Knowledge building

Leaders: Profs. Helen Ross and Ockie Bosch, University of Queensland, Gatton

Full title: Integrating research and management at property and regional scales through participatory knowledge building
Project 3.1.3

Summary | Limitations of knowledge and information | Better information management needed | User-friendly support | Objectives | Approach and methods | Outcomes | Outputs | Project team |


This project flows on from a scoping study conducted by Bosch and Ross in 2001–02 It provides a means to combine different forms of knowledge and embed them in ongoing management practices, through a participatory knowledge-building process.

The project will develop and test effective processes and tools for participatory knowledge building and community-based learning, and to help knowledge-building to become institutionalised in management practice at both regional and property scales.

A case study is being conducted in collaboration with the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group (NGRMG). The study is focusing on integration and use of knowledge (at property level) from landholders, scientists and agency staff.

It aims to encourage community-based learning through adaptive management. In the process it will identify ways of meeting Natural Resource Management (NRM) policy requirements alongside the needs of graziers, and identify ways of implementing regional plans and government policies on private and leasehold land.

Close collaboration with Themes 1, 2 and 4 are being established. The project will provide ongoing capacity and infrastructure (including user-friendly computer based tools) for knowledge building in the northern Gulf that can be extrapolated for other areas.

Limitations of knowledge and information

In deciding their courses of action (such as their property management, financial strategies and household futures), property holders need to integrate a wide range of information and knowledge: from personal knowledge, various sciences, policies, financial influences and social influences. Their trust in these sources, and psychological make-up (e.g. resistance to change or risk-taking), openness or resistance to different sources and types of information, and social orientations and considerations (such as willingness or otherwise to join groups) affect what information they take into account, and how they weigh it up and integrate it.

Previous CRC research (Arnott et al. 1999—see Publications and PDF links below) has shown the importance of the learning styles of landholders. Policy makers are similarly constrained by needing to make policies with incomplete information, and the inability to foresee consequences beyond their areas of expertise and responsibility.

Researchers are also confounded because the knowledge they create is often not integrated with the implicit systems of the managers. Further, scientific findings may apply to different regions or scales to where their use is required so their applicability may be limited and need local testing.

Better information management needed

Our consultations during the scoping study point to a clear need for better information management, in which fragmented pieces of knowledge are integrated, made sense of and compiled for different users and purposes into a usable whole. This includes all forms of information and knowledge, from scientific, experiential, or traditional ecological knowledge, to understandings of the social and economic interactions and forces that affect the ecological relationships.

User-friendly support

Our past experience shows that while there is a growing demand for computer-based tools to provide ready access to information and assist decision-makers to think through issues, the vast majority of current-generation Decision Support Systems (DSS) are far from user-friendly.

Ockie Bosch has a substantial record in participatory development of user-friendly DSS tools, organised around users’ ways of thinking. Helen Ross’s background in participatory methods and ways of eliciting environmental knowledge (‘mental models’) will further enhance these participatory methods of knowledge building.


  • Assist the CRC to integrate its own, and other, research-based knowledge (Themes 1, 2 and 3) and communication activities (Theme 4) towards informing sustainable land management practices and effective institutional arrangements for specific regions and issues of concern to the CRC.
  • Conduct participatory knowledge-building activities to enhance the integration of knowledge of regional systems, and the usefulness and application of the systems knowledge by landholders, policy makers and other stakeholders operating at both property and regional scales.
  • Encourage the practice of adaptive management and monitoring (trialling and testing management interventions) by property holders, government agencies and other interested parties in order to institutionalise knowledge-building.
  • Capture and present the integrated knowledge in user-friendly one-stop electronic and non-electronic forms.
  • Contribute to PhD and postdoctoral research training on the Tropical Savannas, with a focus on interdisciplinarity, knowledge creation and integration.

Approach and methods

To achieve better information management and effective co-learning, direct involvement of land managers is required. A systems approach is needed to ensure that each stakeholder group’s relationships to environmental issues and other parts of the system (such as political influence) are well understood.

In this project we will found the systems approach in a 'visions' process that asks questions such as: Where do we want to be? Where are we now? How do we get there? How will we know when we get there? What is the ongoing environmental changes within which we operate/make decisions?

Systems analysis will enable identification of linkages between environmental, social and economic dimensions of achieving each part/goal of the vision. Adaptive management provides a mechanism for developing and testing strategies to achieve the vision, by applying and refining scientists’ and managers’ new knowledge. It thereby facilitates an ongoing process of knowledge-building.

The approach to be taken in this project will build upon the Integrated Systems for Knowledge Management (ISKM - Bosch et al, 1996—see Reference link below). ISKM integrates the above elements into a knowledge-building process, which is designed to:

  • support an ongoing process of constructive community dialogue to develop practical resource management decision support; and
  • strengthen and enhance the application of tools and methods to promote participation and self-help in natural resource management.


  • An understanding of effective processes for participatory knowledge-building and community-based learning suited to the people and circumstances of the Tropical Savannas, to assist in sustainable property and regional management (including resolution of incompatibilities between regional and property scale);
  • Institutionalisation of participatory knowledge-building in solving management dilemmas at property and regional levels;
  • Ongoing capacity and infra-structure for knowledge building in the northern Gulf area.


  • A tool-kit comprising computerised knowledge base capturing an amalgamation of landholder, agency and scientific knowledge that can be used for:
    • management strategies on how to best achieve different goals that will help to achieve a vision of a sustainable region (for research purposes a subset of high priority goals will be selected with stakeholders, eg. better fire management, grazing management, community development);
    • solutions for integration and implementation of policies and regional plans, at property level (e.g. on-ground property management strategies, tenure-based solutions, market-based solutions, off-sets, best management incentives);
  • Criteria for monitoring how well we are doing in achieving the vision;
  • An institutionalised adaptive management and monitoring framework that helps to ensure ongoing knowledge building in the region;
  • Tool-kit of processes for effective participation in visioning, goal setting and ongoing knowledge building.

While the initial outputs will be specific to the northern Gulf region, they will provide a format or 'shell' for convenient application elsewhere in the tropical savannas, and much of the captured knowledge will prove applicable elsewhere.

Project team

Prof. Ockie Bosch, UQ
Prof. Helen Ross, UQ
Dr Manda Page, UQ
Adele Vagg, UQ

Collaborating staff

Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith
Dr Peter Jacklyn
Dr John Ludwig
Noeline Gross, NGRMG
Christine Saunders, NGRMG
Doug Quirk, NGRMG/Carpentaria Shire



Prof Ockie Bosch
School of Natural and Rural Systems Management
Tel: 07 5460 1320

University of Queensland, Gatton Campus

Prof Helen Ross
Tel: 07 5460 1648

Fax: 07 5460 1324

The University of Queensland