Governance for SD Research Proposal

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Doctoral Research Proposal
Ann Dale, Department of Natural ResourceSciences, McGill University









When swimming, I am often struck that when one works with the water, one seems to slice effortlessly through. Other times, when working against the water, it is as if one has to punch one's way through.

Over the course of my twenty-one years of experience as a government bureaucrat at the Federal level, I have had a number of interesting andchallenging assignments. Upon joining the Government in February 1976, I worked mainly on strategic policy development and machinery of government issues, such as wage and price controls, program reviews of personnel management systems, regulatory reform, environmental programs and strategies for macro-level changes in Federal governance. As well, at the beginning of the 1970s, Iworked on futurist research, at which time two seminal books came to influencemy thinking and subsequent career choices, the Club of Rome's Limits toGrowth and Schumacher's Small is Beautiful. As my experience grew in the start-up of new organizations and the management of change in federal systems,I participated in building two novel programs and their institutional structures,the diversification of regional development programs and the creation ofthe Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and more recently, the creationof the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).Since October 1988, I have been working exclusively in the area of sustainabledevelopment policy and planning, and lately, as a Senior Research Associatewith the Sustainable Development Research Institute at the University ofBritish Columbia.


...a good sense of the felt texture of involvementin human affairs --- something which is always part logical, part irrational,part farce and part tragedy, with human affairs themselves always, in theend, unpredictable. (Checkland and Scholes 1990)

Over the last two decades, I have directly experienced and observed thedifficulties of effecting change in large bureaucracies, in spite of thepolitical will to do so, and of seemingly rational information indicatingthe necessity for change. Inertia in bureaucracies and their tendency tochange incrementally has been written about extensively (Aucoin 1972; Doern& Conway 1994; Kent 1988; Kernaghan & Willms 1971; and Pfeffer 1982).In my experience, the forces against change appear to be much more systemic,pervasive and multi-faceted, than is normally appreciated, and operate atboth the collective and individual levels. In many of the Task Forces, Commissionsand senior management meetings in which I have participated, I have foundthat often the lowest common denominator prevails in decision-making, inthe face of information to the contrary. Early in my career, I started toquestion the expert-rational decision model, as I experienced first-handirrational decision-making. Increasingly, I noticed that issues of powerand control, as well as individual psychodynamics were also key featuresof decision-making, regardless of the level. Although aware of the pervasiveinfluences of early socialization on childhood development and learning,I was puzzled by the seeming inability of bureaucracies to appreciate theinfluence of their collective culture on their ability to grasp the realityof emerging phenomena and new information and to respond to changing realities.I began to perceive the influence of the prevailing paradigms, myths andmetaphors that surround us, and of powerful vested interests which maintainthe status quo. For example, the virulent opposition to and criticisms ofthe concept of limits introduced by the Club of Rome's 1972 document seemedout of proportion to the new ideas that were being proposed. Growth anddevelopment were so firmly linked with the notion of human progress thatto propose otherwise was viewed as sacriligious.


We went through that entire emotional sequence--grief, loneliness, reluctant responsibility--when we worked on The Club of Romeproject twenty years ago. Many other people, through many other formativeevents, have gone through a similar sequence. It can be survived. It caneven open up new horizons, exciting futures. Those futures will never cometo be, however, until the world as a whole turns to face them. The ideaof limits, sustainability, sufficiency, equity and efficiency are not barriers,not obstacles, not threats. They are guides to a new world. Sustainability,not better weapons or struggles for power or material accumulation, is theulitmate challenge to the energy and creativity of the human race. (Meadowset al. 1992)

My experiences with the National Round Table exposed me to new modelsof consensus decision-making through multistakeholder processes and groupfacilitation. As one of the members of its original planning team, we triedto change the way Government made decisions by moving to a more inclusiveparticipatory process. One of our early planning errors, however, was tounderestimate the role of "experts" in multistakeholder processes.The composition of the first and subsequent round tables, therefore, didnot formally include researchers and academics from the various disciplinesthat contribute to the debate on sustainable development. Whether or notthat expertise would have helped to advance the dialogue or heighten thelevel of debate remains to be seen. In addition, I began to observe thatprocess and product were becoming increasingly inseparable, particularlyin multistakeholder processes. A common outcome of this was that if theprocess was flawed, then the content and decision-making capacity were equallyaffected.


The chances for true creativity are seen in overcominga dualism which separates the created from the creator. (Jantsch,1980)

Based on these experiences, my research will be looking at the prevailingparadigms, myths and metaphors that are barriers to sustainable development.Given the imperative for the implementation of sustainable development,I contend, in order to make the changes necessary for such implementation,that these paradigms should be made explicit (Daly 1989; Henderson 1991;Holling 1993; Westley 1995) and in some cases changed, and supported bynew myths and metaphors more reflective of current environmental realities.As well, the complexity and interactive, long-term cumulative effects ofmost sustainable development issues (Holling 1989/90) demand multifacetedadaptive approaches (Holling 1978), interdisciplinarity, as well as theinvolvement of all sectors of society, and leadership of government forits implementation.


SSM is a methodology that aims to bring about improvementin areas of social concern by activating in the people involved in the situationa learning cycle which is ideally never-ending. The learning takes placethrough the iterative process of using systems concepts to reflect uponand debate perceptions of the real world, taking action in the real world,and again reflecting on the happenings using systems concepts. The reflectionand debate is structured by a number of systemic models. These are conceivedas holistic ideal types of certain aspects of the problem situation ratherthan as accounts of it. It is taken as given that no objective and completeaccount of a problem situation can be provided. (von Bulow, 1989)

I have tried, therefore, to design a methodology that demonstrates thebenefits of capturing expertise through an electronic collaborative inquiry,and at the same time, recognize that there is no such thing as sustainabledevelopment expertise, given the necessity for interdisciplinarity due tothe complexity of the issues involved. Knowledge in this area will alwaysbe imprecise and information incomplete (Ludwig and Walters 1993). Equally,such an inquiry has to allow for emergent properties. It is important tome that my research leads to a synthesis of theory and practice, and practicalsolutions that can be applied in the real world. Accordingly, the scopereflects observations based on my experiences, and my research is designedto examine both process and content simultaneously. Using a combinationof soft systems methodology (SSM) and action research, I propose using thefollowing root definition as a point of departure.


The implementation of sustainable development is thesocial imperative of this and the next decade, requiring strong leadershipby local, regional and national governments. A common framework across governmentsis critical to their being able to provide consistent and effective leadershipto other sectors of Canadian society, in order to diffuse its concepts andpractices in the next decade, before irreversible thresholds are reached.

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The Context

A. Paradigms, Myths and Metaphors

A common symbol often occurring in the drawings of young children isthe sun. The colour of the sun changes, however, when children are mentallydisturbed: it is often black. It seems likely that young children, therefore,have an innate understanding about their place in the world and of the importanceof their environment.

As most of us mature, however, this intuitive sense is displaced or compromisedby the influences of our family, the education we receive, the neighbourhoodswe grow up in, our experiences with nature and other creatures, the cultureof which we are a part, and our religion, to name but a few. All of theseinfluences, in turn, determine the nature of the lens we use to view theworld around us and our sense of place in that world.

The nature of our perceptual lens is also strongly shaped and colouredby the prevailing paradigms of the times in which we live, not the leastof which are religion and sex. A society can be characterized by the myths,metaphors and dominant paradigms its members use to make sense of the worldin which they live and their sense of place in that world, for

Myth lies at the basis of human society. That is because myths are general statements about the world and its parts, and in particular about nations and other in-groups, that are believed to be true and then acted upon whenever circumstances suggest or require common response. This is mankind's substitute for instinct. It is the unique and characteristic way of acting together. A people without a full quiver of relevant agreed-upon statements, accepted in advance through education or less formalized acculturation, soon finds itself in deep trouble, for, in the absence of believable myths, coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise and sustain. (MacNeil 1982)

Mythology can be defined as the unquestioned beliefs shared by a societyor civilization about the purposes and ways of life that are right and naturaland worth maintaining (Michael 1993). "Paradigm, in its establishedusage is an accepted model or pattern . . . In science, a paradigm is rarelyan object for further articulation and specification under new or more stringentconditions. . . Paradigms gain their status because they are more successfulthan their competitors in solving a few problems that a group of practitionershas come to recognize as acute" (Kuhn 1962).


Paradigm literally means 'pattern' from the Greek rootparadigma, meaning 'to show side by side'. Masterman (1920) illustratesthree main meanings of paradigm in Kuhn's work: construct, sociological,and metaphysical. The latter refers to the cultural values, beliefs aboutcausality, reality and knowledge which are bound up with a worldview orWeltanschauuing. (McIntyre 1996)

From this established usage, however, the term has broadened beyond thescientific definition to encompass a wider social definition. Henderson(1991) states "In spite of Thomas Kuhn's many cautions to me not toover-generalize or to use his definition of paradigm in a social context,I believe a paradigm is a pair of different spectacles which can reveala new view of reality, allowing us to re-conceive our situation, re-frameold problems and find new pathways for evolutionary change". Capra(1991) defines a social paradigm as a constellation of concepts, values,perceptions and practices, shared by a community that forms a particularvision of reality that is the basis for the way the community organizesitself.


Considering what questions to ask is at the core ofunderstanding paradigms for the questions we ask are powerful shapers ofthe world we "see". (Maguire 1987)

In my research, I will use paradigm in the more general sense as definedby Capra and Henderson. Myths and metaphors are seen as compliments andrationales to the overall dominant societal paradigms. Paradigms operateat the meta-level, myths and metaphors at a sub-level. The dominant paradigmsin our society exert considerable influences on how we structure our science,how we conduct our economic affairs, how we build our settlements, how weorganize our institutions of governance, and, in fact, how we conduct ourlives. Often, these dominant paradigms are implicitly imbedded in our dailydecisions, how we receive or reject new information and most importantly,they shape our receptivity to new ideas.

The current prevalent socio-economic paradigm may be characterized bythe following model, Figure 1, adapted from Folke and Kaberger 1991:


Figure 1. Prevailing exploitist model


In this exploitist model, the "environment" includes "nature",to which machine-like behaviour is often attributed. What happens in the"separate" contextual environment is of secondary, if any, importanceto whatever it is that is currently valued or not valued within that environment.Human systems are dominant over natural systems, and the latter exist assources of resources and sinks for wastes, to support production and consumptionwithin the socio-economic system. The socio-economic system is unconstrainedby any biophysical limits, and if limits do exist, they can be transcendedby human innovation and technology (Lipsey 1995).

An alternative paradigm may be characterized as:

Figure 2. Alternative utilist model


Although some kind of cybernetic interactions may be regarded as occurringbetween the two separate systems, they are still perceived as inherentlyseparate.

Each of these worldviews has associated implicit values and assumptions.The dominant "exploitist" model assumes that growth is inherentlygood; there may be no limits to that growth, and if there are limits, theycan be transcended by man's knowledge and technology. There is an infiniteability for substitution between human and natural capital. It is a modelof dominance and hierarchy, which presumes the dominance of the human speciesover all others and an associated rights regime that subjugates the naturalworld. Its science can be characterized by the certainty of knowledge, andcontrol over the natural world. It is reductionist, analytical, and curiosity-driven.Neutrality is revered for scientific rigor. Rigor is based on linear predictabilityand replicability, and its fundamental premise is duality, if A, then notB.

The assumptions and values implicit in the alternative "utilist"model (currently under discussion in the Federal Government, known as ecosystemmanagement) include the notion of some limits to growth imposed by the carryingcapacity of the planet, as well as some recognition of responsibility byhumans for other species. This responsibility, however, is primarily utilitarian,and there is a firm belief in the ability of human beings to manage theenvironment through ecosystem management.

An alternative integrist model that I am proposing and that will forma central part of my research can be depicted by the following model:


Figure 3. Integrist model



Biosphere is the widely used term for all of the earth'secosystems functioning together on a global scale. All of the levels inthe ecological hierarchy involve life and biological processes, so we canthink of the biosphere as being that portion of the earth in which organismsand people can live; that is, the biologically inhabitable soil, air, andwater. The biosphere merges imperceptibly into the lithosphere (the rocks,sediments, mantle and the core of the earth), the hydrosphere (surface andground water) and the atmosphere, the other major subdivision of the earth. (Odum, E.P. 1989)

Within this third "integrist" paradigm, there is a growingappreciation for qualitative versus quantitative growth, and natural andhuman resources are complements, not substitutes. Its science is characterizedby systems that are seen as SOHO, an acronym coined by Arthur Koestler (1978),for self-organizing, holarchic, open systems.

In this paradigm, the global human system is seen as a "holon",or "whole-part" of reality, nested within a larger biosphere holon.Any holon with SOHO features has inherent within it a creative evolvingcapability. This notion may have the ability to transcend the reductionistic-holisticdualism.

The concept of holism and holons have been proposed by a number of scholars.Smuts (1926) proposed that...Behind the evolutionary movement and the holisticfield of nature is the inner-shaping directive activity of Holism itself,working through the wholes and in the variations which creatively arisefrom them...these variations are not accidental or haphazard, but the controlled,regulated expression of the inner holistic development of organisms as wholes.Koestler (1978) states "The concept of the holon is meant to supplythe missing link between atomism and holism, and to supplant the dualisticway of thinking in terms of "parts" and "wholes" whichis so deeply ingrained in our mental habits, by a multi-level, stratifiedapproach. Jantsch (1980) proposes a paradigm of self-organization basedon the interconnectedness of natural dynamics at all levels of evolvingmicro- and macrosystems. From such an interconnectedness of the human worldwith overall evolution springs a new sense of meaning.

The holarchic model implies that there are absolute limits to growthimposed by the biosphere, to which human systems are subject. Any holonpersists because of reciprocal relationships between it and the other holonswith which it interacts. For the human holon, the biospheric holon is indispensable.There is, therefore, an interdependence of human species with other species,and a different sense of "relationality" with the world. Thereis an emphasis on the co-evolving process between human and natural systems,with a value on designing and managing human relationships with the environment,rather than managing the environment, or even managing impacts. Other valuesinclude integration, rather than separation, with a focus on re-organizingand valuing both commonalties and differences. Transcendent properties liein the context of our currently evolving political and social contexts (Regier1995), as well as participatory action research (Torbert 1991; Freire 1990;Rapaport 1990; Heron 1988; Reason & Hawkins 1988; Reason & Rowan1981), strategic questioning (Peavy 1986), soft systems methodologies (Meadows,Meadows, Randers and Behrens 1972; Checkland and Scholes 1991; Checkland1981; Churchman 1979), self-organizing properties (Jantsch 1980; Odum 1983;,Kay 1994; von Bertalanffy 1968), ecosystem properties ( Regier 1995; Woolley,Kay and Francis 1993; Odum 1989; Holling 1986; Ulanowicz 1986) as well asmultistakeholder processes.


Rees (1992) has calculated that if everyone in the worldconsumed at typical Canadian rates of consumption, then it would take 2additional planets to provide the land area required to support that consumptionwith current technology.

Any illusion that we can use technology to transcend time, place andscale constraints of the biophysical world, and that we can continuallyexpand our ecological footprint well beyond finite physical boundaries supportsthe first exploitist model. This illusion is underpinned by dualism andall of the subsequent separations it engenders. It is only a short stepfrom Descartes' roots of radical separation of self and object, to the man-naturedichotomy, to separations based on gender, and of our species from "other"species. Our separation from nature, and making it "an other"leads to attitudes of dominance based on difference. Our emphasis on differenceleads to differential valuations of what constitutes good and bad, whatconstitutes integrity, and to polarities such as productive or non-productive,efficient and inefficient, friend and enemy. Changing the way we view ourenvironment, our place in that environment, and our sense of relatednessmay be a crucial first step to changing the scope and type of our impactsin our individual communities, as nations, and globally.

Emphasis on open, self-organizing and holarchic systems (SOHO) may providean alternative pathway for changing our sense of relatedness based on inclusion,rather than exclusion. This approach to science respects the complexityof organizational forms, and considers function and change in open systemsin the context of their dynamic interactions within and without their respectiveenvironments. As a result of these interactions, these systems manifestemergent properties, as in evolution, and exhibit multiple equilibria orattractors from a short-term, ecological perspective. Uncertainty and surpriseare fundamental features of such open systems (Holling 1993). They can beregarded as arranged in nested holarchies, in which the parts are reciprocallyinterdependent with the whole, alternatively dependent and independent.SOHO and soft system methodologies also serve an enlarged decision-makingframework because the facts are uncertain, reality is evolving, values arein dispute, the stakes are high and decisions are urgent. There is, therefore,a notion of a much more extended peer community, than in the old science(Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993, 1991).

Moving to changing definitions and values of what constitutes relatednessfundamentally challenges our existing ways of how we view nature and ourrelationship with it. One of our principal challenges, therefore, is tomove from a single distorting lens view of what constitutes integrity andculture to multiple apertures and the flexibility to allow for evolvingmultiple perspectives about sustainable development. We must redesign humaninstitutions to be in harmony with the functioning of natural systems, preservingthe integrity of self-organizing processes, both ecological and in humancommunities. We need to encourage credible inquiry and discourse, oftenof the kind suppressed within organizational systems (Bella 1994). Theremust be a reconciliation of the maintenance and restorative processes ofecosystems, so necessary for sustainable development, with the productionprocesses of human systems through the development of co-evolutionary frameworks(Norgaard 1994; Hill 1980).

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B. The Imperative of Sustainable Development


Our estimates of carrying capacity are dependent uponthe value placed on other species in human systems, and the subsequent spacewe allow them. Thus, all approaches to carrying capacity are species specific.In general, human carrying capacity can be increased only at the expenseof other species. (Dale et al. 1995)

Humans now appropriate between one-third and one-half of the presentnet primary production of the biosphere (Vitosek et al. 1986, and Pauley1995). Some analysts argue that human society is approaching, and perhapshas already exceeded, global ecological carrying capacity, and that extensionsof present rates of consumption and production characteristic of industrializedcountries to the rest of the globe is simply not feasible (Wackernagel andRees 1996). Indeed, with respect to the integrist model, it is difficultto determine exactly where we are on the following spectrum:

Figure 4. Size of human activity systems relative to naturalsystems


Furthermore, civil societies have not been able to successfully engagein collective dialogues about which is the preferred state, since it raisesthe difficult issues of population and consumption. It is clear that humanappropriation of carrying capacity will continue to increase unless we makesome immediate changes in our current levels of growth. Since 1900, theworld's population has multiplied more than 3 times. The world's economyhas expanded 20 times. The consumption of fossil fuels has grown by a factorof 30, and industrial production has increased by a factor of 50. Most ofthis growth has taken place in just the last forty years since 1950 (MacNeill,Winsemius and Yakushiji 1991). With respect to biodiversity loss, moisttropical rain forests that harbour more than 50 percent of the world's species,have been reduced by approximately 44 percent since prehistoric times, andthis rate of loss is increasing rapidly. A conservative estimate is thatwe may lose 20 percent of the current number of species on the planet bythe year 2000 (Worldwatch Institute 1995 and IUCN et al. 1991). Brown (1995)predicts that food security and distribution will become the defining focusof the global environmental threat, as seafood catch per person continuesto fall, and grain production per person continues to fall, coupled withrising food prices and increasing demand for grain. If current populationrates continue, it would appear that by the year 2030 the human speciesmay be appropriating 80 percent of the Earth's total carrying capacity (Regier,personal communication).


Sustainable approaches stress uniqueness of time and place and of working with local natural resources and processes. (MacRae,Hill, Henning & Mehuys, 1989)

There has been criticism of the term sustainable development as an oxymoronand its emphasis on development at the expense of sustainability (Jickling1994; Lele 1991, and Rogers 1994). I maintain its strength lies in its constructiveambiguity that has kept people at the table who normally do not talk toone another, as well as the paradox that lies in the middle (or the heart)of the term. For the purpose of my research, I will define sustainable developmentby what I consider to be its fundamental features. It is a normative concept,it inherently involves values at the societal and individual level. It isinherently interdisciplinary and applied, given the nature of the issues,for example, global warming, ozone depletion, overpopulation and overconsumption,and loss of biodiversity to name but a few. Most importantly, sustainabledevelopment must be regarded as a process of reconciliation of three imperatives:(1) the ecological imperative to live within global biophysical carryingcapacity; (ii) the social imperative to ensure the development of systemsof governance that have cultural sustainability; and (iii) the economicimperative to ensure that basic needs are met worldwide. Meeting all threeimperatives is both necessary and sufficient. It is counter-productive to debate which is more fundamental. Without satisfying ecological imperatives,we poison ourselves, deplete our resources or destroy the basic life supportsystems so necessary for human and non-human survival. Without the economicimperative, we cannot provide the necessities of life, let alone providemeaningful work, and without the social imperative, our societies collapseinto chaos. Given the interconnectedness and nature of sustainable development,failure in any one, will make it impossible to address the other two, overthe long term. I believe that the reconciliation of the three imperatives,the ecological, social and economic, may provide the missing theoreticaland analytical framework necessary for the rapid diffusion of sustainabledevelopment concepts and practices nationally.

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