RCE Murray Darling-2015

1. Project Title: 
2. Thematic area/s addressed by the project
Select your options: 
3. Project partner contact information : 
Charles Sturt University
Main Contact: 
Dr John Rafferty
4. Project type
5. Project description
Provide a short description of the project including strategies, regional challenges, aims and specific project activities.: 

The profile the RCE-MD has been able to develop has been fundamental in the RCE-MD’s success in attracting over $1,000,000 in funding for discrete projects and research in the last 18 months from State and Commonwealth governments. Further, the RCE-MD has a strong affiliation with the Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change (EJGSC) SRA within the ILWS.

Funded Projects Overview

Our Place – NSW OEH - $90k (with $30K extension 2015)

This project aims to help communities to protect their natural environment and to live more sustainably. It is part of a suite of regional initiatives by the NSW OEH. It seeks to work with regional partners (eg. local organisations, schools and councils), to engage with their communities around environmental issues that matter to them locally. The program engaged with Deniliquin, Albury and Holbrook communities in 2014 and is negotiation an expansion in Southern Riverina in 2015-17; starting with Corowa.

Learning Communities – HEPPP ($827,023)

This program combines successful elements of existing HEPPP programs to create an innovative community partnership model aimed at practically demonstrating the value of higher education to prospective students’ and their immediate learning communities, local support networks and families. It concentrates HEPPP resources by drawing upon Uni Bridges (LaTrobe University), Future Moves (CSU), Get Into Uni (JCU), Compass (Sydney/Adelaide universities) and several other regional outreach activities.

Prospective students will interact with higher education outreach and on-campus programs, including access to specialist resources and academics, to conduct a locally-contextualised hands-on investigation around the real-world theme of ‘creating sustainable communities.’ As part of these investigations, Partnership Advisory Groups will be established at each site to support students’ production of physical and electronic resources that will be showcased at local dedicated Learning Communities higher education promotional events. The Kerr Sustainability Centre and Community Gardens are a crucial component of the Learning Communities project.

The Learning Communities program has provided a unique immersion opportunity for primary and secondary school students across the North East Victorian and Southern Riverina regions, fostering a consideration of higher education pathways and careers. The program has focused on the real world challenge of ‘creating sustainable communities’. Up to 300 secondary school students have participated in a 5 day excursion to Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Melbourne to explore the relationships between sustainability, social justice and higher education. Around 700 primary school children have also had the opportunity to address the same themes through excursions to CSU and incursions.

Kerr Sustainability Centre (KSC)

The KSC continues to be me administrative headquarters of the RCE-MD. The building is regularly used and maintained as a meeting and educational centre. The functionality of the building has improved with the resources associated with the Learning Communities (LC) project.

The community gardener aspect of the KSC has grown significantly in the last 12 months. With well over 100 garden beds and over 50 regular gardeners, the gardens offer much to the teaching research activity of the University. For example, the gardens provide an important teaching resource for the School of Environmental Science and the stimulus to several recent projects, including the Learning Communities Project. Interestingly, has been a significant increase in the number of community gardeners with connections to the University. For example, several CSU students now have families that regularly garden at the KSC. This is significant as a large portion of these families have recently migrated to Australia. It is anticipated that the students who have families regularly on campus will have greater capacity to complete their studies. As the majority of these families come from low social economic backgrounds with English as a second language, the KSC and gardens can potentially have a significant role in increasing retention and completion rates amongst a demographic that CSU wishes to increase engagement with.

Commissioned Work

The RCE-MD has also Commissioned a major Accelerated Engagement Initiative, a pilot engagement exercise to promote the fledgling RCE-MD, test stakeholder and community understandings of what they need from the RCE-MD, consider these in a systems context, and suggest directions and actions that the RCE-MD might consider going forward. It involved seven weeks of deep listening, catalysis, synthesis and integration of emerging views and concepts in two separate geographical locations in the MDB, and resulted in a

the Accelerated Engagement Initiative which:

o Explores the context within which the Accelerated Engagement Initiative relates to the direction and commitment of higher agencies; what was proposed to the UN in establishing the RCE-MD, the status of the UNRCE program, and framed these in the context of Australia’s national commitment to Education for Sustainability.

o Synthesises key concepts (e.g. linked social-ecological systems/ resilience/ post-normal science/ transdisciplinary research/ anticipatory design/ participative governance/ entrepreneurialism/ transformative change/ community development)

o Identifies major barriers to achieving real sustainable development in the context of compounding systemic crises, existing institutional stance/s, social complexity

o Challenges and redefines what Education for Sustainability needs to look like in the context of a regional, complex adaptive system of linked social-ecological systems that is largely unprepared for coming deep system shocks

o Suggests ways the RCE-MD might assist existing institutions become more effective for transformative change by creating the space/s for them to legitimately move into

o Makes key recommendations in a form that can be replicated, co-developed, refined and extended from high level ethical commitments to small-scale practical outcomes

o Has attracted international interest in the approach and Recommendations

o Has advanced the UN RCE Graz Integrative Development model

As the Decade for Education for Sustainability Education (2004-2014) closes, the United Nations University aligns RCE’s to Okamaya Declaration. This alignment ensures that RCE’s continues to promote UNESCO’s post 2014 Agenda. The RCE-MD is well placed to maintaining its designations among the 130 RCE’s around the world. RCEs continue using their designation until they formally resign from the United Nations University RCE program. The RCE-MD can continue if the stakeholders so wish.

However, as highlighted in the commissioned report, it should be noted that the RCE-MD

• has no dedicated staff

• has an Interim Board only

• has almost exhausted its initial shoestring budget

• has successfully continued existing RCE-MD badged projects

• has been strongly represented at conferences and delivered a several workshops

To date much of what has been achieved has relied upon some paid consultancy (for engagement), time contributions from Interim Board members (from paid positions elsewhere), and much unpaid/largely unrecognised in-kind support from the Convenor, Secretariat, the Advisor and Interim Board members.

The RCE-MD has delivered far more than anticipated with limited funding. None the less to continue the RCE-MD will require dedicated (and paid) administration and staff. Further, as the Accelerated Engagement report recommends the RCE-MD requires a Governance model that recognises, respects, responds and adapts to the emerging needs (likely NOT a business-as-usual Board).

A meeting of all current and future stakeholders has been called for December 15, 2015.

The Main Agenda items for the stakeholder meeting include

• Reviewing the recommendations of the Accelerated Engagement report.

• Determining how to activate the recommendations - if accepted

• Identifying a host organisation for the RCE-MD

6. Project status
Engagement and Education Activities

Using it unique position the RCE-MD has instigated several educational events and activities that promoted sustainability. It is important to note that the RCE-MD has proven itself to be a very useful mechanism to link groups and leverage funds from a variety of private, public and commercial organisations.
Sustainable Living Week 2014 and 2015

Following the success of the RCE-MD launch Albury City Council and City of Wodonga partnered with the RCE-MD to develop Sustainable Living Week (SLW).

Using the same model as the launch SLW is now an annual week long event that the focuses on many aspects of sustainable living with the RCE-MD Patron comparing the events and activities. Activities in SLW include public tours of CSU's award winning environmentally friendly buildings at its Albury-Wodonga. SLW also involves displays on solar power and saving water, presents Sustainability in the Pub and explores local renewable energy projects and how local residents can become part of community-owned power. The 2015 SLW culminates at the Flourish Festival at CSU Albury Wodonga campus and his funded through the Learning Communities Project.
Sustainable Living Week (SLW) is a week of community activities and events in and around Albury and Wodonga. It starts with a Green Market on Saturday 7 November at the Lincoln Causeway between the two cities. Flourish is the final event of the week in which schools will feature strongly.

Flourish Festival

The Flourish Festival caps off Albury Wodonga’s Sustainable Living Week and celebrates the culmination of a year of work with local primary and secondary school students on ‘creating sustainable communities’.

Young people will drive the festival with educational displays, film screenings and various activities from community cricket, up-cycled jewellery and toy radio-tracking to mural painting and lots of other very cool stuff. Hundreds of students will also seek community endorsements for their "Youth Action Statement for a Sustainable Future", which will be presented to public dignitaries. Flourish will host a range of change-maker agencies, from both local and metropolitan areas, which see connections between social and ecological sustainability for all life on Earth. These agencies will provide a unique learning and networking opportunity for young people and the wider Border community.

Our Place

To date the Our Place Riverina-Murray project has seen the completion of sustainability educators meetings, community surveys and forums, and the initiation of a range of community-driven projects in Holbrook, Deniliquin and Albury. The Our Place Riverina-Murray project departed from the model used in previous regions by incorporating unique links between the educators meetings and community forums. Participants in the initial educators meetings helped design community surveys that served as a vehicle for raising community awareness of the project, improving shared local understandings of sustainable living and environmental protection, and inviting wider involvement in the community forums and projects. This approach was successful in eliciting engagement with local residents outside of formal and organised environmental groups who conveyed strong interest, knowledge and concern for issues around sustainability and environmental protection. While partnerships with existing organisations were developed and strengthened, the voices of residents were instrumental in shaping local projects that meet specific community needs that might ordinarily have gone unaddressed. This positive outcome did however present challenges associated with working with resource-constrained residents some of whom were new to community organising. The insights gained from this project so far speak to the need for an appropriately resourced and ongoing presence in communities to enable residents to effectively own, coordinate and implement local solutions to sustainable living and environmental protection.

Planned priorities and deliverables Achievements Comments
A) Project Establishment and Planning • CSU project team appointed, including project officer
• Project managed on budget
• Monthly CSU/OEH team meetings held to refine sites, proposals, tasks and schedules, and further as required
• On-site preliminary conversations and presentations held with stakeholders in potential sites (eg. council, Landcare, schools, residents, groups): 5 trips to Holbrook; 4 trips to Deniliquin; 1 trip to Griffith, Leeton, Narrandera
• Tailoring of project design for local context finalised
• Sites identified at Holbrook, Deniliquin, Albury and Griffith
• Ethics approval for data collection granted
• Participation in program evaluation design workshop (Blackheath)
• Hosted OST training workshop for project team, prospective participants, and local stakeholders (20 participants)
• Hosted program logic planning and evaluation workshop for project team and general community (9 participants)
• Hosted launch of NSW Our Place program and workshop for regional program participants and general community (60 participants)

The 4th site of Griffith was not implemented due to local priorities emerging that rendered stakeholders unavailable. Instead, the Griffith resources were re-assigned to the Albury site.
B) Sustainability educators meetings • Venue and timing confirmed through local consultations and site visits
• Invitations issued for meetings
• Meetings advertised locally
• 1 meeting conducted and audio recorded in Holbrook (15 attendants)
• 1 meeting conducted and audio recorded in Deniliquin (8 attendants)
• 2 meetings conducted and audio recorded in Albury (20 attendants)
C) Interventions/Surveys • Locally tailored surveys finalised in consultation with meeting participants and OEH for Holbrook, Deniliquin and Albury
• Surveys distributed, advertised, returned and preliminary analysis undertaken
• Preliminary results presented and discussed at community forums and Our Place launch.
D) Community Forums • Venue and timing confirmed
• Invitations issued for meetings
• Meetings advertised locally
• 1 forum conducted and audio recorded in Holbrook (6 attendants)
• 1 forum conducted and audio recorded in Deniliquin (5 attendants)
• 2 forums conducted and audio recorded in Albury (16 attendants)
• 1 community project applications received from Holbrook
• 2 community project applications received from Deniliquin
• 7 community project applications received from Albury
E) Small Community Projects • Project application review sub-committee established including Albury City Council representative
• 10 community project applications reviewed
• 10 follow-up conversations held with applicants to refine and re-submit applications
• 7 applications re-submitted and approved
• 6 phone meetings held with project coordinators
• Ongoing meetings held in Holbrook
• 6 community projects implemented
o Holbrook Simply Greater Future Fair
o Deniliquin Community Garden
o Albury Neighbourhood Connection
o Albury Climate Citizen Science
o Albury Backyard Habitat Club
o Albury Koori Kindermanna garden

Our Place Riverina-Murray Objectives

To ensure the project’s complementarity and responsiveness to educators’ and community needs, locally tailored surveys were developed in collaboration with residents and stakeholders. This collaboration entailed preliminary phone conversations and face-to-face meetings, establishment of project partners (eg. Murray Darling Association – Deniliquin; Ecoportal/Albury City Council Sustainability Advisory Group – Albury), and sustainability educators meetings. Participants were drawn from local councils, schools, residents, businesses, service organisations, community groups and relevant government agencies. Specific population groups included in these discussions were older people, young people, students, women, Indigenous residents, pensioners, remote workers, and low-income earners. The surveys identified local activities, knowledge, issues, needs and values on the themes of living sustainability and protecting the natural environment. They were distributed as widely as possible using local media, e-lists and websites, as practicable. The surveys (interventions) provided an invaluable resource for understanding these issues at the local level and according due respect to existing knowledge and efforts. They also provided a useful mechanism to profile the project in the general community as a lead up to the community forums and projects.
Local Networks
Numerous aspects of the program enabled local networks and partnerships to be strengthened and potentially established as indicated by the following examples (as well as those already raised in the progress report). The community projects all sought to expand networks and connections. For example, the Albury Neighbourhood Connection program involved letterboxing neighbourhoods to establish new connections amongst residents through the setting up of e-groups and community picnics to enhance social fabric that can be drawn upon for sustainability initiatives like street food harvests. The Deniliquin Community Garden has been revitalised through the Our Place program by facilitating access for people with disability and mobility/access barriers. This has extended the appeal and feasibility of the garden for several disadvantaged sections of the community who previously could not make easy use of the initiative. Thirdly, the Holbrook Fair brought hundreds of residents to a local event involving partnerships between organisations that had not previously worked together, such as the Holbrook Landcare Network, Friends of Woomargama National Park, the Holbrook Community Markets Inc. and CSU. The event showcased a wide range of activities and substantial level of local interest in the program theme. This was important for residents to physically see this level of interest, given community survey results indicated many felt that few in the community were interested. It has helped overcome these negative perceptions and provided a social environment that is more receptive and aware of local concerns about environmental sustainability issues, from which future efforts should enjoy a more supportive foundation.
Riverina and Murray sustainability/environmental

Considerable background research and consultation was undertaken within the project sites to develop a framework that would assist sustainability educators to better engage with their communities. The approach was informed by the understanding (from the OEH evaluation workshop in Blackheath) that sustainability educators were to be broadly defined as those with formal, informal or non-formal active interest in sustainable living and/or environmental protection. Given the Riverina-Murray project engages with communities ranging from small towns to a regional city, it was important that the framework be versatile enough to assist more and less experienced educators. Each step of the framework enabled educators to enhance their community’s engagement with their local environment: a) educators meetings enabled validation and sharing of local knowledge and the identification of knowledge gaps within the community; b) surveys enabled educators to seek new knowledge and feedback from their communities on existing practise, and c) community forums enabled educators to receive and analyse community feedback as a basis for new actions. For example, a number of Albury participants are connected to the existing EcoPortal e-network and in response to survey feedback are scoping and trailing several new community engagement strategies (Backyard Habitat Club; Neighbourhood e-group) and refining existing approaches (Citizen Science project). In sum, the framework involved starting from where educators were already at and, in partnership with them, expanding their knowledge, networks and scope of possibilities.

Community Involvement
Community involvement including CALD communities, new arrivals, businesses, Aboriginal communities and schools, in local sustainability activities, actions, events, projects, clubs and community groups.
The project has benefited from the participation of diverse sections of the community at various stages. For example, Woomera Aboriginal Corporation (Albury), Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre Aboriginal Corporation (Deniliquin), Koori Kindermanna (Albury) and the Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Griffith Cooperation have been involved with the project. The Restorative Indigenous Garden community project has emerged from the Albury participants. Further conveying the cross-cultural relevance of the project has been the recent engagement with the newly-arrived Bhutanese community through the Albury-Wodonga Community College (AWCC). Over 30 students and staff attended the Our Place launch as a living literacy activity to help build their language skills embedded in a community sustainability context. Subsequently, the AWCC has joined the RCE Murray Darling and the Bhutanese community have established several beds at the community gardens, despite transportation and language obstacles. While individual CALD residents participate in the RCE community garden, the Bhutanese group represent the first sizeable CALD community to engage in this initiative. Other socially disadvantaged communities have been encouraged to participate in the project through venue selection such as the Mirambeena Community Centre in North Albury, which is surrounded by low-income neighbourhoods. Businesses have also been engaged. For example, extensive conversations with the Business Development Manager at Deniliquin Council assisted in establishing Deniliquin as a project site. In Holbrook, the Community Markets partnership, entailing a range of local small business owners, has been crucial to the development of the Holbrook Fair project. Part of its goals are to promote small businesses in a community that has recently been subject to a highway bypass opening.

Our Place Evaluation
This strategy was effective in attracting participation of local residents who were not connected to existing environmental and sustainability groups. It was heartening that the project design proved inclusive of a diverse range of community members with a keen interest in sustainability and environmental protection. Their involvement facilitated attention to usually overlooked local issues, however, it also entailed challenges associated with supporting residents dealing with patchy availability, stretched resources and varying levels of experience in community organising. A key lesson from this experience is that involving community members in ‘hard to reach’ groups or those not already linked into existing organisations requires extra layers of support over extended periods of time. Their involvement is not always well suited to short-term small-scale programs that cannot provide this level of resourcing.
The project’s model of engaging communities through existing organisations presented mixed results and challenges. For example, in Deniliquin, several promising connections were made by the MDA with two local sustainability initiatives. However, one initiative was delayed beyond the Our Place timeframe and the second initiative shifted its focus away from community engagement to a corporate sponsorship model. Moreover, Deniliquin was partly chosen because of its reputation as an ‘event’ town (eg. Ute Muster, Blues Festival, Fishing competition), however in practice the crowded public calendar made it difficult to get traction for a comparatively small project. Consequently, the project team had to engage in numerous additional stakeholder discussions to generate community engagement beyond the MDA’s reach. In the case of EcoPortal, their extensive network of subscribers produced modest engagement initially. Feedback suggests that educator’s prioritise engagement with projects that are explicitly about delivering tangible funded responses to local needs. A key lesson was that the decision to delay notification of funding availability until the community workshop stage meant that local educators and the wider community were initially hesitant to prioritise engagement in the Our Place program over other clearly funded opportunities. This selectiveness is understandable in the context of their time, energy and financial constraints and volunteer fatigue. Notwithstanding the positive reasons for delaying notification, this had the unintended consequence of dampening initial enthusiasm.
A larger lesson is that it can be difficult for comparatively small one-off programs to divert residents’ attention and commitment away from existing sporting, recreational and community event involvement, which often is of a large-scale or ongoing nature. As many residents already lead full working, family and social lives, it is challenging to find uncommitted time and energy for new short-term projects. For this reason, an ‘intervention’ was included in the program design to try to link into residents’ existing activities. In reality, linking sustainability to cyclical sporting, recreational and tourist-oriented activities and events was difficult given the lack of previous linking of such seemingly diverse activities in the community context (eg. sport and sustainability). For example, while sustainability issues do matter to local people, there has been no systematic public education, cultural, policy or economic attention to how these issues are connected to activities already dominating community life. In a sense, residents are socialised through the education system, mass media and community cultures to participate in the sporting and recreational life of their communities, but sustainability does not feature in this culture. Hence, it is challenging for communities to bring the issues together in practical ways. On the other hand, those who do prioritise sustainability/environmental issues often move in social circles on the periphery of the mainstream life of communities and do not have equivalent means to engage the community, compared to often well-resourced sporting, recreational, and tourist-oriented pursuits that often incorporate regular school participation. The Our Place program has identified quite pointed challenges for elevating sustainability as a central feature of community life, which require more systematic investigation and policy attention.

The Partnership Program, Learning Communities
This program combines successful elements of existing HEPPP programs to create an innovative community partnership model aimed at practically demonstrating the value of higher education to prospective students’ and their immediate learning communities, local support networks and families. It concentrates HEPPP resources by drawing upon Uni Bridges (LaTrobe University), Future Moves (CSU), Get Into Uni (JCU), Compass (Sydney/Adelaide universities) and several other regional outreach activities.

Prospective students will interact with higher education outreach and on-campus programs, including access to specialist resources and academics, to conduct a locally-contextualised hands-on investigation around the real-world theme of ‘creating sustainable communities.’ As part of these investigations, Partnership Advisory Groups will be established at each site to support students’ production of physical and electronic resources that will be showcased at local dedicated Learning Communities higher education promotional events.
The program will target 10 schools (including Primary and Secondary schools) in Southern Riverina and North-East Victoria regions and their associated communities (see figure 1) that have a below average value on the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA).

In the spirit of the HEPPP and its partnership goals, Learning Communities is a collaborative program operating under the auspice of the CSU-based Regional Centre for Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, Murray-Darling (RCE-MD).

CSU will utilise funding to support:
1. The development, implementation and evaluation of a partnership program, Learning Communities, for students in Years 5, 6 and 10, 11 and their communities in the Southern Riverina and north-east Victoria region.
2. Improved understanding and awareness of higher education as a viable post-school option and
3. Prospective students and their communities to make links with higher education providers
Learning Communities commences with the establishment of program steering committee comprising higher education senior officials and RCE-MD representatives. The RCE-MD is an established independent consortium of key regional stakeholders across Murray-Darling communities. It supports and promotes education for sustainable development through the integration of research, education and community engagement initiatives. Current membership includes: regional schools and school systems, La Trobe University, TAFEs, the Murray Darling Association, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, Local Lands Councils, shire councils, business groups, industry groups and government agencies, (see www.rcemurraydarling.com.au). Beyond diverse educational provider members, the RCE-MD has established working relationships with Aboriginal Elders and Indigenous agencies.

Among the RCE-MD resources available to the Learning Communities program is a Mobile Learning Centre (MLC) that facilitates a range of hands-on educational experiences concerning water and energy conservation. The MLC is the product of TAFE NSW Riverina Institute 2010 NSW Environmental Trust funded project and is now managed by the RCE-MD. The Learning Communities program will extend the capacity and range of sustainability and digital literacy teaching resources in the MLC. The MLC will be re-badged to reflect Learning Communities partnerships. The MLC will be a highly visible and essential resource for Learning Communities program.

The key outcomes of Learning Communities include:
• Fostering of greater awareness and valuing of higher education and promotion of pathways and participation amongst prospective students and their support networks
• Development of a model of engagement with partners that effectively promotes HEPPP values and objectives in community contexts
• Develop a suite of enduring physical and electronic resources that promote the values of the program in LSES communities within and beyond the life of this program.

Like other HEPPP programs (Uni Bridges; Robotics@QUT), the program adopts a specific theme of academic and community significance to practically demonstrate the value of higher education. The theme of ‘creating sustainable communities’ connects diverse academic fields (eg. STEM, HSIE and multiple literacy areas) to address the new cross-curriculum priority of sustainability within the Australian curriculum. By demonstrating the value, role and culture of higher education in real-world settings, prospective students and their communities are able to better understand, explore and demystify viable post-school options. The development of the Learning Communities and its activities will be informed by current research, community reference groups, and professional practice of teachers, with particular attention to strategies for engaging students from LSES.

Local Partnership Advisory Groups (PAG) at each of the chosen locations will be established comprising of, but not be limited to, representatives of schools, local communities, universities and the VET sector. They will assist in the development of a tailored, real-world and locally-relevant program that builds awareness, aspiration and enthusiasm for higher education options and career paths. The outreach program activities involve students in the production of theme-relevant resources (adapted from the Creative Catchment Kids program) that are readily accessible to local, national and global audiences. At the same time the PAG may work with LC to identify and broker further learning opportunities for students and the wider community that showcase the value of higher education participation. For example, food security may be identified as a pressing local sustainability issue for student investigation with the assistance of local agricultural agencies, councils and Local Land Services. Selected opportunities will be adapted from a suite of existing educational engagement initiatives and resources (eg. Science in the Bush, Cosmodome, Murray Arts, Science Fact or Fiction, Meet the Professor, Future Moves, Climate Clever Teachers). To reinforce the value of higher education, initiatives will also involve current higher education staff, students, higher education alumni, and community members that have higher education qualifications.

To document and demonstrate the program’s success in achieving its outcomes, as well as provide a basis for ongoing program delivery and use of resources beyond the program period, quantitative and qualitative data and feedback will be gathered from:
• Targeted schools on student and teacher outreach program participation
• Teachers on professional development participation
• Prospective students, teachers, key stakeholders and partners on program experience and effectiveness
• Community participants on education promotional event participation and experience
In addition, the program evaluation results will provide fresh perspectives on LSES student pathways and be promoted to all Australian Universities and schools to utilise as a resource.

Project Objectives
The Project Objectives of Learning Communities are to:
• Assist in improving the understanding and awareness of higher education as a viable post-school option
• Link prospective students, and the communities in which they live, with higher education providers
Project Period
The Project Period for this Project is from the date that this determination is made until December 2015.
The total amount of the Grant is $827,083.
Accelerated Engagement Initiative

Executive Summary
The Interim Board (IB) determined the RCE-MD should investigate what sort of ongoing Secretariat function and Governance model is required to advance and attract the dedicated resources needed to enable RCE-MD continuance. The IB recognised that the optimal form and function of the Secretariat and Governance would much depend on the direction, roles and functions the RCE-MD chooses to pursue, which depends on what stakeholders need. The RCE-MD’s framing documents guide, yet understanding of emerging systems’ context was needed for a transformative model.

Given the many organisations and issues already in motion, it was evident deeper consultation and systems understanding would be required before attempting to co-design and decide a model. It was also suspected that a key need would be enabling thriving relationships that more effectively deliver purposeful system-wide benefits from a recombination of the existing players (i.e. not competing).

The Accelerated Engagement Initiative was a pilot engagement exercise to promote the fledgling RCE-MD, test stakeholder and community understandings of what they need from the RCE-MD, consider these in a systems context, and suggest directions and actions that the RCE-MD might consider going forward.
The Accelerated Engagement Initiative aimed to more deeply engage with stakeholders around the key question “What is it we could do together that you/we cannot do alone?”, to test assumptions and investigate the transformative potential that might be unlocked by where and how the RCE-MD chose to operate. The process engaged broadly to test assumptions and better understand what is needed to perform productively and thrive in delivering transformative systems governance in current and emerging (whole) linked social-ecological systems’ context.
The Report sought to capture multiple issues and guide multiple actions in a complex and emergent environment. Few (if any) existing organisations are able to do this, as funding, politics, lack of understanding of systemic challenges, or inability to act prevent it. The RCE-MD (and this report) must be agile and open to new inputs, revision, modification and improvement as assumptions are challenged, new knowledge or insights arise or new ways of making sense are found more accurate.
The Report canvassed a range of processes the RCE-MD might consider employing if it is to facilitate emergence of new ways forward. The Report is being treated as a ‘living document’. It attempts to tell a cohesive story by integrating and synthesising first person accounts, referenced academic works, emergent concepts and processes, and insights based on immersion and deep listening with individuals and in group discussions and communities.
The Report recognised that if the RCE-MD is to assist in “development of sustainable, resilient, culturally diverse, prosperous communities” it must ultimately seek to build coherent responses to common threats and opportunities. It must do this across divisions and differences in knowledge, understandings and values. This will require that the RCE-MD develop and communicates common stories with different levels of meaning and in the right language for different stakeholders and places. This requires having dialogues in different voices, different languages, and at different levels: some will want it simple; some will want to see academic rigour and references to show that the concepts are well-grounded; and all will want to see that it makes sense at their own level. And the pieces need to be brought together.
The Accelerated Engagement Initiative sought to be “more than an organisational development function focused on improving competitive advantage for one organisation—it strives to improve collaborative advantage. It does this by seeking first to understand the existing system of entities and relationships and then co-imagining and co-creating the deeper, whole-of-ecosystem functionality required for real and virtual communities to thrive in a changed/ changing system context.”

The document shows the RCE-MD recognises and respects the enormity of the challenge and the social complexity of its audiences and the range of circumstances they experience. Some are academics, some are farmers, some activists, some institutions, some large public groups.
The pilot was conducted in the Albury-Wodonga Region, and in the Border Rivers Environmental Water Network Region (BREWN) – two small geographical areas in a vast and diverse Basin. There will be differences across the distances and different communities. However, there will also be similar, more ‘global’ requirements that might become ‘common ground’. In this way it is anticipated the aspirational intentions of the UN-RCE Program can be aligned with the community-endorsed role of the RCE-MD to inform the necessary RCE-MD governance model. These governance relationships will inform the nature of the collaborative education, action learning, action research and community development activities that can be catalysed and undertaken with those willing.

As expected, stakeholders are asking for high-level thinking and ‘systems leadership’. Many are (largely) fed up with the lack of leadership or vision being displayed by existing political parties and institutions.
They know (or sense) that someone, somewhere, must start to enable trans-disciplinary integration and trans-institutional collaboration both within (horizontally, and sometimes vertically) and across communities and networks.
They understand that productive stewardship is needed to build common understanding, trust and conscious evolution of real and online communities for mutual benefit.
They understand this is often more about enabling the right people to collaborate, including through improving the capability, maturity and systems understanding of existing leaders and their constituent members than it is about the provision of more scientific knowledge. Intent and processes are just as important as content, for without these the content cannot be applied for systems-wide benefit.

Recommendations in the Report:

• Systems’ leadership; the RCE-MD as a platform/ think-tank/ systems leadership catalyst;
• Communication, coherence building and systems catalysis;
• Place-based systems understanding – schools/ communities/ regions;
• Whole community education;
• Anticipatory community development;
• Safe spaces and places for dialogue and codesign (Must preserve and honour individual and collective identity/ diversity – but lift collective purpose, through recognition of context-based contributions, at level AND capacity to grow capability and maturity with assistance); and Partnerships – international/ national/ regional/ local and trans-scale.
This Report should inform and help guide the deliberations of the Interim Board and key stakeholders in decisions concerning how the RCE-MD ought to be constituted and governed on behalf of those it seeks to serve—the many and different people and communities of the Murray-Darling Basin, and those that might be inspired to learn from our attempts and exemplars.

Some Key Insights about the need for transformational change/ paradigm shift:

The Report also noted that different interpretations depend on the assumptions and frame of reference of the reader; such as the difference between assuming that Education for Sustainability within the current paradigm (a lot of which is already occurring) are what is needed, rather than and Education for Sustainability in a future alternative paradigm, one in which we might help co-create through a more aware, capable and mature consideration of emerging compounding crises, opportunities and facilitated emergence of new ways of being, individually and collectively, in the world. [this relates to the Graz Diagram – below]
One of the key elements encountered relates to ‘how to measure/demonstrate progress?’ (as in this report!) – which requires that those measuring actually understand why they are making the effort.
If one takes note of the compounding systemic crises facing planet Earth, one can see that transformative change is required, not just within the existing system, but of the system.
The report confirms that many people (now backed by various religious statement, such as the Pope’s Encyclical) are calling for transformative change. The initial RCE-MD Stakeholder’s Meeting agreed that a transformative governance model was required, and the assumptions and needs that underpin this sort of thinking were further explored through the Accelerated Engagement Initiative.
However and this is a key challenge, ‘Transformation’ means different things to different people – many think they are already doing transformational work from their worldview/perspective. The Accelerated Engagement Initiative did find a latent demand to be doing more, on many fronts.

8. Tagging