A University of New England initiative resulted in experts from around the world meeting in Iceland last week to explore the potential for innovation in natural resource governance.
Participants in the week-long “Soils, Governance and Society Workshop”, organised from UNE, travelled to Iceland from Australia, Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Mongolia, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, Uganda, the UK and the United States. They included nine UNE researchers from a range of disciplines spanning law, geography, and the behavioural sciences.
Professor Paul Martin, the Director of the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at UNE, said that the workshop had focused on the management and protection of all forms of rural natural resources, with an applied emphasis on soils. He explained that UNE already had collaborative relationships with the four Icelandic universities – and Penn State University in the United States – in these areas of research.
The sponsors of the workshop included UNE, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, Penn State University, the Global Soil Partnership, and the United Nations University’s Land Restoration Training Program.
Professor Martin said that the workshop had formed a consortium of researchers and practitioners to advance the aims of the program, and that a number of research and practice initiatives had been proposed.
At a public seminar in Reykjavik, Professor Martin said that the aims of the research consortium were “to create a scientific approach to advancing knowledge and practice”, with an emphasis on “breaking down the technical and organisational ‘silos’ where knowledge is being developed and applied in isolation”. He highlighted the many “natural experiments” in regulation, community participation, and the use of markets that could provide opportunities for technical specialists to test and refine their knowledge, and to apply it to the benefit of the environment and of rural people.
On behalf of the Icelandic Ministry of the Environment, Dr Jón Geir Pétursson highlighted the importance of creating governance structures that can meet the increasing challenges of sustainability in a world confronted by many issues – including climate change and growing population. Dr Andres Arnalds, Deputy Director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service, highlighted opportunities for academics to learn from the experiences of successful programs such as the Farmers heal the land initiative.
Professor Ted Alter from Penn State University, a co-sponsor of the initiative, considered the intersection of environmental and social change in both Australia and the United States, and outlined the importance of new approaches to sharing power and expertise between technical experts and “community experts”. He reinforced the view that the innovations that are needed will require a new spirit of partnership between the community, government and technical specialists.
Collaborators from many disciplines (including law, environmental psychology, social marketing, economics, and community engagement) worked together during the week to explore potential areas of innovation. “The themes developed included new approaches to community participation and engagement, a greater use of partnership in regulation, and the potential use of sophisticated behavioural and social science approaches,” Professor Martin said.