Susan Goff

Dr Susan Goff

Born in New Zealand, Dr Susan Goff is a social ecologist working in water management policy in Australia. She has designed and delivered over 60 participatory research, evaluation and learning strategies in her past position as director of independent action research consultancy Cultureshift Pty Ltd, and her current position as Senior Policy Researcher for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. She is also a sessional academic at the University of Technology Sydney in transformational leadership and change. Susan is particularly interested in working with both cultural and disciplinary diversity at the ontological and epistemological dimensions of social inquiry and has produced several works engaging cross-culturally with Australian Traditional Owners. Susan was President of the Action Learning Action Research Association (ALARA) between 2006 and 2010, contributed as the Association’s Managing Editor for the ALAR Journal for several years and continues to support ALARA as a reviewer. Susan is currently working in ecosystem service valuation and Aboriginal social and economic interests for the Authority.

Abstract for Keynote address

Ecosystem Services Valuation is a maturing inter-disciplinary field in need of transdisciplinary applied sciences, such as Action Learning and Action Research. Originating in the mid 90’s its intention is to better value nature. It does this by monitoring and reporting on the economic and social values of ecosystems. Ecosystems serve life by providing air, water, soils and habitats for biodiversity. They regulate our lives, provision us, and ultimately determine our health and wellbeing.

Ecosystem Service Valuation operates at a diversity of temporal and spatial scales, involves research, communication and education. It is sometimes viewed as contentious: still in development, the United Nations is hosting global research collaborations to determine practices, units of measurement and technologies – geospatial information systems, remote sensing and big data for example.

It is a quadruple bottom line field. It deploys environmental sciences (across all environmental categories of marine and terrestrial systems); economic sciences to determine the financial contribution of ecosystem services to local, regional and national productivity; and social sciences to engage with interest groups and communities of practice in the tasks of identifying benefits and beneficiaries and utilising the valuations for public policy and natural resource management.

At a trans-disciplinary level, all these fields are open to cultural critique. They need to take into account anthropocentric threats such as plastics, climate change and species extinction, and persistent uncertainties about the robustness of the field as well as the ethical dilemmas of economically valuing nature. These axiological discourses are entering into the fourth disciplinary field of the quadruple bottom line, that of governance (at global to local, public to corporate scales), which uses the field’s outputs to trade-off functions to serve interests without losing (and preferably enhancing) ecosystem capacity.

Action research is one of the few fields of research practice that has the scope to not only inquire into a subject and test the findings in practice, but to also critique the epistemological assumptions that make up both the subject and the research methodologies that are inquiring into it.  This capacity to build the ship as it sails is needed to integrate the three ESV fields which currently remain awkwardly coupled, and enable decision makers to do better than trade-off for a future where most of the world’s ecosystems have no capacity left to trade. To continue to do so risks fewer winners and many more losers adding to the consequences of displacing populations facing extremes of need.

This keynote provides resources to ask the questions:

  1. What kind of action research and action learning practices can be preserved, adapted or invented to serve this existential crisis?
  2. How should and can this transformation take place, in a manner that is true to Action Research values?
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