Proposal: Part 2

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




The Context
Paradigms, Myths, and Metaphors
The Imperative of Sustainable Development (Figure 4)
Possible Frameworks
Research Questions
List of Strategic Questions
References Cited




Possible Frameworks

There are a number of models that offer the possibility for a commonframework of governance in Canada. For example, the Holling ecosystem model(1986) provides a helpful map for the possible integration of maintenanceand production processes and the elimination of artificial separations thatpermeate our current approaches to environmental management. He identifies4 basic functions common to all complex systems and a spiraling evolutionarypath through them. These are the exploitation, conservation, creative destructionand reorganization phases.

Williamson's (1980) concept of mutual synthesis derived from years ofstudy and research from the Peckham Experiment, also provides another lenson our relationship to the world. Instead of the planner's view of the environmentas innately hostile, passive or dead, Williamson's view of the environmentis "a field of function where individual and environment work in strictmutality". This mutality is characteristic of even the simplest cell,and common to all living organisms. Thus the amoeba encountering a particleof food in its environment engulfs and digests it. "Once within thebody the morsel is picked to pieces, chemically analysed, sorted out andseparated. Certain selected portions are then as it were reshaped and woven into its very substance according to its specific order, thereby addingto and developing its unique basic design." A process that Williamsondescribed as "synthesis", meaning the "living power to buildup a basic organic design from the substance of the environment." This process of synthesis is identical whatever the interaction, be it food,light or social relationships. This synthesis is mutual, an unending processenriching both the living organism and its environment. The healthy individual,therefore, is one who enjoys a buoyant and creative mutuality with the environment.


In biology, co-evolution refersto the pattern of evolutionary change of two closely interacting specieswhere the fitness of genetic traits within each species is largely governedby the dominant genetic traits of the other. Co-evolutionary explanations,therefore, invoke relationships between entities that affect the evolutionof the interacting entities.

Another possible framework is one proposed by Norgaard (1984), a co-evolutionaryframework, in which everything is interlocked, yet everything is changingin accordance with the interlockedness. The co-evolutionary process in humansystems can be depicted by the following model.


Figure 5. The co-evolutionary process


Norgaard uses the co-evolution of pests, pesticides and policy in thetwentieth century as an example of the co-evolutionary process. With thediscovery of DDT in 1939, and other organochlorine insecticides soon after,the use of insecticides began expanding dramatically after World War II.Their initial effectiveness set off a spiraling co-evolutionary processbetween pesticides and pests. The few insects that survived were the onesmost resistant to the pesticide, and a high proportion of their offspringcarried the genetic traits that favoured resistance. Given the number ofinsect generations in a season, the selective pressure of insecticides onthe evolution of resistance was dramatic. Coupled with the problem of moreand more species of pests developing resistance, thereby necessitating greaterand greater use of insecticides, was the opening of niches for secondarypests less susceptible to the spraying for a variety of reasons. Their resurgencewas even greater than would occur through natural processes because of thecompetitive niche opened up by the demise of their cohorts. In the eventthat spraying also reduces the predators of pests, or their alternatives,pest populations return even faster. Ironically, in spite of this pesticidetreadmill crop losses to insects are about the same as they were beforethe use of modern insecticides (Norgaard 1994).

Another model that puts values at the centre of organization is representedby the following figure (Keeney 1992):


Figure 6. Values-based Thinking


This model, if combined with Norgaard's co-evolutionary process, providesfor a richer picture of human activity systems. I maintain that the separationof values from organizational life is an artificial construct, since valuesare inherent to human behaviour, whether or not they are explicit or implicit.Values determine how we structure our organizations, the nature of our science,the paradigms, myths and metaphors we construct to make sense of our world,our interpersonal relationships, and our relationships to the environment.Putting values at the forefront then, is similar to exposing the dominantparadigms, it encourages debate and discussion about their applicabilityvis-a-vis current realities. Since sustainable development is a normativeconcept, values and their articulation ( Hill 1978 and 1991; Schumacher1977; Science Council of Canada 1977) are key to any discussions about acommon framework.

Another interesting model is provided by the efficiency, substitutionand redesign framework for sustainable agriculture proposed by Hill 1985;MacRae et al. 1990. In the efficiency stage, conventional systems are alteredto reduce both consumption of resources and environmental impacts (e.g.baning fertilizers, monitoring pests, optimal siting and timing of operations).In the substitution phase, finite and environmentally disruptive productsare replaced by those that are more environmentally benign (e.g. syntheticnitrogen, fertilizers by organic sources, non-specific pesticides by biologicalcontrols, herbicides by appropriate systems of cultivation). In contrast,the redesign stage aims to avoid problems by site and time-specific designand management approaches. The farm is made more ecologically and economicallydiverse, resource self-reliant and self-regulating. Problems are solvedat the causal level by building self-regulating mechanisms into the structureand functioning of the agroecosystem.

The redesign stage is similar to industrial ecology, that attempts tomimic ecosystem processes and incorporate them into human production systems.This means moving beyond waste management to waste elimination by redesigningindustrial systems modeled on ecosystem principles. It means making thecrucial connection between the structure of ecosystems and the structureof other systems (both natural and cultural). Industrial ecology means designingfor the environment. It integrates the design of production systems technologywith closed loop manufacturing. It is also a total systems design that incorporatesdesign for the environment at the product and process levels, and practicesdisassembling, reuse and recycling and makes the best use of control andassessment technology.

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Research Questions

An interesting technique for exposing dominant thought, methodologiesand prevalent paradigms is through the use of strategic questioning. Strategicquestions, as defined by Peavey (1994) are questions that make a difference.They facilitate motion from stuck positions, create options and liberatecreativity, dig deep exposing roots, avoid asking "why" or creatingdefensiveness, avoid single questions that can be answered with only "yes"or "no", empower versus manipulate, ask the unaskable and questionassumptions, and they support expressions of our essence, our higher valuesand can therefore facilitate positive co-evolution.

I propose to use a series of strategic questions to examine the followinghypotheses: (1) a common framework is necessary across Government for therapid diffusion of sustainable development concepts and practices throughoutCanadian society, (2) it is possible to develop such a framework using amultistakeholder group, composed of experts from a wide diversity of disciplinesand public policy practitioners from the Federal Government, and (3) a multistakeholderprocess, with the necessary combination of expertise to produce interdisciplinaryknowledge, can be used to address macro social questions, such as sustainabledevelopment.

A series of overt and embedded questions will be designed to facilitatethe development of a common framework. [For the list of strategic questions, click here.] The list is not exhaustive, as throughout thedialogue, following the soft systems methodology, there will be emergentquestions that arise as a result of the interaction and synergy of the participants.In addition, I would appreciate additional strategic questions from theCommittee members.

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Qualitative research is conducted through an intenseand /or prolonged contact with a "field" or life situation. The researcher's role is to gain a "holistic" (systematic, encompassing, integrated) overview of the context under study: its logic, its arrangements, its explicit and implicit rules. (Miles and Huberman 1984)

My research is qualitative, and the technique of using interviews willbe replaced by an electronic dialogue that allows for synergy among theparticipants, connectivity across areas of expertise and experiences, aswell as for emergent knowledge and solutions. Since qualitative researchersare less concerned with the size of their sample, and more with pursuingan issue or question until they understand it, I have assembled a diversityof stakeholders from professional networks across Canada based on my experienceof working in sustainable development over the last 10 years. Although nota random sampling, it is an intensity sampling, where one selects participantswho are experiential experts and authorities about a particular experience(Morse 1994). A list of the co-researchers assembled to date for the electronicdialogue is attached as Appendix B.


If we are going to intervene inhuman affairs and grapple with their full complexity, we had better have available some ways of inquiring into the "systems" of myths and meaning which constitute what we mean by "a culture". (Schwederand Le Vine 1984)

I will employ a combination of soft systems methodology (SSM) and participatoryaction research methods. The former is a non-numerical soft systems approach(Checkland 1981, Checkland and Scholes 1990, Davies and Ledington 1991)that recognizes that there will always be many possible versions of thesystem to be engineered or improved and system boundaries and objectivesmay well be impossible to define. The basic principle is to formulate somemodels that are relevant to the real-world situation, and use them by settingthem against perceptions of the real world in a process of comparison.


The Cartesian legacy provides us with an unnoticed framework--aset of intellectual pigeon-holes--into which we place the new knowledgewe acquire. Systems thinking is different because it is about the frameworkitself. (Checkland 1981)

Inherent to soft systems methodology are the concepts of Weltanschauungor worldview and holon. Meaning is attributed to human activity and attributionsare meaningful in terms of a particular image of the world, which, in generalis taken for granted. The methodology teases out such world-images and examinestheir implications (Checkland 1981). The systems paradigm is concerned withwholes and their properties, indeed, the research methodology itself isseen as a holon. I will be using conceptual models as a base for orderedquestioning in the problem situation. SSM is concerned with both, the naturaland human spheres, and it is the interaction between the two that is ofinterest. In the comparison phase, my objective is to enable potential changesto be defined that meet two criteria: Are they both desirable and feasible---systemicallydesirable and culturally feasible?

Kurt Lewin (1946) generally is credited for introducing the term "actionresearch" as a way of generating knowledge about a social system while,at the same time, attempting to change it. At about the same time, Collier(1945) identified the need for developing an approach to general action-orientedknowledge to understand and improve American Indian affairs. Corey (1953)proposed similar ideas in education. A distinctive action research thrustalso developed in parallel in Great Britain immediately after World WarII. (Wilson, Trist and Curle 1952; Trist and Murray 1990)

Action research may also be described as an approach to problem-solving,thus suggesting its usefulness as a model, a guide, or a paradigm. Actionresearch may be defined as the application of the scientific method of fact-findingand experientation to practical problems requiring action solution and involvingthe collaboration and cooperation of scientists, practitioners, and laypersons.(French and Bell 1992)

An action researcher has some vision of how society or organizationscould be improved and uses the research process to help bring this desiredfuture state into existence. This is based on the premise that knowledgewithout action is meaningless (Elden and Chisholm 1993). Action researchemploys an epistemological egalitarianism in method that aims for participantlearning and meta learning, not just the solution to a scientific and practicalproblem. It is essentially a co-generative learning process (Elden and Levin1991). Trist (1976) pushes the concept of action research further by arguingthat action research needs to be extended to include planning and planningto include action research. He sees planning as a collaborative undertakingbetween social actors and social scientists to achieve an active adaptationto complexity, interdependence, and uncertainty, these being the conditionsthat most characterize the emerging world environment. The problem addressedis social in nature and calls for a collective solution, otherwise thereis not participatory exigency (Park et al. 1992).

The particular variant of action research I will be using is a form ofco-operative inquiry (Heron 1988; Rowan 1976), in which all those involvedin the research are co-researchers, whose thinking and judgment contributeto generating ideas and drawing ideas from the experience, and also co-subjects,participating in the activity being researched. This method transcends theresearcher-researched dualism. The particular form I am using is actioninquiry. While co-operative inquiry emphasizes a cyclical dialectic of actionand reflection, action inquiry is concerned with the transformation of organizationsand communities into collaborative, self-reflective communities of inquiry.Developed by Torbert (1981, 1987, 1991), it builds upon the work of Agyrisand Schone's idea of action science (Agyris and Schone 1974, 1978; Schone1983; Agyris et al. 1985). As such it attempts to develop a consciousnessin which action and reflection interpenetrate. The process of action inquirypositions the practitioner right in the contradiction between deep engagement,participation and commitment to the moment, and simultaneous reflection,standing back and self-awareness (Reason 1994).


Social reality itself is a complex mult-causal web offorces that are historically dynamic, we argue that multidisciplinary, eclecticmodels are the simplest, possible models. (Greenwood, Whyle, Harkavy1993)

Collaborative inquiry demands a high level of elegant simplicity (Hill,personal communication), and a degree of quiet, yet effective facilitation.As well, because one is anticipating emergent thought and ideas, the researcheris highly dependent on the quality of the individual co-researchers andthe quality of the intellectual synergy that develops between the researcherand the co-researchers. Leadership must be exercised, but in these typesof collaboration and emergent processes, it should be background and notforeground. As a prelude to leading the electronic dialogue, I monitoreda number of similar dialogues over the past six months, ranging on topicsfrom Gaia groups, animal rights groups, to a group on sustainable development.Anarchy is inherent in these dialogues, both as a positive and negativeforce. It makes for an eclectic dialogue, but in all of the groups monitoredto date, the lowest common denominator of discussion is reached in a relativelyshort period of time. Conflict, particularly over values and very differentparadigms, if not facilitated, contributes to this spiraling descent, andflaming is a not uncommon occurrence. Thus, lack of control is a major issue.I believe that my managerial experience and particularly my experience inmultistakeholder processes, plus my strong interpersonal skills will beable to compensate for these variables, although a new element of uncertaintyis introduced through the use of an electronic medium. Again, this variablecan be offset by the careful selection of people who are professionallyknown, and who have experience, in the majority of cases, as academics andpractitioners.

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 1. Finalize list of strategic questions with advisor July - Aug. '96
(i) policy analyst from PMO
(ii) policy analyst from Forestry Canada
(iii) policy analyst from Natural Resources
(iv) policy analyst from Agriculture Canada
(v) policy analyst from Industry Canada
 2. Finalize participants for email dialogue

Aug.- Sept. '96

 3. Begin electronic dialogue

 Sept. '96

 4. Ongoing literature review, moving back and forth between theoryand action inquiry through electronic dialogue

Sept.'96 - June '97

 5. Development of systems scenario for barriers

 Jan.- June '97

Chapter I - Introduction (frame only) Chapter II - The Ecological Imperative
Chapter III - The Economic Imperative
Chapter IV - The Social Imperative
 6. Draft first three chapters of dissertation

 June - Oct. '97

 7. Recommence email dialogue

 Oct. '97 - June '98

Chapter V - The Sustainable Develop't Imperative
Chapter VI - Barriers
Chapter VII - Common Framework
 8. Draft next chapters of dissertation

 June - Oct. '98

 9. Workshop of email dialogue participants to discuss barriers, common framework with an emphasis on transition strategies (one and a half days, if possible, Ottawa probable location)

 Jan. '99

Methodology Section
Common Framework
Action Strategies
Rewrite Introduction
 10. Finalization, revision of dissertation

 Feb.- Aug. '99

 11. Distribution to Committee Members

 Sept. '99

 12. Revisions and Defense

 Oct.- Dec. '99

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