Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Suitcase head

I used this representational picture to end my presentations this week because people kept asking about my main take-aways. It describes some of the ways my IPSP has had a significant impact on me personally. While my bags will certainly be a few pounds heavier on the return trip, most of the stuff I'll bring back to Arkansas will be intangible and essentially weightless. Here are some of my "learnings," as they like to say over here:

1)Better understanding of water issues, water policy and politics, governance, and community engagement in natural resource management-- in both practice and theory

2) Further confirmation that environment and natural resource management are where my passion lies

3) Clearer identification of the gaps in my knowledge about my own state/region/country, but also a better sense of what to look for, where to find the information, who to talk to, etc.

4) Variety of examples of both good and bad community engagement and more sophisticated understanding of how different stakeholders, levels of government, and government departments perceive different situations

5) Better sense of how academics, consultants, and other "outsiders" can fit into creating better systems and ideas on how to engage these types of people in Arkansas issues

6) Strengthened belief in applied academics

7) Confidence in talking to people in many different situations

8) Practice and confidence in public speaking:

9) Excitement about the opportunity to bring my new-found knowledge back to my community and potentially have it contribute to better, more inclusive and collaborative atmosphere for planning and regulation

10) Proof that enviros, farmers, and industry reps can work together, as well as some practical ideas to use in achieving this cooperation

11) Knowledge about a wider range of jobs that might fit my interests

12) Plenty of evidence of the importance of building genuine relationships, taking time to talk with people over tea or a beer and spend time on their turf rather than hiding behind the walls of the castle (whatever fortress that might be-- a government agency, university, corporate structure...)

13) Understanding of the gravity of the responsibility that governments have in creating systems that optimize outcomes for all residents and the environment within their jurisdiction

14) Observations of the danger of reactionary reform, which does not often allow the kind of high-level architecture that is easier under precautionary reform due to highly pressurized and political situations

What a useful 3 months! Can't wait to see you all!

Monday, August 29, 2011

From little things, big things grow

Enjoy three of my favorite Australian musicians performing an amazing song about an 8 year (8 YEAR!) strike by indigenous station hands for better pay and working conditions.

A lot of things I've learned this summer have confirmed that from little things, big things grow. For example, almost everyone I interviewed described the power of sharing a drink or a meal with someone, how such a seemingly insignificant act can break down great barriers. One person said that government officials often don't consider having a cup of tea with community members as "real" work, but in fact it can be one of the most powerful forms of connection, relationship building, and trust development. And as another suggested, "you can do anything if you have relationships." This came from someone who saw their bitterly divided community come together-- greens and farmers and local government and indigenous all working constructively together-- to stand strong and unified today.

My presence has been a little thing that sparked big things. Today I gave a presentation that one person liked so much he decided he would take my message up the chain of command from here on out. Several people have told me that I have completely changed their feelings about Americans and young people. Others have added a trip to Arkansas to their bucket list, when it wasn't even on their radar before. I may not have had adequate influence to transform any major systems, but I have clarified issues and brought solutions into view and provided some energy and encouragement to making things better. I'm feeling pretty satisfied with my work here. Time to come home.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


On the eve of my 24th birthday it seems appropriate to contemplate beginnings. I can now count my remaining days in Australia on one hand and it is making me inordinately sad. Mama suggested that I view it as a commencement rather than an endpoint. She is right on so many levels. This experience has turned me on to so many ideas and people that have without a doubt advanced my thinking about natural resource management and public participation. I think the contacts I've made here will continue to be useful in my work from here on out. My upcoming work on Arkansas water planning is really like Step 15 in a long progression of events and experiences that began way back when I was born.

The last official commencement ceremony I attended was Barnard graduation. It was a surprisingly good day. Meryl Streep made it amazing. She said, "I can assure that awards have very little bearing on my own personal happiness. My own sense of well-being and purpose in the world. That comes from studying the world feelingly, with empathy in my work. It comes from staying alert and alive and involved in the lives of the people that I love and the people in the wider world who need my help. No matter what you see me or hear me saying when I'm on your TV holding a statuette spewing, that's acting."

Studying the world feelingly. I like that. It's important for all people, but may come more easily to women because of the way we're maybe hardwired or because we have suffered less of the emotional repression that men have generally been subjected to throughout the centuries. I have put a lot of my heart into this latest episode down under, but it is really only one class in this whole long course of life study.

On a whim, in that last month as a Barnard senior, my friend Megan and I decided to audition to be the student commencement speaker. Together. It threw everyone off, but we charmed them enough to get a call-back to the second round. Even though we weren't chosen in the end, the experience sticks with me for several reasons. First, the speech we wrote was all about maintaining the burning curiosity ("staying alert and alive," thanks Meryl!) we valued in many of the Barnard women we knew, a philosophy that still plays a central role in both our lives. Second, it was the perfect continuation of both of our careers as perceived renegades. Megan had dropped out for a semester to rebuild houses and community in Buffalo. I had gone abroad for a semester without the approval of my Department. We both designed our own thesis projects, braving the criticism and sometimes ridicule of classmates and professors. Together, we constantly sought to make Barnard a better place by developing programs for a more sustainable campus and agitating for institutional change. So much so that a girl once asked Megan, "why do you hate Barnard so much?" We were shocked at the time, but laugh about it now. You can't help people who just don't get it.

I'll give a commencement speech of sorts on Monday, when I present my findings to DERM and facilitate a conversation about them. Hopefully I'll provide some fresh insights that will spark new ideas and lead to new ways of operating. I know my findings make a difference in the way I will operate in the future, but making a difference in the wider world is still the goal.

Megan is one person who is definitely making a difference to a lot of people. Here's a great story she recently posted on her blog: "When my Granddad was not well a couple of weeks ago, I rushed to see him after working on a demolition crew all day. I was COVERED with soot from head to toe. Everyone was cracking jokes about my appearance, etc. but Caroline my 3 year old cousin walked into the room, took one look at my soot covered face and dirt stained clothes and her eyes lit up as she yelled, "Princess Girl Fighter!" Apparently she had told her mother that this is what she wants to be when she grows up, and so she carries around plastic tools in her toolbelt while wearing a sparkly princess dress!"

Hopefully I'm well on my way to Princess Girl Fighter status. Happy 24th to me!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rebuilding trust

I've been thinking a lot about ways that trust in government can be rebuilt, matched with government existing in a form that is worthy of its citizens' trust. One of the best approaches, I think, is better engagement of citizens and stakeholders in policy making and implementation. I was checking out the International Association for Public Participation's blog the other day and came across a couple of really interesting things along these lines.

One was a link to the Open Government Partnership, which the US is taking a lead role in initiating. Its formal launch is coming in September and I will be keeping an eye on its progress to see what, if any, practical advancements come out of it.
The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of eight governments and nine civil society organizations.
The other really interesting link was to GovLoop, a social network for people working in government to share ideas, build relationships, and engage in policy discussions. They also welcome students and individuals interested in public service. I've only found one of my classmates on there so far, but hopefully this blatant evangelism will get others to sign up!

We really need more happening in my part of the world (meaning Arkansas; Australia seems to be more on target) around deliberative democracy, public participation, etc. There are IAP2 chapters all around the US and the world... except the mid-South. Other than the Clinton School, I'm having trouble identifying schools with any sort of similar program closer than Indiana. Maybe some of those Oregonians and DCers who seem to have it down should come our way. Spread the love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Warm fuzzies

Just a few cute animal pictures from our recent travels...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Last fortnight

My last two weeks will be a bustle of data analysis, report writing, and presentations. Yes, I said my last two weeks. I know there have been some rumors floating around that I might stay, but I'm both pleased and disappointed to announce that I'll be returning to Arkansas this fall for my Capstone work. Both options were equally exciting and ultimately I decided it was time to get back and keep laying the foundations for a life of service in natural resource management and environmental protection in the Natural State.

One of the things I'd like to do when I get back is give a series of presentations to some key groups who may benefit from hearing about what's going on in the Murray-Darling Basin. I'd also plan to connect key lessons learned to Arkansas's state water planning process. The point of these presentations would be two-fold: to impart information and get people thinking about alternative modes of operation, and to allow me to continue conquering my fear of public speaking. Sometimes you just have to throw yourself in the deep end. Talking about subjects you're passionate about seems like a good first step.

I've been reminding myself daily to be FRANK AND FEARLESS-- a phrase that's thrown around a lot in the Australian public service. I've also been considering exactly how frank and fearless I can be without getting myself fired or seeing my career plateau because I'm seen as too much of a risk. Not that I have a career yet, but I imagine it's in the cards somewhere down the road ;)

Speaking of the future, the Dean emailed last week to remind us that although graduation is a year away, now is the time to start thinking about post-grad education and job applications. I have been really pleased with the cross-breed of action and theory the Clinton School has introduced me to and in a way I'm curious whether there are any PhD programs that value action and field experience in the same way. Perhaps Applied Anthropology? If I went on to a PhD, it would need to be VERY hands-on. None of that armchair philosophizing for me!

Alright, off to hike the Carnarvon Gorge and spy on platypuses for the weekend.

P.S. I love the continuing use of the word "fortnight" in conversation here. What a useful noun!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Getting around

Some beautiful sights from our trip, for your viewing pleasure.

Mama hanging out with some several thousand year-old Antarctic beech trees, remnant forest from Gondwanaland.

Always beautiful ferns

Dead coral on the beach at Heron Island

The sting rays we swam with right off the island!

Exploring the reef at low tide

Gorgeous giant clam just below the surface

The ferry across the croc-infested Daintree River

Tiny tidal pool at Cow Bay

You can never have too many pictures of beautiful ferns.

Beware the cassowary, Australia's largest flightless bird!

Heaven: journal, music, tropical fruit, and evening hours on a veranda.

Snapping turtle show and tell


I think I've solved a mystery!

I have been pondering ever since I heard the exact same story twice from people in two different parts of Australia. On a past trips to America, both of these people had experienced the "Oh, we love Austrians!" response after telling someone they were from Australia. Both times this story was used as proof that Americans are geographically challenged. While I won't disagree, I think I've gotten to the bottom of this particular issue.

As I was hiking through the rainforest last week, as usual I let my thoughts wander. In particular, I was thinking about the precious way that many Australians pronounce the name of their country. To my American ear, it sounds a lot like "Austreya." I was saying it over and over to myself in time with my steps (I am wont to talk to myself out in the woods when no one is around) and all of a sudden it dawned on me the similarity of the sounds "Austreya" and "Austria". If you leave out the crucial "l," it could very easily be mistaken. And if you don't recognize the accent, there's no way you'd ever question unless the offended Aussie laughed in your face or, more likely, politely corrected you.

Stumbling upon this theory was so incredibly satisfying. Now I just have to spread the word and make it true.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

E-postcards from a chilly paradise

Mama's visiting!

We went on a night hike chasing pademelons and ring-tailed possums with night vision goggles!

And now we're on Heron Island swimming with sting rays and sharks along the Great Barrier Reef!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Innovation station

I love documenting the smart, efficient, quirky, energizing, and thoughtful ways that societies operate. Australia has quite a few examples that I want to bring back to the US:

1. Train door "open" button: What's the point in train doors wasting energy by opening when no one needs to exit or enter them? Most Australian trains have a green button that you push to open only the door you'd like to pass through.

2. Dual flush toilets: These are becoming increasingly more popular in the US, but in Australia they are the norm. Water conservation is taken very seriously here and dual-flush toilets certainly help!

3. On-demand escalators: Instead of running 24/7, many escalators have motion or weight sensors that trigger the motor to run when a person steps on board. Brilliant!

4. Self-serve, refillable glass bottles of water at cafes: For water guzzlers like me, waiters never seem to keep the glasses filled long enough to slake my enormous thirst. Having self-serve bottles of water essentially solves this problem. After ordering coffee or food at a cafe, you can just help yourself to glasses and one of these refillable bottles of cold water hanging out on the counter or in a fridge. Me like!

5. Electric plug switches: Energy conservation geeks worldwide know that electrical outlets continue to leak electricity even when appliances are turned off (see vampire load). In the US, this can be avoided by plugging appliances in to power strips and switching the strips off when not in use, but in Australia there's absolutely no excuse since every outlet has its own switch.

6. Taxes: Novel concept, I know ;)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Geography quiz

Match the Australian states and territories with their correct capital cities!

Queensland - Sydney

Tasmania - Melbourne

Western Australia - Brisbane

Northern Territory - Darwin

Victoria - Hobart

South Australia - Perth

New South Wales - Adelaide

Reply via comment on this post by Tuesday, August 9th at midnight Brisbane time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do they really?

In case you were wondering whether the stereotype about Vegemite-loving Australians is true, I'm here to report that the tradition is alive and well. Here's a photo of me with my latest hostess' breakfast-- toast with Vegemite. Every one of the 8 homes I have stayed in so far down under has been stocked with the stuff.

To be fair, it's not the obsession it once was. Especially with the younger generation, it seems to be more like the bottle of mayo an American might have in the fridge because it seems like one of those staple condiments you need, but which is in fact only used a couple of times a month.

Australians : Vegemite :: Americans : mayo

Geez, I haven't used an analogy like that since I was studying for the SAT!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WAY too excited to sleep!

I can't help it. I think my project is the most exciting project in the world! I'm starting to realize that the work going on here has more implications for me than I ever expected. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the first of its kind in the world. Its successes and failures will have far-reaching impacts, as it will set a precedent for how large-scale, integrated water planning is perceived globally. I am feeling really invested in seeing a successful process develop here, especially one that will show excellence in community engagement. Australia has an opportunity to lead the world by providing a just, workable model for participatory resource management on the scale of an entire river system. Just imagine if we could draw on their model in the future when the eastern US starts to think more seriously about holistic management of river systems (there are a few programs and plans out there for the Mississippi basin, the fourth largest drainage in the world, but on the whole it hasn't been a huge priority).

Evidence that the world is watching: since arriving in Canberra, I've heard about at least 6 other students and researchers from around the world looking into community engagement in the Murray-Darling Basin. I keep hearing about them because my interviewees mention that they were interviewed the week before by someone else. The main difference, though-- and this speaks directly to the Clinton School's philosophy-- is that these PhD students and professors that I'm hot on the heels of will likely have outputs that will never make it back to the government agencies or the community. The strict requirements of ethics committees ensure that some important information cannot be released, academics may not think to provide a copy of their work to those it affects, the reports and papers may not be in language that is accessible, the information may come too late to be of use, or relationships may not have been developed to the point where the information can be accepted by the agency or community.

On the contrary, my research is in partnership with the agencies themselves. I am constantly in conversations with the people I work with-- reporting on things I've learned, helping them think through strategies and ideas, giving feedback and suggestions. People are starting to know and trust me. They respect my opinions and observations. I have given a couple of presentations in the past few weeks about my learnings so far and each time it has turned into a really interesting conversation about how to practically incorporate the things they heard from me and things they've heard from feedback in the past. It's giving them a chance to synthesize things, think collectively and creatively-- I LOVE IT!!! It half makes me want to stay, it's so exciting. I think I'd make a great Grundsatzfragen (Director of Fundamental Questions).

The only problem with all of this is that I probably won't be getting much sleep in the 3 days I have left in the Bush Capital. They are going to be PACKED with presentations, interviews, conversations, planning.... but I love it I love it I love it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Winner: Best Australian City

Would you look at this passionate involvement in Hobbes' Leviathan? I spent the weekend blissfully soaking up art, sport, urban splendor, Asian food, and conversation with my college friend, Geoff, an engineering-turned-landscape-architecture grad student at the University of Melbourne. We tried to no avail to get tickets to some of the showings at the Melbourne Int'l Film Festival. As a consolation we made our way through a fair bit of Australian cinematic wonder from the comfort of his living room: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Ten Canoes, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation.

I also spent time wandering Melbourne's vast network of lively alleyways, writing and thinking in quirky coffee shops amongst hoards of hipsters, and poking around parks, gardens, and verdant squares.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the time we spent in the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, both housed at Federation Square, one of the city's central focal points. I shared some of what I've learned about Aboriginal art and Geoff gave me some interesting background on how the Australian landscape was/is viewed and shaped.

Because the Australian art rooms were sequenced chronologically, we could easily see the development of styles through the decades. The earliest works in the gallery, painted by the first European settlers, were clearly stylized to recall the light, vegetation, and bucolic subjects of merry old England. In some cases, artists actually sought out the inspiration of particular valleys and scenes that were most reminiscent of the old country. As time progressed, artists began to capture the peculiarities of Australian light, vegetation, and coloring with more skill. For example, eucalyptus trees began to be painted with all their gnarls and peeling bark, rather than smooth and gracefully curving as previous artists had depicted them. Previously lush greens were tempered to the appropriate shades. There was still a throwback to European landscapes and sentiments in many of the paintings, but Geoff pointed out that by this time the settlers had physically and substantially shaped the continent, so the paintings probably were reporting what it was like on the ground. A field of grazing sheep with a cottage in the background was very much an Australian reality by the late 19th century.

Many of Australia's most recognized paintings were born of "the nationalistic sentiment that developed during the late 19th century." Works like Shearing the Rams reflected "the emergence of a national identity defined through heroic rural activity." We saw rooms of paintings depicting the kind of wholesome, hearty farm scene you're likely to find on cookie tins and dish towels.

The Aboriginal art we saw in the exhibit Living Water demonstrated a very different spatial and symbolical understanding from the European-Australian art. The compositions we saw blazed with energy, each telling a story embedded within a landscape that was simultaneously human and non-human. In one painting entirely constructed with tiny dots (the footsteps of the ancestors), it was possible to see the realistically irregular juxtaposition of geographic features and their attendant colors and symbols as part and parcel of an important story involving humans and their ancestors. In these paintings story lines often travel out to the frame, leaving the viewer with the sense of a wider world beyond the edges of the canvas.

One really interesting piece by Kalaju Alma Webou was a representation of the artist's two homes-- the inland desert where she was born and raised and her current home on the coast. Red, orange, and turquoise swirled together on the canvas, but in geographic reality they never touch. She seemed to be telling her story embedded in the landscapes that mix in her own mind, which I thought was a very clever departure from the traditional storytelling/art that I have seen to be dependent on connected geographic regions. Her spatial presentation of individual identity was especially interesting to me given what I've heard about the lack of individual focus in Aboriginal culture.

At the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, I saw another fascinating chronological display of how motion picture has developed, a 5-screen film installation and commentary on the myth of the founding of America, and an exhibit studying movement from a number of mind-blowing perspectives. For example, in one room, several screens were attached to the ceiling and visitors were invited to lie down on large cushioned lounges to view them. Each screen presented a birds-eye view of a person doing something in slow motion—capoeira, bike tricks, pole dancing, tai chi-- around a central pivoting point. It gave me the strangest feeling lying there looking up while looking down and reminded me of something a classmate said when I studied abroad in Thailand a few years ago. After completing our first reef study off the coast of Koh Mook, he said, “you get tired of looking down on the world all the time. It's nice to look the bottom.” I got the same unsettling but exciting feeling of physically shifting perspective from this installation. I love how two completely different experiences in two different parts of the world can feel so linked.

Melbourners LOVE their footy (Australian Rules). I got this shot of some guys watching a game on a massive screen in Federation Square earlier on the same day that I met Geoff at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch an Essendon-Collingwood game. He made sure I did things right by entering the stands with a beer in one hand and a meat pie in the other. I've never been one to get riled up over sports, but I can honestly say that this game is exciting! The intensity and energy of the crowd is contagious. I found myself oohing and ahhing at the athleticism of the players kicking and catching balls over incredible distances, waiting with bated breath as they neared the goal, and cheering proudly when Essendon, my adopted team, scored. If I stuck around Melbourne I think I could really get into it.

I haven't graduated to the kind of passion these boys had for the game, but I think I could get there if I picked a team and invested some time in making them my heroes. The one on the right had a cute little dance he did whenever Collingwood scored. The one on the left would yell the most hilariously sophisticated things in his frustration when Collingwood disappointed him. One thing I immediately noticed when we sat down in the stadium was it's similarity to a coliseum. The stands are incredibly steep-sided and the field is shaped like an oval, so even up in the nose-bleed section you are still at a great vantage point for the game and have a feeling of being part of something big. Really big.

Here are some photos from my wanderings. A coffee shop in a cool old building where I spent a few reflective hours:

I really liked the appropriately weathered appearance of the Perseverance Hotel:

Melbourne is known for its public art and colorful alleyways:

This sign is all bundled up for the winter. Yarn bombing is another cool thing Melbourne is known for:

Geoff, his girlfriend Steph, and me drinking cocktails and having a secret conversation about superpowers that I'm not at liberty to discuss: