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Negotiating knowledge for practice change

Kate Andrews

Land & Water Australia


While working in the field of practice change in natural resource management I have stubbed my toes on many hard buried questions. The discomfort pulls me up and forces me to rethink my path. Three questions about knowledge and practice change in particular puzzle me regularly:

    • What is the actual role that information and knowledge play in practice change?

    • Whose knowledge do we use and what if different sources of knowledge are not congruent? i.e. contested knowledge

    • What possibilities emerge from answering these questions?

Answers to the above each constitute a footprint, pathway and possibility relating to how we negotiate the maze of knowledge available and how we negotiate between and with conflicting knowledge.

Understanding the role of knowledge in practice change is a pathway I am on with Land & Water Australia and I will share some of what we are learning with our knowledge and adoption strategy. The first step in developing our strategy was to acknowledge the crucial but partial role that knowledge plays in the big messy whole of practice change in natural resource management. The second was to understand the need for different types and levels of information and knowledge at different points of the practice change cycle.

Whose knowledge do we use? What happens when we use only one source of knowledge and deny others? How do we handle conflicting knowledge? The tangle of contested knowledge in natural resource management is a challenge we tackled in the Lake Eyre Basin process over many years. This footprint holds useful lessons for our current regional NRM process, including the use of: negotiation; multiple sources and types of knowledge; and a shared forum for knowledge and learning. Contested knowledge and the wrestle of power that it exposes is territory that natural resource management has shied away from and which will become more and more a part of managing natural resources.

Social learning is one way to manage these issues. The possibility is that we apply this process more widely to help us address the above questions. It acknowledges that practice change and natural resource management are embedded in place, community and culture, and the need for collaborative learning to generate shared understanding and knowledge.

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