”, and usually integrating feminist perspectives.

‘Social Ecology asks us to clarify our values and act in accordance with them, while taking into account what is needed for the healthy functioning of our local community, the people of the world and future generations, and the natural environment and its inhabitants.

‘Social Ecology graduates are particularly well prepared for work that requires: ability to work with people effectively; communication skills for informing people and changing behaviours; collaboration and taking leadership in change processes; conducting analytical studies of complex situations; and planning and implementing improved futures.’

Stuart B. Hill

Professor Stuart Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney. Prior to 1996 he was at McGill University, in Montreal, where he was responsible for the zoology degree and where in 1974 he established Ecological Agriculture Projects, Canada’s leading resource centre for sustainable agriculture. He has published over 350 papers and reports. He is coauthor (with Martin Mulligan) of Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action. His background in chemical engineering, ecology, soil biology, entomology, agriculture, psychotherapy, education, policy development and international development, and his experience of working with transformative change, have enabled him to be an effective facilitator in complex situations that demand both collaboration across difference and a long-term co-evolutionary approach to situation improvement. Professor Hill has worked in agricultural and development projects in the West Indies, French West Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines, China, and the Seychelles, as well as in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Until 2004 he represented professional environmental educators on the NSW Council on Environmental Education.


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