I have worked on environmental and sustainability issues for decades. It is quite confounding. So often I would encounter my own and society’s assumptions about the way the world works e.g. we make decisions based on rational economics. These are strong cultural paradigms, commonly not supported by research and often used as simplistic explanations for inaction.
Such challenges led me to a PhD. I’m delighted to say I completed this last year and have just received the 2014 University of Adelaide’s “Doctoral Research Medal for outstanding research at a PhD level“.
In my thesis, I argue it requires understanding the many different ways in which people make sense of the problems, working with, and designing for, current circumstances and opportunities, while simultaneously seeking to enable desirable futures.
To manage across the complexity of sustainability, the investigation explores meta-theory and a particular type of it, integral theory. It does this to navigate through multiple theory lenses. These represent perspectives commonly applied to interpret circumstances and implement successful interventions. Furthermore, the examination of multiple theories is tested empirically against two multinational companies that are regarded as sustainability leaders. In doing this, several powerful lenses are looked at in some detail. These include action logics to examine how individuals make sense of sustainability. Additionally, principles associated with centuries of successful community protection of common pool resources, plus organisational stages that mirror a person’s action logic, are correlated with effective sustainability outcomes.
A new framework, called Integral Action Loops, was the ultimate outcome from analysing these lenses and many others. It offers an evolutionary approach to consider the subjective and objective facets of sustainability and multiple theories of change, filtered through a single, double and triple loop learning scheme. Integral Action Loops promise a way to dynamically steer towards sustainability, facilitate more effective interventions, and holistically engage and value the input of many for sustainable, flourishing futures. Beyond this, the framework may assist across other fields of progressive human endeavour.
A couple of pointers that are hopefully useful (by way of orientation) for anyone reading the whole thesis. I’m very aware that this is written for an academic audience. If you’ve not spent the last 7 years reading this type of writing there are, I hope, a couple of more accessible points.
- The reviewers do a fabulous job summarising the research and extending into potential for it. The reviews are here>>>
As a guide around the thesis:
- The first chapter says what I intend to research and why.
- The last chapter (nine) is relatively short. A fair bit of this last chapter provides the back story about why I thought I wanted to write and research sustainability. It should give you some context before the deeper parts.
- The sustainability action logics chapter (four) almost stands alone. If you’re familiar with stages or action logics it’s probably a reasonable entry point after 1 and 9.
- Similarly, the common pool resources chapter (five) is relatively self contained. If you are reading this one you’re possibly interested in voluntary collaborations (there are lots of them) that successfully answer society challenges and dilemmas. These have often delivered outstanding results protecting the environment for centuries. Many of the principles that describe success in such situations are seen in business sustainability efforts today.
- If you would like a longer summary of each chapter this summary is at the end of chapter one.