Professor Stuart B. Hill

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10 Common ‘Mistakes’ to Avoid,
& ‘Needs’ to Meet,
When Seeking to Create a Better World

Because of the holistic nature of the approach being advocated, all of the areas below overlap & are highly interactive & interrelated. This was written in response to the Commonwealth Government’s announcement of the Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra, ACT (19-20 April, 2008:

1. Getting the usual ‘experts’ (mostly older males) together to talk & plan
- always leads to tinkering with existing (flawed) plans – [‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’]
- excludes most, including those affected by such plans & their fresh ideas

- involve mostly ‘different’ people, including (if possible) those most affected
- start by focusing not on plans, but on values, beliefs, worldviews & paradigms
- then feelings & passions
- then, emergent from these, hopes, dreams, visions, imaginings, & creative thoughts
- only then can ‘design/redesign-based plans’ be enabled to emerge (these proactively enable systems [structures & processes] to meet long-term to short-term, & broad to specific, goals, & to make systems as ‘problem-proof’ as possible)
- then critically analyse, integrate, & flesh these out, etc
- detail participatory opportunities, responsibilities, time lines, resource & support needs, means for monitoring outcomes (feedback), tracking progress, & for ongoing redesigning & fine tuning

2. Emphasising problem-solving approaches (back-end, reactive/responsive, curative)
- these tend to focus on symptom management & neglect the need to address the underlying maldesign & mismanagement roots of all problems [trying to make systems work that can never work!]
- they typically over-focus on measuring problems (a main strategy for postponing action - by those who benefit from the status quo),
- & on efficiency & substitution strategies, eg, improved application of pesticide & on finding less disruptive (but still purchased) substitutes, such as biological controls & genetically modified organisms
same story in other areas: medicine, energy, etc

- redesign existing systems (& design new systems) to make them as problem-proof as possible
- & to enable effective change from flawed/defective systems to significantly more improved ones

3. Getting stuck in activities ‘pathologically’ designed to postpone (feared) change
- particularly measuring problems (‘monitoring our extinction’)
- endless over-collection of data (often ‘justified’ by arguments for ‘evidence-based [vs. responsible] approaches’)
- hearings, committee meetings, report-writing, etc [appointment to such a committee may be to limit one’s influence]
- most such preoccupations have NO follow-through, & usually only lead to more of the same

- postponing pathologies must be recognised, exposed, contradicted & addressed; by taking responsible, timely, appropriate, collaborative action 
- access to relevant data is needed to make responsible decisions; however, adequate data are often already available from other places, in other languages etc 
- globally, billions of dollars are wasted annually unnecessarily repeating studies in new locations or with mischievous intentions (often related to perceived threats to existing commercial advantage)

4. Trying to solve problems within the disciplines or areas responsible for creating them; or with multidisciplinary teams of selected experts/authorities from favoured disciplines, with others excluded

- genuine transdisciplinary, trans-competency & trans-experience teams, able to access disciplinary & specialised knowledge as needed
- include competencies relating to holistic approaches to design, sustainability, wellbeing, meaning & effective change processes

5. Patriarchal (them doing things to/for us, & us doing things to/for them) & ‘driven’ do-good approaches are rarely exactly what is needed
- these are generally embraced by those being ‘helped’, or sustained after the helpers leave
- also, they invariably have diverse negative unexpected consequences

- inclusion of those most affected by proposed 'improvements'; as primary collaborators in change processes, & from beginning to end
- enables ownership, relevance, achievability, ongoing improvement & openness to unforseen/surprise benefits

6. Planning ‘Olympic/mega-scale’, heroic initiatives (from hearings to projects) with no follow-through or provision for ongoing support (more than just funding)
- these invariably only reach the analysis, planning & preliminary stages; & then are abandoned
- most have unforseen numerous long-term & widespread harmful side-effects

- diverse, mutually supportive, do-able initiatives that have long-term support
- consideration of opportunities for ongoing improvement & learning our ways forward collaboratively towards improved futures

7. Over-focus on knowledge & data, & neglect of wisdom & experience (most ‘wisdom’ cannot be supported by data; it involves working with the ‘unknown’ – most of what is – not just the limited ‘known’ –  often in ways that rely on intuition, ‘right brain’ & gut feelings, etc)

- to be much better at recognising, valuing & involving the wisest & most experienced in our society, & not so obsessed with ‘cleverness’ (whereas wisdom enables us to work with the ‘unknown’ & ‘known’, cleverness is limited to working with the miniscule ‘known’)

8. Over-focus on ‘productivity’, profit & quick dramatic results
- predictably leads to burn-out, only short-term, limited benefits, & often unexpected disbenefits (additional problems that are often initially unrecognised)

- much more focus on ‘maintenance’ activities [sustainable ‘productivity’ is a by-product of this]
- caring for one another (& other species & the environment)
- celebration
- venting feelings, & access to ‘healing’ support, etc
- prioritise time & resources for these activities
- sustained productivity is emergent from the effective maintenance of whole systems

9. Homogenisation tendencies
- these tend to result in construction of favoured ‘norms’ (for people, structures, processes, etc),
- failure to consider diversity
- creation of in-groups & out-groups
- also, inclusion, exclusion & blaming
- failure to benefit from the creativity that resides at the margins & in the borderlands of society

- openness to appreciation of the value of hererogeneity & ‘functional’ diversity within all systems, with its opportunities for synergy, mutualism...
- lateral & paradoxical thinking & acting
- extension beyond the usual competencies
- relevance to core needs & possibilities (plus, ‘Testing Questions’ & Integrator Indicators’ for these]
- a sense of inclusion, ownership, & a sense of place, etc

10. Neglect of the arts, or only token involvement
- over-focus on the sciences, technologies, business, politics, the professions, the media, & the other major institutions within our society
- as a result, the arts are poorly supported, regarded as a luxury or optional extra, an afterthought, or even irrelevant

- recognition of the arts, in its broadest sense (including humour), as being an essential part of both the foundation & means for implementation of all efforts to achieve genuine & sustainable improvement

stuart hill

Professor Stuart B. Hill
is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology
at the
University of Western Sydney

School of Education (includes previous School of Social Ecology & Lifelong Learning)
University of Western Sydney (Kingswood Campus),
Phone: 61(0)2-4736-0799; Fax: 61(0)2-4736-0400; email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Co-Editor: Journal of Organic Systems

Co-Creator: Australian Society for Sustainable Business

Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney. At UWS he teaches units on Qualitative Research Methodology, Social Ecology Research, Transformative Learning, Leadership and Change, and Sustainability, Leadership and Change.

His PhD was one of the first whole ecosystem studies that examined community and energy relationships (1969); and it was the earliest such study conducted by a single researcher. For this he received the awards for Best PhD Thesis and Best PhD Student. In 1977 he received a Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for his community and social transformation work.

In 1972, in Canada, he produced a report for the New Brunswick Government on Energy and Agriculture that detailed many of the resource, environment and climate issues that are at last being recognized today. Since then he has produced many more cutting edge reports, and has been an advisor to several ministers.

Prior to 1996 he was at McGill University, in Montreal, where he was responsible for the zoology degree, and where in 1974 he established Ecological Agriculture Projects, Canada’s leading resource centre for sustainable agriculture (

His last PhD student at McGill was Ann Dale, who was on leave from the Privy Council Office, and who had played a major role in the establishment of the first ‘National Round Table for the Economy and the Environment’. Her thesis, which has been published as a book (At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century, UBC Pr, 2001) examines what is needed for governments to deal responsibly with sustainability.

Hill has published over 350 papers and reports. His latest books are Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action (with Dr Martin Mulligan; Cambridge UP, 2001) and Learning for Sustainable Living: Psychology of Ecological Transformation (with Dr Werner Sattmann-Frese; Lulu, 2008).

More recently he has contributed groundbreaking chapters to five books: Enabling redesign for deep industrial ecology and personal values transformation, in Industrial Ecology and Spaces of Innovation (2006); Redesign as deep industrial ecology: lessons from ecological agriculture and social ecology, in Industrial Ecology: A Question of Design? (2006); Social ecology as a framework for understanding and working with social capital and sustainability within rural communities, in A Dynamic Balance: Social Capital and Sustainable Community Development (2005); Learning Ecology: A New Approach to Learning and Transforming Ecological Consciousness: Experiences from Social Ecology in Australia, in Learning Toward An Ecological Consciousness: Selected Transformative Practices (2004); and Autonomy, mutualistic relationships, sense of place, and conscious caring: a hopeful view of the present and future, in Changing Places: Re-imagining Australia (2003).

In Canada he was a member of over 30 regional, national and international boards and committees. He is currently on the editorial board of five international refereed journals, and until 2004 he represented professional environmental educators on the NSW Council on Environmental Education.

Stuart has worked in agricultural and development projects in the West Indies, French West Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines, China, the Seychelles, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. His work in the Seychelles to make a whole coralline island completely self sufficient in food and energy is particularly significant.

His background in chemical engineering, ecology, soil biology, entomology, agriculture, psychotherapy, education, policy development and international development, and his experience of working with transformative change, has enabled him to be an effective facilitator in complex situations that demand collaboration across difference and a long-term co-evolutionary approach to situation improvement. These skills were used extensively in his recent role as Provocateur for the Victorian Government (for DPI & DSE: 2004-5).

Recent Keynotes at National Conferences include the following:
Hill, S.B. 2006. Engaging Us: Ecological Thinking as a Basis for Community Change. Keynote to Enviro 06 Conf. & Exhibn.: Building Sustainable Cities [Melbourne; 11 May]

Hill, S.B. 2006. Taking Appropriate Next Steps to Progressive Change: Building on the Past and Risking Deep Transformation Towards More Sustainable Communities.  Keynote to APEN ‘06 Int. Conf.: Practice change for sustainable communities: exploring footprints, pathways and possibilities [Beechworth, VIC; 6-8 March]
[web; 18 pp:]