Collaboration is good for the environment, and good for us

Individuals are not the experts of everything. Environmental problems and solutions are often complex and multifaceted. And because of that, our team likes to work with other people to solve tricky problems.


It is easy not to celebrate or reflect on what is good, and what is working well. This blog post is an ode to the fantastic people that we get to work with!


Why is collaboration good for the environment?

We think that collaboration, where people work together towards a common outcome, is essential to solve environmental problems. Do not just take our word for it, there is research out there that says the same thing (e.g., Scott, 2015; Dressel et al., 2021) and there is also research that points out flaws in collaborative models that should be considered (e.g., Brower, 2016; Newig et al., 2017). There are grass-roots examples of collaboration to solve environmental problems all around Australia. One example is local Landcare groups, which are people working together for a common environmental outcome.


As environmental problems are complex, understanding the issue and deriving solutions needs a range of different people from diverse backgrounds. And we need all those people to have ownership of solutions so that we can make a change that is desirable and implementable. This means our team needs to collaborate with lots of different people, to listen to them, and trust them.


Most organisations come to decisions using a combination of collaboration and competition (as described by Gordon F. Young), depending on how each are rewarded in organisational culture.


At Murrang Earth Sciences, collaboration is rewarded using the guidelines and criteria set out in our Statement of Performance. We all get paid based on a co-operative salary share model — that is we are paid a share of any work we bring in, have a capped salary (to better aid sharing of profits), and we get an equal share of any profits. By working with others within or outside of Murrang to bring in work, there are better chances of Murrang and its employees having consistent paid work. We also improve the chances of solving complicated environmental problems by working with others with different skill sets.


Through our work, we have seen where competition between and across individuals and organisations in the environmental sector results in overall worse outcomes for the environment. We do not want to dwell on that here, but there is also research available on how competition can impact on environmental outcomes (e.g., Al-Saidi, 2021;).


A green paddock with trees in the background, and the shadows of two people on the grass in the paddock.
Two heads are always better than one. Photo: J Drake

We have trust in our collaborators.


Collaboration is complicated, but both us and researchers think establishing trust in a group of people is essential for successful collaboration (e.g., Brene Brown; Feist et al., 2020;). Trust is not simple and not always easy to articulate. It is subjective and means different things to different people. What we find helps to create trusting collaborations may not help others.


Our Statement of Performance lists some of the small businesses and individuals that we love to work with. We like working with them because:

· They listen to and actively receive feedback

· They provide constructive feedback and are open about their thoughts

· They reflect on their own and others’ knowledge and points of view

· They work to understand different views and backgrounds

· They think things through

· They aim to find a pathway forward

· They are all upfront about economic and social needs


All these attributes have helped to create trust. People show they are trustworthy by listening , showing understanding, and by being empathetic and genuine in problem solving. It is this trust that has allowed us to actively collaborate in a productive way. Examples of work that we have delivered with trusted collaborators include projects for government organisations on waste management; businesses wanting to create innovative solutions to waste problems; and organisations wanting to assess the hazards of new chemicals according to current best practice.


It has taken time to build up the trust in these relationships. Discussing and addressing problems can be stressful in some cases and requires patience and determination. We are truly thankful to work with so many great experts, businesses, communities, and organisations, even when the work is complicated and challenging, to solve complex problems!


Authentic co-design, community wealth building, and Greenprints are tools or approaches we are familiar with that can help create positive and successful collaborations for solving environmental problems. Setting values and workplace culture, and sticking to them, is also essential for collaboration success, and there is a range of literature available on this topic.


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