Professor Stuart B. Hill

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Taking Appropriate Next Steps to Progressive Change:
A Social Ecology Perspective

(presented at the Natural Resources Institute, the University of Manitoba, Canada; 22 October 2007)

In most 'modern' societies environmental governance (for responsible 'environmental maintenance’) remains a minor concern, an add-on, or minimalist, 'shallow' (green-wash) program, designed to avoid litigation and voter disquiet.  It is the poor cousin of economic governance (for ongoing growth in productivity, profit, and associated inequitable access to power by the few).

The roots of this situation may be traced to our history of collective personal distress and oppression, associated compensatory behaviours, institutional accommodation of and support for this, and beliefs in futures based on extrapolation, substitution, control and curative product- and service-based responses to crises.  This defensive, reactive, expert-based, back-end, problem-solving focus contrasts with our need for imaginative, proactive, front-end, design and redesign approaches to personal to planetary health and wellbeing. 

Social ecology (Australian version), with its focus on the interrelationships between the personal, social, ecological and the 'unknown' (for some, the 'spiritual'), and sustainability, wellbeing and change, provides an effective, inclusive, evolving framework for reconceptualising our political structures and processes for enabling improved futures, and for supporting the ongoing psychosocial evolution of our species.

Appropriate next steps are deeply personal and highly context specific.  This is why formulaic, centrally-directed and imposed change always fails to achieve its stated aims and invariably causes more problems than it solves.  Consequently, the collaborative task is to design and implement institutional and community structures and processes that can enable all of us to take those appropriate next steps, and to evaluate, celebrate and learn our way forwards as we go.  This presentation was designed to support this process through challenge, inspiration and the sharing of relevant stories, theory and practice.


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),
Locked Bag 1797, PENRITH SOUTH DC, NSW 1797, AUSTRALIA
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 http://www.organic-systems.org/index.html

Co-Creator: Australian Society for Sustainable Business http://societyforsustainablebusiness.org/

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 (www.eap.mcgill.ca).

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: www.regional.org.au/au/apen/2006/keynote/4003_hills.htm]