Educating future leaders

Dr Indrapriya Kularatne of Otago Polytechnic Auckland International Campus discusses educating international future leaders to be sustainable practitioners. A specialist in International Sustainability Education, Indra makes use of the diverse perspectives of students from all over the world. The first step is an appreciation of the real environment that includes themselves. He works to ensure that his future managers see sustainability as the solution, not the problem.

We can’t live alone

Do something right. others will follow you.

Superpower: Blending scientific knowledge and social aspects and ability to communicate with future managers.

Creating change agents – we take people from nowhere practicing sustainable practitioners.

Sustainability is about changing mindsets

education RCEOtago youngleader

Youth that needs to be listened to

Matt Shepherd, Sylvia Otley and Luke Geddes from the Youth Working Group of the Otago UN Regional Centre for Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development

government ocean pacific

Service-led Leadership

Cook Islands communicator Thomas Wynn was in Dunedin to speak at the Otago Polytechnic Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Talking points

Good leaders have served, and served well – with a strong values base.

How do we change the world? Do something.

Our greatest successes happen around the kitchen table.

Creating a space at the table especially for people we disagree with.

Island nations – we have to depend on each other.

Leadership is either the answer or the problem

Power is the most dangerous drug available. The antidote is accountability.

Definition: Our grandchildren will be able to enjoy a better quality of life.

Superpower: Telling someone that they did a good job. The love. Perhaps the ultimate superpower is to care enough to do something.

Activist? Yes, nothing changes without activity. And that means stepping out of comfortable into uncomfortable.

Motivation: Desire to be better.

Advice: Don’t be a spectator – be a participant.

design education food waste

Food systems whisperer

Finn Boyle variously describes himself as a compost nerd”, a “food philosophy explorer” and a “yeast whisperer”. Realising the question of “what am I eating?” took him down a rabbit hole, Finn saw that he needed to change the world and that his lever was food systems design. He embarked on a food design degree which eventually saw him a grand tour of compost. Amongst several other activities, he is now working to reduce Otago Polytechnic’s organic waste. We talk about making disruption attractive.

Read more on Finn’s work on taking a thriving approach to Otago Polytechnic’s organic waste system (pdf)


Helping people transform themselves

We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now.

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. This show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, who’s not here tonight that’s why I’m driving and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who’s making a positive difference in applying their skills to a positive future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Glenys Ker who is a colleague of mine. She variously describes herself as a career practitioner, educator and she has got more degrees than anybody. I think it’s seven and she is almost at the point of having a doctorate of Professional Studies because it’s getting submitted in the very near future. Welcome.


Glenys: Thank you.


Sam: Where did you grow up?


Glenys: Geraldine.


Sam: What was it like growing up in Geraldine?


Glenys: It’s the perfect childhood, small town, everybody knew each other, everybody did everything together so lots of sports, church, guides. Yeah, great growing up.


Sam: What were your parents doing in Geraldine?


Glenys: My dad was self-employed. He was a milk vendor. My mum was a nurse, palliative care nurse.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grow up?


Glenys: At what age?


Sam: Early teenage, getting past the astronaut and the train driver.


Glenys: The dancer and the fairy. I probably wanted to be a nurse, but my mum was a nurse so at the teenage years, you don’t do what your mother is so, I decided I’d be a teacher.


Sam: What did you think that being a teacher would let you achieve?


Glenys: One of the first things I liked about teaching was all those holidays, but I had some really good role models as teachers at Geraldine High School and I loved the way they influenced young people so, I think primarily, it was if I could influence people that appealed to me.


Sam: You went off to Teachers College?


Glenys: I did a one-year course at then community college, Timaru, South Canterbury Community College in Secretarial Studies so accounting, business management type stuff. Did a stint in those days, work experience as a legal secretary and while I loved that life, I didn’t like the role of the secretary. While I was there at polytech, the teacher was sick and I said, “I’ll take the class.” Unbeknown to me, the people from teacher training college were there and that is really how I got into teaching because they thought I was the teacher. I went off and did … What was it called in those days? Commerce, I guess. Yeah, so I went off to training college. It was a bit of luck really.


Sam: Did the teaching education deliver on what you hoped it would?


Glenys: Yeah, it did. Those are early years, late ’70s, and they let you experience teaching. You got to play and the lecturers were … You might even know one of them, Burt McConnell. He was my history teacher at Geraldine and then, he ended up at training college and so it was kind of neat, but it was that sort of playground of figuring out how to tune kids onto learning, which I loved. The subject area was totally irrelevant. Economics and accounting, that’s the most boring topics, but also at training college, you could take off and do other things….that kind of thing appealed to me.


Sam: Did you find yourself teaching?


Glenys: Yeah, oh, yeah. I’ve been teaching ever since in some form or other. Yeah, initially, secondary and then, back to the polytech that I first studied in so Timaru, Aoraki and then AUT, and then to Otago Polytech, so all sectors of tertiary, yeah.


Sam: What led you from high school to tertiary?


Glenys: I came home because one of my parents was sick and I was teaching at two schools in Timaru. I went back to Geraldine to look after my mother and someone found out I was there and said, “Oh, you want to come to the polytech and teach?” Ten years ago, I was a student.” That’s how it started and I loved adult teaching. People tended to come to polytech because they wanted to whereas secondary school, kids went to school because they had to. There was quite a shift so that was exciting really.


Sam: How did you get from there to careers practising  education?


Glenys: Yeah, that’s another story. I taught at Aoraki. I tended to teach certificates and diplomas and office systems, business type programmes and a lot of outreach programmes. I’d be putting typewriters in my car and roaring off to [inaudible 00:05:54] and teaching in the tennis pavilion, and I loved that kind of life. Then, how did I get from there to where?


Sam: Careers.


Glenys: Careers. Then I went to Auckland and decided to have a break from teaching and bought a café in the heart of Auckland. Then I taught unskilled people to work in cafés, but my heart was in teaching and AUT had a job, a part-time job going in student services so, I went into the learning centre and helped people learn, who needed extra support. Then, the director of student services at the time set up a career centre and I ended up temping in there. Then, one day I thought, “I can do this.” At the same time, they created the grad dep and career development, more grad [inaudible 00:06:49] so, I thought I’ll study that. I thought teaching career development, there’s some similarities and there’s some differences. That’s how … I fell into that, too, but again, if you look at the thing, helping people figure out what they want to do and be helping them learn. There is a theme there.


Sam: Where do you think that theme came from initially?


Glenys: It’s really interesting. It’s not ’til you’ve grown up that you actually accept that you are your parents’ daughter. My father had had other jobs, a traffic officer and a mechanic, and he actually liked working for himself. He was autonomous, independent and ahead of his time and so he picked self-employment. In a way, there’s a theme for me as the independents. The other is my mother was in the field of helping people. Her nursing career took her into social work. Then there was a time where she went and lived in people’s homes and cared for sick people. She was in the hospital system. She was in the hospice system. In a way, that’s all about helping people, isn’t it? I think I’m my parents’ daughter really.


Sam: You’ve certainly inherited somehow that entrepreneurial spirit?


Glenys: Yeah, very much so.


Sam: Not just in businesses, but audacious ideas and going off in different directions.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a way of being, isn’t it, taking risks and saying yes to things rather than confining yourself, yeah.


Sam: When you actually eventually sat down to do a Master’s in Career Development, was it stuff that you knew or was that an eyeopener for you?


Glenys: The Master’s was amazing and it was an Australian programme and it was like there’s plenty of open scope to what you chose to learn and they took you through almost a generic career development and then, a specialist and then, a very strategic so it fit in my personality. The supervisor of the programme liked the different students and there were two of us who neither saw the world as it was and we ended up lecturing on their master’s programme. I think that, again, that was a lecturer or a teacher that sparked my interest and I saw career not just as a career counsellor helping people in redundancies or getting a job or writing a CV. I saw it much bigger than that. Yes, it did open my mind and lift my thinking to a different level, which meant I can do anything I wanted.


Sam: Do you have something resembling a philosophy of learning?


Glenys: Depends what you mean when you ask that question. Learning is something that you do and I think with … I don’t know. What is it? [Bastardised 00:10:18] it? In a way, we believe that it’s our job. We’re the experts and we should tell people what they need to think and learn, and I don’t believe that if you go back to early, little kids, they don’t learn by being told what to do. They learn by observing and watching and doing and making mistakes. I think you and I have talked about the child that learns to tie their shoelace. They didn’t go through a lecture to learn that. They didn’t read a book. It’s practice, practice. I think learning, it shouldn’t be confined. It should be fun. People should want to keep learning. I don’t know what it would be like to stop learning. It should be a way of being, rather than something that you sign up for.


Sam: Where did that vision and that passion for that vision come from? When you went to teachers’ college, you said it was you were able to experiment?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Did it come from before that?


Glenys: It must’ve because if you look at my … As a young child, like 8, 9, I was in charge of the brownies and then, I took girl guides out on tramps and I taught young people how do to do stuff. I think, is it in your DNA? I think I’ve always had that love. I don’t think I learned it at training college. I think training college gave me the opportunity to experiment how you could tune kids on to learning.


Sam: In terms of career practice, you say it’s more than teaching people how to do a CV. When does it start? Do we start it too late, too early?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Where do people get these ideas?


Glenys: About what they want to do and be and think?


Sam: Mmm.


Glenys: Usually at primary school. Career development should be then. It’s really native. If you can think back to when you were 4 or 5, you probably wanted to be a fireman or I don’t know, what did you want to do at 5, Sam?


Sam: Not sure what I wanted to do at 5. Through high school, I wanted to be a set designer.


Glenys: A what?


Sam: Set.


Glenys: Set.


Sam: Set designer.


Glenys: Right. In movies and …


Sam: Mmm.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah. I think those ideas stem from a very young age and they usually stem from role models, don’t they? You watch what someone does and you go, “I wonder what that’s called that they do.” As a young child, I wanted to be a policeman. Policeman? Policewoman. I wanted to help people, but I was too short in those days and I did want to be a nurse. It starts at such an early age and it’s up to parents and all sorts of people to motivate or grow that, I wonder what you could be. I think also the downside is perhaps for young people today is they could be anything if they only knew what it was because it’s information overload.


Sam: Do you think that we, not scare that out of people, but almost beat it out of them?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: This desire to do something, achieve something, but then we label it and we make them do accounting or economics and things through high school?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: All of a sudden, they’re not changing the world. They’re being an accountant.


Glenys: Yeah, they’re confined and I think that often, the people that have a part to play in that role, like I always am amused sometimes when kids love history at school so the teacher tells them to be a history teacher. Seriously? Why don’t they brainstorm all of the things a kid could do because of their love of history? Then the traditional kid that’s good at sport, “You need to do phys ed.” We turn them off. We haven’t been creative about what that could. I think that at [Aor 00:14:34] growing up, we had to be something. When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor, a nurse, a policeman, a fireman, a secretary, whatever. Kids these days, they grow up and we’re teaching them that they have a range of skills, a range of interests and so then, the hard bit is what could that look like? We don’t want to stifle that in young people.


  I talked with someone today and she said, “I’m just a.” That makes me sad. I said, “I’ve just looked at your CV and I don’t even understand the words you’ve got on it that’s awesome what you do. I have no idea.” She went, “What do you mean you don’t know?” I went, “I don’t understand what you’ve written down. Tell me about that.” Her eyes lit up, but she still was “just a.” That’s very sad.


Sam: You and I work for Capable New Zealand.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: You can give us the introduction to what it is.


Glenys: Capable New Zealand is an innovative school, part of the Polytech that’s probably in the business of helping or supporting or guiding people who already have significant skills and knowledge, significant experiences, and they want to grow and enhance that, change it, open it up, shake it a bit. It’s not for younger people with no experience because they do need to go and learn about stuff. These people come and often, they want their skills and knowledge from experience validated against a qualification and we help them do that. I guess the fun that’s about there that people have horrendously amazing skills and knowledge. They just don’t know that and so, the reflective process that we take them through helps them to really think about actually they know a lot and then, as that confidence grows and that knowledge and awareness happens, they’re open to new thinking, new learning, new ideas. That’s what’s fun about where we work.


Sam: That is the subject for your doctorate.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah. Yes, it was the subject. Is it was yet?


Sam: No, no, no. You have to actually hand it in for it to be was.


Glenys: Okay. Yes. I set out to survey over 400 people who had undertaken two qualifications. I picked those two because they are the most popular so the Bachelor of Applied Management and the Bachelor of Social Services. They had gone through an intensely reflective process with us and I wanted to know what they learned, what they thought about, what changed, what they’re doing now as well as what could we do better, that’s always good because 99% of those people had a successful journey, successful learning process and their lives had changed. For me, how neat is it to write about that?


Sam: In what way their lives changed?


Glenys: They had a new language. They had a set of skills that they actually believe they now had. It gave them the confidence to challenge new jobs or take on new directions or continue learning. A lot of people have gone on to do master’s and I’m sure they’ll be back to do the doctorate, which we’re going to be offering, aren’t we, Sam?


Sam: Almost there.


Glenys: Almost there, yeah. Confidence, identity, new brands, new language, all those things happen.


Sam: In what way is it new learning, in which way is it ticking off the boxes of the stuff they’ve already got?


Glenys: Yeah, a lot of people hope that they’re ticking off boxes and that isn’t what it’s about. Often, the first piece of new learning is understanding how to reflect, how to go, “How do I know that? Where did I learn that?: All those questions that you just asked me, I know that because it’s inherent in my upbringing. I can’t lie about where I grew up, but the first job, what did you learn? How did you learn how to take kids tramping at 11 years old? What did you do about risk? People love that because it takes them back to stuff they’ve done and so often, the first bit of new learning is to learn how to reflect. I’m always blown away when people haven’t.


  Then the next bit of learning is often how to write, write differently, write professionally. Not necessarily academically, but to write coherent sentences that make sense, that sum up information. Some people learn how to research, how to find out more about stuff, to be curious. Some people learn that they actually have a lot of skill and knowledge, that they have an identity so, they no longer say, “I’m just.” There’s lots of learnings. Then people invariably at the end of the learning process, they pull together their skills and knowledge into a framework or a model, a practice and then, you see the old me and the new me, and that’s quite transformational.


Sam: Does learning have to be transformational?


Glenys: It depends on your belief about what transformation means and usually, transformation is as a result of something that changes and it changes and it has an impact on you for today and the future. I think sometimes, people just don’t understand what transformation means. Even the kid that learnt to tie their shoelace at 5 is transformational, though they probably won’t say that.


Sam: How do they learn how to transfer that new learning about themselves or this transformation about themselves to their new self?


Glenys: It comes out in many ways because part of the assessment process, they … A lot of it is written reflection so, they do have to do that and they often get evidence to attest to stuff they’ve done, but then they sum up and they orally articulate who they are and what they are and why they are and what their values and beliefs are and what they’ve learned to a panel of assessors, and as they speak out loud, they start to believe more so than writing it down. We see the transformation. We see the new language, the confidence, the identity that’s changed and often, you’ll see it in their CV or even just in the way they talk about themselves. When they say, “This is who I am and what I am and why I am,” they couldn’t say that at the start. Also, the fact that two people who have experience are assessing them so they know it’s kosher.


Sam: When we talk about developing sustainable practitioners, the sorts of things we’re looking for, it’s not as simple as saying that we want them to make sure they’ve got the recycling title to them, that-


Glenys: The light bulb, yeah.


Sam: Yeah. It’s very much a set of attributes, systems thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking. Is that something, do those things come through that reflective process?


Glenys: Yeah, yeah and in many ways and in many different ways. So often in social services, you’ll often hear people not only thinking about their own self-care in horrendous jobs. They’re thinking about supporting other people to have safe lives and healthy lives, and also the communities. While you were talking, I was trying to think of all of the things that you come through. Sustainability is also developing skills for the future. It’s quite interesting. They often start out with the light bulbs and the recycling and then, they start to push it out around economic stability, sustainability, social sustainability and it’s neat to see that happen, but it does come out and if it hasn’t, naturally, we talk about that. We bring in people like you to talk about it.


Sam: When they’ve gone through the process, do you need to cover each of those things or if you’re going to have a decent conversation with about ethical frameworks, does that go wider to things like sustainability?


Glenys: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to see it as a holistic process rather than a discrete set of tasks and often, the learner can’t do that at the start. In a way, we’re a connector, a joiner of dots. We help them start integrating stuff. That’s neat to watch, too, because a lot of people do control their life by putting it in boxes. Of course, we know that that isn’t so. It’s the whole self as well and you see that ability by the time they’re finished to combine information and knowledge and thinking.


Sam: Do you think it’s an easier process than going to class?


Glenys: No. No. No. No. I don’t, but I think it’s a more valuable process, a more acknowledging process that people have spent 20, 30 years of their life developing skills and knowledge and learning from it to recognise it and acknowledge it and validate it. Sometimes, it’s hard because we’re stretching people. We’re not just … There’s always new learning so, we’re pushing them. If you can see that they have a strength in sustainability or business improvement or HR development, we’re pushing them all the time. It’s a stretch for them and I’ll often hear learners say, “I hated you,” and so we …


Sam: You’re talking about yourself there, not me.


Glenys: Yeah. No, sometimes. That’s part of it, but it’s not easier. It’s just more validating when you’re an adult. Yeah, you can’t equate it.


Sam: All other things being equal, if you were advising an 18-year-old that was choosing should I go and do this work or should I do this degree, and if I don’t down the work route, I’ll go through a reflective process later, how would you balance that?


Glenys: That’s an interesting question because usually, young people don’t make decisions on their own. They’re highly influenced by their family. They want to make their mum and dad proud or their parents have huge influence where they’re expecting them to do that BCom. Then they can do what they life after that or they’re influenced by their peers so everyone’s going to uni to do a BCom so we’ll all do that. I think that’s the sad bit and the hard bit.  Some people quite naturally have a disposition to want to go to university or polytech straight away and get stuck into learning new stuff and being part of a class environment and that’s really cool. Some people, like I’ve got quite a few kids that actually needed to work and figure out what it is they actually love and it’s okay. Doesn’t matter when you do your study or learning or how you do it.


  I think there’s no one size fits all, but the skill of a career practitioner is to challenge the thinking of a young person and that can be hard if mum and dad are in the career session or if their mates are because they’re highly influenced by that. Because study is so expensive, you don’t want to set them up to fail. From my experience, kids that go to uni or polytech, I’m not talking about one specific, go onto higher education and they don’t enjoy it and they fail, then their loss of confidence is far greater than if they go and get a job at the supermarket for a couple of years and learn about management. That’s always of a worry to me.


Sam: I described you as a career practitioner, an educator and various other things. You described yourself in one point just then as a connector, a joiner of dots.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Other than doing dot to dot puzzles, how do you describe yourself?


Glenys: That’s a hard question because depends who asked me the question as to how I answer, but I’m in the business of transforming people’s lives and whatever that means, whether it’s career counselling or supporting a friend or tuning someone on to learning, I want to help people have a better life. The people that don’t need me, that’s fantastic.


Sam: What happens if their idea of a better life is quite clearly wrong?


Glenys: Firstly, there’s a whole lot of ethics in that.


Sam: I was winding you up for that question.


Glenys: Okay.


Sam: No, that sounds good anyway.


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Someone says, “I want to learn to be a burglar and rob people off, old people’s homes at night,” I’m probably going to challenge a whole lot of things around that and try and put them onto something where they can do something less illegal. I don’t want people to do harm or do anything illegal so, I would probably have to say that. When I worked with elite athletes, one of the codes is no drug taking and things, and so you have a duty of care to people to keep them safe and to get them the support, even if they’re not telling you and career practitioners have a code of ethics, too. Equally, I could have someone that comes to me who’s been in gaol for 10 years and actually has decided to have a better life. It’s about not judging that and finding a pathway.


Sam: You described it as a facilitation process. Is that a subset of teaching, different to teaching?


Glenys: It’s got the same traits.


Sam: See, I know the chapters in your thesis.


Glenys: I know. Yeah.  It is the same as teaching, but it’s teacher centred. Teacher centred? Student centred learning. If you look at the literature around what a good teacher does, they support, guide people. Yes, that’s where it is similar, but I might add, we don’t want to be the experts in other people’s lives. We want to help them be the expert, but sometimes we need to be the expert because they’re not there yet, but it’s how you do that. I like to call it the dance, but you don’t like that, Sam.


Sam: If we can presume to advise the rest of education, what could they learn from this reflective learning process?


Glenys: Predominantly, teachers are fantastic. I’ve seen some fantastic people in classrooms tuning kids onto learning, using applied methods. I think for 100 really good teachers, there are probably 5 that should’ve left. I actually think by and large, they are doing the right thing. They’re tuning kids on, they’re trying to find ways to motivate them, to help them to learn, but often, that’s also up to the young person. They might be in the wrong class or they just might need to grow up a bit.


Sam: You said you never see the world as it is.


Glenys: No.


Sam: What do you see?


Glenys: As it could be. What’s the Kennedy quote? “Some people see things and say why. Yeah, I see things and say why not.” It’s the last glass half-full mentality. I always tell the story to my students that I sat on a bus one day to the airport when I was young, 19, and I engaged in a conversation with a much older man because I’m a chatty person. In those days, you don’t have cell phones or iPads. When I got off the bus, he offered me a job in a very important company in those days and that’s how it should be. I could’ve said yes, but I was on a pathway where it was exciting and I didn’t need that opportunity, but it’s about looking for opportunities and saying yes to stuff, developing that resilience. There’s been very few times in my life that I’ve said no to stuff. As a self-employed person, people would say would you take this job on? I said yes to everything. Probably not very sustainable in terms of work life balance, but that’s how I learned.


Sam: In terms of not seeing the world as it is and in terms of transforming people’s lives, mostly, you’re talking there about individuals. Do the same things apply if we scale it up? Can you do this for societal level problems?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: How?


Glenys: Putting people into groups, into cohorts and working together. Is that what you mean?


Sam: No, I’m thinking about solving world hunger, sustainability.


Glenys: Oh, okay.


Sam: Can we apply these sorts of principles and ideas at a much larger scale?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: How do we go about doing that?


Glenys: Give me an example. Someone comes in to see you and says, “I want to solve the world, I want to save the world, I want to solve world hunger.” What would you say?


Sam: I would work with them to try and work out what they were talking about in terms of, as we talked with Ray and Alysa over the last couple of weeks about the relationship between the problem space and the solution space and those things go around in circles as opposed to a more traditional model of we’ll just define the problem and then-


Glenys: A cycle, yeah.


Sam: The solution will appear.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: I think it’s as you go round and round, you get better at understanding what’s happening.


Glenys: It is very cyclical and that’s very … I’m just trying to understand that question though because often young people don’t know what they want to do and don’t know what they want to be, but they have a fundamental wish to make the world a better place. I’d be interested to see what that could look like and how we build young people to develop skills to do that because that’s a big bold goal, isn’t it?


Sam: Yeah. Do you think that, where are we on the numbers if you like? If we put make the world a better place on the other end of a continuum, maybe we can’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway, to I want to drive a big car and earn lots of money?


Glenys: You do get that. The people will often take engineering or plumbing, that’s the latest, because it’s the biggest earner at the moment. The fact that they don’t enjoy it and have no passion for it is totally irrelevant. They can apply themselves to learn that skill and then, they can earn big money.


Sam: Is it as obvious as a gender separation on that?


Glenys: No, I don’t think so anymore. There’s plenty of young women that have the same attitude. Those people need to go into social service types jobs, the helping professions.


Sam: Do we have a duty of care? You talked about that duty of care that we have for our individuals. What do you think that we as educators, what’s our duty of care on a much bigger perspective? What are we trying to achieve as a whole?


Glenys: I think the word sustainability comes into play here again. What is the future? What does it look like? How do we help people have sustainable futures? What does that look like? Because I think there’s a lot of people that don’t even think about that. We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now. There won’t be jobs for life. There won’t be the jobs that we currently have. There’ll be roadblocks doing that. I think some people don’t really appreciate that. We do have a duty of care.


Sam: If someone comes in and says they want to be a, whatever it is that we are pretty sure isn’t going to survive much longer, do we plan to talk them out of it? How do we manage that?


Glenys: I don’t know that you talk them out of it, but you challenge the thinking. It’s the kid that says, “I want to be a doctor.” “Tell me why you want to be a doctor. What is it that a doctor does that appeals to you?” Because often, they have no idea. We have a duty of care to broaden people’s minds and perspectives.


Sam: Which leads me to the questions about the tensions in your data, one of things that came out was the people that said things to the effect of “I liked that how nurturing they were and how they mostly challenged me?”


Glenys: The paradox.


Sam: The paradox.


Glenys: Yeah, will isn’t life, the paradox? Also, that helps people develop resilience. You don’t want them to want to only be nurtured. The skill of a facilitator is knowing when to be what. If they’re having a vulnerable moment, you’re not going to push them at that moment. You are going to be kind and caring, but then you’re going to slowly push them, keep them moving.


Sam: Do you think your understanding of paradoxes, is that a fundamental thing that’s missing from our whole education? We’re too good at teaching people black and white or that’s what we tend to do, and it’s actually the subtleties that matter?


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I think … but I start to see a lot of people using a lot more case studies, real life issues these days where they are exposed to that. When you’re 18 and you’re trying to fill someone’s little brain up with a whole lot of knowledge and information, that’s quite an interesting concept, isn’t it? There needs to be a lot more applied practical exercises, really scary ones.


Sam: You’re talking about there won’t be jobs for life. What is the future of work?


Glenys: The future of work, certainly no job for life and for people to be really adaptable, flexible, mobile. What’s really interesting is facilitators work differently. We seldom work with learners between 9 and 5 because our learners are at work. They’re online with us at 8:00 at night when their kids are in bed or they’ve got an hour or Saturday morning. We work differently and so that flexibility, that ability to go, “Oh, I’ve got nothing on this afternoon. I might go to the gym and get the groceries and go and visit a couple of people because tonight I’ll be working,” it’s a total mind shift. It wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t anyone in the office, Sam, because they’ll all be working differently. Also, that whole self-employment thing, you’re only as good as your last contract. People have to understand what that means. There’s no expectation of an employer funding your lifestyle that you think you deserve. Those kind of things are gone.


Sam: We have this idea in education that we’d like to be doing things…something about lifelong learning.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Are we really?


Glenys: I like to think so. If you tune people onto learning and motivate and enthuse and inspire people and find the things that do spark their interest, then surely that … Lifelong learning doesn’t mean doing what I did and doing a whole range of qualifications. Learning doesn’t have to be attached to anything. What did you learn today? Can you tell me five new things you learned?


Sam: I could, it might take a while to think through them. Yes, I think I could.


Glenys: Yeah, so just tell me one thing that you learned that was new for you today.


Sam: I’ve been in assessments all day so, I need to be careful about what I’m talking about with the individuals, but there’s some ways that people have matched their professional framework to what they’re doing, which has actually been quite interesting things, and the different models that people are using for doing that was really interesting today, and that the difficulties of applying standard research methods to this kind of stuff, but they’re recognising that the  work that people are doing particularly at the master’s level, we can’t simplify. It’s not we can’t do the research by reducing everything down to a single factor and just testing that. It’s people are in their messy work and that the participants in their research are their boss and their colleagues and the people they’re managing and their customers, and we need to pull all that together so there is really different things about what we’re doing. I had some insights about that today.


Glenys: Yeah, that’s why the literature on work-based learning is exciting because it explains that. That will be hard for some people to transfer their thinking from traditional research and academia to professional practice. I think that’s a leap, isn’t it? Because you don’t have to attach your thinking to 50 other theorists that said something.


Sam: The challenge as work is changing, but particularly at the master’s level, but also to some extent at the undergrad is that people are describing jobs that, they’re doing them, but don’t exist as a recognised discipline despite the fact that they’re doing that work. They’re defining their own framework of practice.


Glenys: Yeah, and also you will be hearing cross-disciplinary approaches. Traditionally, people studied subjects like business, social services, accounting, nursing. What about the people and work where they don’t … Like today, I had a good example, a lot of people didn’t line up to anything. Our professional practice qualifications are perfect because it’s about their professional practice, which is multidisciplinary. It’s management. It’s economics. It’s accounting. It’s business improvement. It doesn’t fit into something. It’s melded together. Then all of a sudden, there’s a new project so they’re off doing quantity and quality control.


  I also don’t think people understand how resilient they are where they, “Go, yeah, it’s new. It’s all part of the job,” and yet they’re still working in the same organisation, but they’re doing complex work. That’s another thing. People aren’t going to be subject specific. They’re going to be very integrated. I think our professional practice qualifications are a way bit ahead of its time for some people because they keep thinking, “Oh, is that management then or what fits under there?” That’s neat when they get to that point. We just need an undergrad there.


Sam: I’m getting there.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Glenys: Sam.


Sam: You can’t just say, “I’d ask Sam.”


Glenys: Yeah, well, that’s one on the spot. I don’t have one. I’d have to think about that.


Sam: What do you say to a learner that says, “Why should I care about this stuff?”


Glenys: What would I say to them? Why shouldn’t you care? Usually people come from communities that they do care about … they care about the land. They care about the people. Then you find that when you say, “Oh, well, so in 10 years’ time when there’s no fresh water,” they start to think about it and they do start to make changes. Yeah, different communities see it quite differently, but people don’t say that to me, Sam, “Why should I care?” Even young people don’t say that anymore. I think young people have got a much bigger sense of social responsibility. I think that era is past, of leaving the tap running while you clean your teeth.


Sam: You’re not finding people saying, “Oh, but I’m a,” insert discipline here, “It doesn’t apply to me?”


Glenys: No, I’m not. I see some people not looking at it in its full depth, but when you show them places to find out about it, they always come back with really rich stuff and new stuff that you wouldn’t have thought about. I think that’s neat where they figure it out, but you’re just doing some prompts like, “What about this?” Yeah, I’ll have to think of a good throwaway definition though that’s …


Sam: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Glenys: My passion, transforming lives, I know that, but my passion is the second chance learners. I love the people that university or higher ed or polytech wasn’t for their family. It wasn’t for them and so, they left school at 15 and got a job. Then a lot of the athletes I work with that hit rugby or cricket at a young age and sport was their identity and sometimes English is a second or third language, I love those. I love helping them make a difference. I think that’s where if I had a choice, it’s where I’d stay. I’ll leave the masses for you, Sam, but I’ll do the review of learning and the things in your life. It’s helping people who didn’t think that this was for them, being the first in the family.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What is the super power that you’re bringing to the team? Not the one you wish for, the one you have.


Glenys: The super power?


Sam: Yeah.


Glenys: Maybe you have to tell me. I don’t know.


Sam: You see, the thing about these super powers is that they’re not magical. That’s the point. They are things that everybody could have.


Glenys: Super powers? I don’t know. A super power?


Sam: I’m going to put words in your mouth here. Is it a belief that you can make a difference for other people, with other people?


Glenys: I don’t have an ego that it’s about me. It’s never about me. My motivation is when you see their families at graduation and you see them cross the stage. For me, I don’t need to be important in that process. I need to make that clear, even though it’s cool when they go, “Thanks, Glenys. I really hated you.” It’s more that I’ve tuned them on to something they never thought was for them and tuning people onto learning is important to me, however that learning is. I’m not necessarily qualification focused, but for some people, they do want a qualification. Our oldest learner is 86. He wants to graduate with his great grandson. How awesome is that?


Sam: That’s pretty awesome.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Glenys: God, what is the definition of an activist?


Sam: You get to define it in your answer.


Glenys: Someone who sets out to make a difference, someone who sets out to change the world.


Sam: If we go for that, are you one of those?


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Come on, super powers and activist. I don’t use those words, Sam.


Sam: What motivates you? You said families at graduation, but that can’t get you out of bed every day.


Glenys: It does actually. Helping people does get me out of bed all day. Making a difference, watching that spark of interest and sometimes, it takes five or six months to see it, but I always like looking for the glue. I don’t care … You know how people tell you a story. I don’t always listen for the facts. I listen for the bits they don’t see.  I listen for the glue and then, I come back to it. People talk about that and I often don’t know how I know, but I find it, all the gold. That’s fun. I can dine out on that for hours if I’ve found that for someone.


Sam: Not trying to be an expert on their lives, but perhaps some sort of magic mirror.


Glenys: Yeah. Sometimes you are the expert for a while because you can see they’re struggling so you are guiding them and giving them more help and information for a while and it’s knowing when to let that go. It’s just not that whole traditional I’m the expert and you’ll listen to me for two hours while I talk at you.


Sam: We’ve got a minute to get to three questions. Biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next year?


Glenys: Actually, it’s crossing the stage with that red gown. It’s never been about the graduation, but somehow I think it will be.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?


Glenys: Personally or professionally?


Sam: You can pick.


Glenys: That everybody could afford to learn, to study, to get those qualifications, to make a difference, that education was free.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Glenys: If you are one of those people out there that have significant skills and knowledge from experience and would like to see if that matches something, I’d love to talk to you.


Sam: That sounds fantastic. Thank you very much.


education leadership

Designing learning that makes a difference






If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Tonight we’re joined by Ray O’Brien, and he’s a learning designer at Otago Polytechnic. Welcome to the show, Ray. How are you doing?


Ray: Good evening.


SL: Obviously, that accent isn’t from around here, although this studio is full of accents that aren’t from around here. Where are you from there, Ray?


Ray: Originally from the West Coast of Scotland.


SL: What part of West Coast.


Ray: The original Helensburgh. Still a little bit uncanny here in Dunedin seeing the transplanted Helensburgh in the buses.


SL: What was it like growing up in Helensburgh on the West Coast?


Ray: Other than windy and wet.


SL: Yes.


Ray: It was actually a great place to live. Some was referring to pure adventurers there. That’s certainly something that moulded the early part of my life getting up into the mountains and it’s right on the boundary line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so to escape up into the hills in Helensburgh was great.


SL: Fantastic. You went to school there. What were your favourite subjects at school?


Ray: Probably physics and if I look back a dream if there was outdoor ed, but there wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a subject I did anyway I missed enough days of school to go up into the mountains that I can count it as a subject.


SL: Do you obviously decided to go to college at some point, so what did you do there?


Ray: It wasn’t physics. It wasn’t physics. It definitely wasn’t physics, no. I actually cards on the table confession time, I went to university to become an accountant and then during my recess at the end of the first term, I realised that that probably wasn’t the life for me and I switched over to human resource management.


SL: All right. Where did you study? Where were you studying?


Ray: The University of Sterling. Again, the choice of university was more about getting into the mountains than it was about any academic concerns.


SL: Exactly. Sterling is quite a small town and so you had … How big is that? How big is the University of Sterling?


Ray: Oh, I’m not sure the figures now. It’s grown a lot since I was there but when I shifted from high school, a very large school, to university, I think there’s only 500 more undergrads there than there was number of students in my high school.


SL: Of course, Sterling is a very famous place and it’s a beautiful little castle and it’s kind of like a miniature Edinburgh, really. You studied human resource management and you graduated with that.


Ray: Yeah. With that and then started working in the outdoors but trying to combine the two, looking at development training. Did a little bit of work with the oil industry doing team building for people that worked out on the rigs and working for companies like Outward Bound and taking a development angle on adventure and the outdoors.


SL: Fantastic. That was you’re based out of Aberdeen, was it?


Ray: That was where the oil industry stuff was, yeah.


SL: Okay, cool. You did that and decided what’s next on your adventure. What happened next? You’re out in the oil industry, decided what to do next.


Ray: Yeah. I was delivering development training for the oil industry guys. I was never managed to get on a rig myself. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that.


SL: Going out on the helicopters at the North Sea.


Ray: Yeah. The dunk tank test would have got me, I think. Then after university, like I said, I moved north and I started working at Adventure Training Centre run by the Sports Council. It was much more performance coaching rather than developmental, and that led on to a job working for the military for eight years developing leaders and guides for their adventure training activities.


SL: How do you train for leadership? How do you do that? People say you’re a natural born leader or not. How do you train people to lead? What are the key requirements?


SL: Take them up a mountain and lead from there. If they lead their way down, then you’re a leader.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: It’s an interesting question and I think can you teach leadership or can you develop leadership. I think it all comes down to what opportunities you can offer people and how you can help them to relate it to their everyday context. With the military, my job was to work mainly with senior NCOs and officers and find adventure situations that let them practise the skills of their organisational skills, their communication skills, real situations that didn’t have the consequences of them being in theatre, and yeah, and much, much bigger risks.


SL: What is leadership? What is that as a concept?


Ray: How long is this talk?


SL: If you give a brief description of what leadership looks like.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: Is it telling somebody what to do?


Ray: No. I think it has been viewed as that in a traditional sense of leadership. Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s the people who earn the respect and that respect is usually earned through some form of service to the people that you are leading. I think that’s morphing now and that leadership is not as commonly seen as a one person leading and more about the collective leadership and people taking leadership roles within a more equal group.


SL: You’re going from kind of a hierarchical system to kind of a team, more team egalitarian system. Have there been major shifts in society that have driven that or is that just yeah, this seems to be more effective role or is it both those things?


Ray: I think it’s situational. I think it depends what we are valuing or wanting in society. If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Was this exclusively with the British Armed Force or did you work with other militaries, as well?


Ray: It was a Joint Service Mountain Training Centre, so yeah, it was all the British ones.


SL: Okay. What happened after that? That was obviously a major adventure.


Ray: It was a learning, it was a great adventure and it had me on expeditions all around the world for five or six months a year, but then I had a daughter and I didn’t want to be away from home for five or six months a year and it was time for a change, and that change took the form of a year’s leave of absence where we all came across to live in New Zealand for a short time to try it out, and here we are 13 years later.


SL: Ah. You came to New Zealand and where did you land, first of all, or where did you arrive?


Ray: We tested it out in the classic Brits in the camper van around the ski areas for a winter. Then went back and organised our work and packed up our house and moved to Hawea, just outside Wanaka.


SL: You just fell in love with the place yeah, this is where we want to be, this is where we want to bring our daughter up. Yeah. Fantastic. Are you still based in Hawea?


Ray: No. Moved down to Dunedin two and a half, three years ago.


SL: All right, wow. Fantastic. Now, you’re teaching, you’re a learning designer. Describe for me what a learning designer is.


Ray: I work in a team of amazing people who do a combination of facility learning design where lecture staff and teaching staff take the courses they’re already teaching or take new programmes and look at different ways to bundle up, reshape it, modernise it, change the way that it’s taught, and align it with more strategic frameworks, so it really meets the need of today’s learners. The other half of the team work on how can we build assets, such as online learning, all of the different resources are required to support that, and also how can we help the staff. Because a lot of the changes are quite significant. How can we make sure that they’re fully supported to be successful?


SL: How does this modern teaching environment, how is it different from the traditional lecture setting, talk to class, give them the lecture, students taking the notes, and then asking questions in tutorials? How is the modern classroom different now for people who haven’t been in there for a while?


Ray: Yeah. I think the main thing, the main myth to bust is that we’re going from a modern classroom to, from a traditional classroom to a modern classroom, and I don’t think that new model exists. I think it is much more varied than, perhaps, a traditional here’s a lecture hall. Typically, when you look at some of the things that polytech does across trades and different work contexts, what we really need to find is a blend in that learning environment. That blend can be a workplace, a real workplace or a simulated it. It could be classroom-taught sessions. It could be online resources and it’s finding the optimum blend of those things for that group of students and that topic to make sure that they are the people that are getting employed at the end of it are the first choice of people to be employed at the end of it.


SL: How do you assess that? How do you decide, okay, for this group of students, this mix for them and for this other group of students, this is the mix for those students and those two learning environments might be quite different. How would you assess which students, what models to which students?


Ray: Yeah. The core of our design process is human-centered design, so we spend a lot of time looking at who are the learners. That’s not necessarily who the learners sat in the classroom today are. It may be looking at what new groups of learners might be coming in, how we could change it to allow access to other groups of learners. I guess to give you an example of that, some of the new business courses that we’ve developed, there are campus-based courses, predominantly those groups are school leaders. We also have predominantly online courses, which most of the people on those courses are actually in work, perhaps even in management positions and the two different blends their needs differently and that’s taken into account right at the start, so what do these people need?


SL: Can you teach the same course to different groups of students? Like for instance, ones who prefer the more traditional method and another group, for instance, work or maybe have families and stuff and can’t make the same time commitments. Is it possible to create courses like that or?


Ray: Yeah. With those specific examples of business courses, there are different delivery modes for the same course.


SL: You get the same educational outcomes and because you’re delivering it in different ways…


Ray: Yeah. In terms of the learning outcomes that they match up to and it’s the same qualification. Yeah. The bar is set at the same height. Yeah. In terms of what they gain from themselves, I think if we have rich enough experience in there, then it’s not a cookie cutter experience and people can make their own meaning from what they experience, so yes, the bar is at the same height but how they interpret that and make meaning from it in their own life’s context, that will be different.


SL: How do you sit down with, thinking about students’ perspective, but how from the teachers’ perspective that the lecturer or the instructor, how do you sit down with them and maybe guide them through a process that might be quite unfamiliar to them or challenging the way they’ve done things for many years and how do you guide them through this process?


Ray: You’re absolutely right. It can be very challenging. Yeah. Particularly given we have some very good outcomes and data to say that we are getting it right, so here’s some learning design coming in telling me to change it all. There is a risk. Yeah. There is a risk. I think if we look at innovations anywhere, the risk I think is more with not looking at the future and changing more so than staying with the old model of knocking a blockbuster, whichever you want to compare it to. I think most people recognise there’s a need to change and it’s not just for the set of students that are in the class with you right now. It’s looking forward, and that’s important leverage to make people happy to take the steps and designing something different.


SL: Is there an actual cultural change in the kind of students that are coming through and our expectations compared to 10, 20 years ago? Is that an actual thing or is that something we kinda made up or is it a mixture of oh, we just got the new technology. Let’s just do it in a different way.


Ray: I guess my understanding of that in terms of the New Zealand context is, to some extent, secondhand, because I wasn’t here to witness that. I can certainly see people are being more demanding in terms of students have been more demanding in terms of a return on investment. They’re coming out of education with some hefty debts and I think it’s ethically right that as institutions, we should be designing to make sure that they get value for their money. Yeah. They are demanding that education makes a big difference for them and their lives and they’re quite right to do that, so that’s a slightly different culture from it’s all paid for and just going to study to access cheap beer and have a party.


SL: If you are designing a new course, how do you actually practically go about that? If you come to a course, say, I’ve got this course we’ve been teaching it for ages. How do you come in and go, okay, what do we need to do here? What’s your approach?


Ray: I think the first part is evaluating how the courses go already. It needs to be strengths-based. It’d be very easy to pick sticks out of any particular way we have designed in a course, but you have to look at the strength and what is going right and make sure that those things are not lost in the design. You also have to look at the student and you also have to triangulate those things with what does industry want. Where are these students going after their qualification? To be honest, that’s the real tricky one just now because how sure are we about the industry they’re going into?


As Sam referred to earlier, there’s as a huge amount of unknown in the future of the jobs market, so trying to triangulate that with what we’re getting right just now and who the learner is and what they need. That’s a challenge. From there, we’re looking at what do we want the graduate to work to look like, what do they have to be able to do, what capabilities do they need, and from there, it’s almost like a cascade down that’s getting down to finer and finer learning outcomes and what experiences can we put together to allow them to show those things in an authentic way.


SL: One of the, of course, the key outcomes for any Otago Polytechnic student coming out is that they’re a sustainable practitioner. What’s your role in helping to integrate those high-level goals and outcomes for the students like good citizens and good contributory members to society? How do you integrate those into, for instance, being a car mechanic. How do you integrate this very high-level things into something that’s very practical, cookery course for a chef?


Ray: Yes. There’s two parts to it. One is integrating into the course and then the other part is integrating it with the graduate capabilities framework. I’ll deal with the course first. It may well appear at that highest level at the what we call the graduate profile outcome, the big picture stuff, but it might actually, it can appear in two different ways. Some of it can be quite implicit in the way that the course is taught. The fact that things are role modelled, it could be the car mechanic because you see the workshop is organised and the materials are being disposed of appropriately, and that in every decision that’s made, there is a sustainability aspect to the decision about how things are done. It’s implicit in the environment in which you’re being taught.


The other part of it could be explicit, so it could be they have a project and it could be to tune up an engine to reduce emissions or how do you tweak this system for reduced emissions. Those are two different layers. The other side with the graduate capabilities framework is that every student will look at when they graduate, they’ll have a profile of capabilities across all sorts of areas that are not subject-specific. It’s about you and your employability and sustainability and being a sustainable practitioner is one strand of the capabilities there. The student could be looking for opportunities and it could be not necessarily a structured opportunity but a pure chance thing that comes up and it’s a learning moment that they can record and provide evidence against that capabilities framework to say, “Here’s an example of me making a sustainable choice in my working life.”


SL: Other than, because we talk about how you role model behaviour, then you make it explicit, so the implicit and the explicit instructions about, okay, think about how to do this. With those high-level goals being, for instance, a good team or whatever, a lot of those skills learned outside the classroom. How would you integrate or how would you encourage students to learn those skills outside the direct learning environment?


Ray: I think the key there is to try and break down that barrier where we have the learning environment and outside of the learning environment, that’s the first thing we need to break down. Really, it’s more of a continuum where you get slightly distant from the institution or you get closer within the walls of it, but the learning, the geography of it doesn’t really impact whether you’re learning or not. Again, it’s one of those myths to bust. If you’re not in the class being spoken to, you’re not learning. That’s not the case at all. Some of your base learning will actually happen as your voluntary job at the weekend, is it the club that you do stuff with.


Is it within your family? It’s drawing all that in and including that big picture that rich learning from your whole context, not just when you happen to be on a seat in front of a lecture.


SL: When you’re doing learning design, and when you talk about geography has prompted me to think about this, is that the way the polytechnic now is set up is stepped away from the lecture theatre as being the centre to being having a lot of very diverse learning spaces. Does part of designing a learning environment look at physicality of how you’re learning? Is that part of what you look at?


Ray: It certainly impinges on our design decisions. There’s no point when I was designing a great learning exercise or module. We don’t have the facilities to deliver that. As we publicised last week, we’ve got some major reinvestment going on at the polytech and I think the new learning spaces and changes to pedagogy and how people are learning and the options available to us, those two things ride hand in hand and yes, one has an implication for the other. I heard a great little tale of from the University of Technology in Sydney where they have just gone through I guess 1.2 billion of investment on their campus and the vice chancellor, who is accountable for the spend, was trying to prove the worth and going around and showing the president of the institution exactly what had been done.


He managed to find a group of students working in a learning pod with a screen around the table exactly as it has been done working independently on their project and she went up, introduced, and said, “I’d like to hear what you do and what do you think of the new spaces.” All the students smiled and looked around and said, “Great. We really wish our university had stuff like this.” While it justified the pedagogy and the environmental link, it didn’t necessarily justify the spending. The two things happen hand in hand. From that same example, she had one space, this is Shirley Alexander from UTS, and she had one space where it was very open plan, lots of pods, easy to move the furniture around. Got feedback from one member of teaching staff who said this is great. I’ve got so many different options as to how to teach at this course, teach the same course at another institution that don’t have those options. I can provide a richer learning experience for my students here because of the space.


The same room, she got a complaint from another member of staff who said she had designed the worst lecture hall he’d ever worked in and she saw that as a major measure of success.


SL: You’ve taught in a whole lot of environments and a whole lot of places, but mostly in outdoor work. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re passionate about education and the environment. I want to just loop around to educating about the environment. How are we going?


Ray: How are we going? I think we’re still patchy. Yeah. I think education about environment. It’s an interesting concept just about the environment because it’s actually, for me, it’s about building a relationship with the environment, not having a knowledge about the environment. Yeah. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand any of the science or any of the technology that and the, perhaps, some of the global issues that are happening who have a really strong bond and value of the land and of the environment. Education about the environment, I’m not sure that it is an about question and I think building that relationship and education in the environment is where we should be looking more to be able to make change.


SL: How do I teach for with the environment if I’m teaching accounting? I can understand that it’s an easy step if you’re floating down a river to be talking about the river. Yeah? It’s a harder ask if I’m teaching accounting.


Ray: I think you have more opportunity to scale. If I was to put my fledgling accounting student head on, then I would be on a river, I could share, I could make everybody see the value of keeping that clean and swimmable and looking at other sources of power so that we didn’t lose all the rivers to hydro. That is an easy sell. I agree. If I go into the accounting classroom, then I’ve got people who are potentially making decisions not just about how they behave but how whole organisations behave and the scalability of the decisions they’re making potentially, much huger, so helping them look at integrating the triple bottom layer and examples of that and you run a really powerful position and I believe that most students now are looking for something that’s more purposeful. I don’t think we have to wait until we had a divorce or a midlife crisis before we start looking for purpose in life. I think people are leaving school wanting to explore what is my purpose now.


SL: What do you do about those accountants whose purpose in life is to make a lot of money and drive a big car?


Ray: They will always be there. Yeah. There are always going to be challenges that are hard. Maybe that’s not why I’m not an accounting lecturer.


SL: Yes, but you’re helping people design accounting courses.


Ray: Yes, I am. I think people have to make their, it’s based on values and you can expose people to experiences and opportunities and they can still use their own values to make good decisions. Are you going to be able to change everybody’s mind? No, you’re not. Will they have experiences and opportunities that, perhaps, further down the line will accumulate and other life experiences beyond their qualification? Then perhaps you set the foundations for something later.


SL: Do you have a bottom line or a triple bottom line. Do you have a bottom line of how much people can must, perhaps, accept things?


Ray: I think when it comes to values, we are not here as an educational institution to assess people’s values. I think people can be asked to evaluate them themselves and reflect and think on it and that’s where I would say we have a really important role to get people looking at themselves.


SL: If we ask you that lots of times and, hopefully, they’ll get the hint. A couple of years ago you went to Nepal.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: How did that come about?


Ray: Oh. We had some friends who were also had also gone there and they were all teachers or educators of some form, and they got involved with an organisation called REED Rural Environmental Education Development. They were based in Katmandu but operating predominantly in the Lower Khumbu Valley and delivering teacher training programmes, which is an incredible experience. We had 10 days. Each training was 10 days long and teachers came from two or three hours walk, different villages, descended on the village that we were in, and we rotated round, my wife and I working in the English classroom. I wasn’t allowed to work in the English classroom because they didn’t want lots of Nepalis with dodgy Scottish accents so I was helping in the math class getting back to my physics roots of skill. Yeah.


It was a fantastic experience and certainly great to have our kids there, as well, and see them get involved with the locals and school there. A completely different educational outlook of first thing every day at school is brain gym. We’re all out in the field doing our physical shakes and moves and then into the classroom and as an educator, it was quite challenging in terms of we’ll look at changing pedagogy to be more active learning and more participation, but the bottom line is that you’re a teacher in a crammed classroom with a mud floor and there’d be 70 students of diverse ability and age in front of you, some of whom will not have had breakfast, some of whom have already done two or three hours of agriculture work before they come to school, and someone from New Zealand is coming across telling the teachers to form little groups and get them working together.


It’s a very different dynamic and I think that the important thing that I learned there was about just how important humility is when you’re in those sorts of positions because they know far more about what they’re doing than anybody visiting can. You can offer them some extra options. You can be there to answer some questions but, perhaps, probably the most important rule there was to validate what excellent jobs that we’re doing with what they had, yeah.


SL: How would you describe the difference you made?


Ray: The difference I made there. The key thing on the maths sessions that I did was actually the link between maths problems and their real life was not implicit in what they’re doing, so it was all very abstract examples of maths, so algebra. What examples do you teach? How do you integrate it. It was just numbers and letters on a board and making that step toward well actually, this is the price of chickens and this is the price of a kilo of rice. Yeah. Just making that link between real life and something useful and something that’s seen as quite academic and abstract. Within the classroom, that was a difference. In terms of making a difference in the broader scale, I still hold some really close links with the teaching staff and the mentors I was working with there and, like I say, validating what they do by the fact that you see the value in it from your New Zealand western perspective can give them some confidence to do a bloody hard job yeah, so yeah.


SL: You’ve got a value or a mission something but to make a difference.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: I’m not sure how long you’ve been using that particular phrase but you probably called it something else before. Where’d that come from?


Ray: I think it’s always been there. I think probably a big brother thing in there. Yeah. I’m the oldest of three so I think there is an eldest child element to that. It’s become easier to articulate. I lost a very good friend about three years ago in a helicopter crash and he’s certainly someone who lived his life. His mission was to make a difference. He was volunteering In Rwanda, and was kidnapped and had to be rescued by the SAS.  Came back, joined the Royal Marines because he thought that was a way that he could personally make a difference, become a Marines helicopter pilot. Ran lots of missions there and then realised that that wasn’t how he wanted to make his difference and that he didn’t feel that were, he was involved in were making a positive difference.


Left and moved to Wanaka and did some work in Papua New Guinea also setting up flying ambulances in Papua New Guinea, as well, so yeah. In terms of something that flipped the switch and made it clearer to articulate this is actually what I’m here to do, that’s probably the single event that clarified it.


SL: You haven’t used the term sustainability but it’s the name of the show, so I will. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Ray: Putting back more than you take out.


SL: Is that how you tell if it is a positive difference?


Ray: No because I think sometimes you can – I think it’s more complex than that. Yeah. Certainly, I think if it reflected my experience in Nepal, putting back too much could actually disempower, yeah, and reduces sustainability of it. Yeah. I guess it depends how big a picture you look at for putting back.


SL: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Ray: I think for me it’s got to be my kids and seeing them developing values about…I’m going to use the  making a difference phrase again, yeah, rolls off the tongue but I can see that in them, that the caring and the sharing and the things that they value and what they do in their life and I think we’ve all got quite a big responsibility to keep passing those values on, whether it’s through families or friends or relationships. It’s a way to multiply a difference it would make.


SL: We are writing book of these talks. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. How would you describe your superpower?


Ray: My superpower?


SL: Yeah. That you have, not that you wish for.


Ray: Okay. My superpower, I think probably, the thing I bring to the table is more about making connections and joining things together. Whether that’s people or whether that’s events, it’s the connections.


SL: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Ray: Activist. There’s so many different meanings of that, isn’t there?


SL: You can define it like however you like.


Ray: I don’t see myself out on the street with a placard chanting, so if that’s an activist, I don’t see myself as that, but do I see myself as actively trying to influence people to do more positive things? Then yes, I do.


SL: Lots of people answer that question. Oh, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. Then we talked to the head of policy from Greenpeace and he said, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?


Ray: Other than my really annoying alarm clock, it’s, it is about the kids. Yeah. It is about the kids and seeing them grow and making that daily impact on how big an impact they can have.


SL: Taking them to every sporting event known to mankind.


Ray: Yeah. Maybe I should look at my carbon footprint about how much sporting driving I do.


SL: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Ray: Right now, I think the biggest work challenge is going to be getting the BMaD or wherever you end up calling it off the ground, and seeing some students graduate from that.


SL: What’s going to be the hardest bit of that, do you think?


Ray: I think probably the next six months of it. Yeah. Next six months the amount of work to get through and I think once we get through the formalities, there’s so much foundation and solidness and underneath the principles we’re working to there, I think once we’re up and running, that will go well.


SL: What will success look like for that? What should we be aiming for?


Ray: Stories. Lots of stories. Yeah. I should be looking on the Facebook account and seeing the graduates off doing exciting things, having exciting results, and being absolutely envious of every single one of them. If I’m not envious, we haven’t succeeded.


SL: You could do them, those things, too.


Ray: Yeah. Because you’ve done lots of those things. We could. There’s only one of me and there will be lots of them.


SL: If you can wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?


Ray: A magic wand. I’m guessing that I don’t believe in magic isn’t an answer to this question.


SL: No.


Ray: Yeah. Okay. If I could wave a magic wand, I’m trying not to make a Miss World answer out of this one. I think I’d probably pass the magic wand on to my kinds for them to decide.


SL: That’s so cheating.


Ray: There you go.


SL: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest possible difference?


Ray: The smallest thing.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: Yeah. I think a smile is cheap and easy, yeah, and it goes a long, long way.


SL: Lastly for me, do you have any advice for our listeners. I think you might have given one but here’s another one. Free hit.


Ray: Advice for listeners. I think yes, the small things do count. Yeah. The smalls do make a difference but as long as you make sure that the person that you small at is sending more smalls, we need to work out ways to keep multiplying what we do because we can’t really the scale of issues we’re dealing with and the rate of change we’re dealing with, there’s no lonesome warrior and no lone-ranger that’s going to be able to do this. It’s everybody and we got to make sure we’re persuading each other and working together to make a difference. 




Making a difference


Steve Henry runs the Centre for Sustainable Practice at Otago Polytechnic.

Making a difference takes a genuine commitment to change



Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations we’re trying to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Steve Henry, from Otago Polytechnic’s Centre of Sustainable Practice. Stumbled over that because I know that it’s changing. Welcome.


Steve: Hello Sam. Hello everyone.


Sam: Let’s start with some big questions, where did you grow up?


Steve: I was born on the Chatham Islands of all places in New Zealand, eastern New Zealand. North of Auckland, near Waikawa, Curio Bay, it’s where I spent my childhood, before moving to Christchurch, and then further south.


Sam: What were your folks doing on the Chathams?


Steve: My dad was a farmer. He was the only ever farm advisory officer that the government, MAF, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries sent to the Chathams to drain swamps and make farms more productive.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Steve: I had a very informing moment around that when I was 14 when my father arranged for me to go and work on a farm. Because I saw my father on and around farms all the time. I was very keen to do that. He arranged me to go and have an August school holidays with one of his farming buddies. After day one, I rang him up and said, “Dad, I don’t want to be a farmer anymore. Can you come and get me?” He said, “Sure I’ll come and get you in another 20 days, because that’s what we’ve agreed.” That was pretty informing. And then on about day five, this grumpy farmer said to me, “You don’t like this, do you?” I went “No.” He said, “Well, what do you like?”.


  And it was a really pertinent question to ask me at the time and I respect that farmer because I don’t think I could ask that question, or I certainly didn’t hear him. But what I learned from this man, he was actually very onto it, and he gave me a lot of good guidance and we settled on being a science teacher as a way to interact with people. I had a fascination for nature and that seemed like a good place to start.


  Yeah. So that was the path I went on and I decided that at about 14, and then by 16 I decided going and learning about the natural world through science was the path I’d take, and to teach that.


Sam: So you did the biology and …


Steve: Yeah. The biology and chemistry thing and did a degree in chemistry and then microbiology at Canterbury University and ended up teaching, secondary teaching, going overseas in secondary teaching and really loving it. Until of course I realised it wasn’t about science, it was about people. And I loved that even more. So instead of teaching the subject, I began to work with people.


  And I had a really informative time at an alternative high school in Christchurch for 3 years teaching there. Four Avenues Alternative School, which is now shut down, an offshoot of Hagley High. And it was kind of the precursor to the Unlimited and these schools out there now which are really liberal and open minded in their curriculum. Very future-focused, and we got to customise learning for youth on average have been expelled from 3 schools. So they’re pretty colourful, but they’re really bright.


  And I found a real niche in relating to people whilst rock climbing and being outside. The Four Avenues concept in Christchurch, the four avenues represent the square mile in the city centre and the idea was that that was the classroom, instead of stuck in a box somewhere. So we very much met the learners in that square mile somewhere every day, pretty much. And we did interesting things in there, and it taught me a lot that there’s learning everywhere, if you’re willing to look for it.


  And, yeah, a wise mentor of mine said to me, “Don’t teach at that school for any more than 3 years if you ever want to get a job in mainstream education again. Because not only will people look at your CV and run like hell, but you’ll actually change to the point where you won’t want to either.”


  So I surfed that fine edge, and that led me to being overseas as a 25 year old in London, going, well, we don’t get back because it’s either going to be Wanaka, Hokitika, or Queenstown. Those were kind of my dream places and as it happened, I ended up in Wanaka working for the local high school there. Getting really into outdoor programmes and establishing outdoor education as a real powerful point of difference.


  So I moved from science being the pathway into nature to outdoor education being that and watching people having experiences in nature transforming. And I really got into that space for quite some time. So we established some cool things like seeing new students flooding to either of our school life skills type programmes and using the outdoors as a mechanism for change. Grabbing the Outward Bound and Outdoor Pursuit type models and applying them into a secondary school which was really neat.


  And then of course in Wanaka at the time in the early ’90s I watched nature before our eyes degrading. Development of a significant scale and affordability coming in, burning off of, breaking off the hillsides and watching these practises which didn’t really sit with me. So it really awakened a flame in me around, there’s gotta be a better way to do this.


  So originally I came from quite a strong ecological viewpoint that what we were doing couldn’t last. I became very interested in working out how to educate for all that.


Sam: Taking a few steps back through that, if you were interested in nature, the natural approach, why chemistry?


Steve: I thought the path to truth lay in detail at that time. And that hints to microbiology as well. So I got fascinated by lichens and how they operated and the biochemical nature of them. I did a lot of study around them, I studied 10-80 as a major focus for my honours degree, for example. And working with Forest Research Institute at the time, and looking at why 10-80 was the jell baits … were just getting consumed so much so quickly and isolating the fungi that was … and that sort of stuff.


  So I got very interested in the small. And then of course I realised that if you don’t understand the system that something’s in, there’s not much point in knowing more and more about this and this. And I think it was a seminal moment in realising that a systems approach was the only way to think about things if you really want to engender change.


Sam: Did chemistry give you that system thinking?


Steve: Yeah, Chemistry certainly gave me a fascination for atomic theory and how things are different and how things are impermanent and all those sorts of stuff, so it was almost metaphysical for me. In terms of how I viewed it.


  I became more interested in the girl in the lab coat who I ended up marrying than the chemistry, to be honest in the end.


Sam: Different sort of chemistry.


Steve: That’s right, it was. Yeah.


Sam: I’m going to ask you at the end if you consider yourself to be an activist now, but were you an activist then?


Steve: Very much. Yeah, I was involved in doing things to draw attention to what I thought was wrong. So when I think back to the early days of Hectors dolphin protests and I met Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson who are now at the University of Otago. We managed to get off there by I did Hector Stoffin and we made a fibreglass cast around the body of the dolphin and made this into a live painted model that we carried around and put in […] and raised awareness that way.


  When I was in the UK I got very involved in Friends of the Earth there. Went to corporate meetings in a suit. It really taught me that to be an activist there was actually a profession. It was very very different. This was 1989 so it was very much, ICI was still chucking barrels into the North Sea at that time, and it was very much reactionary. And Friends of the Earth took a different stance to the likes of Greenpeace, who were very confronting. What Friends of the Earth did was sit down with suits on, with the decision makers and went “Hey, could we work this out? Let’s do it a little bit better.”


  And I got involved in that quite by mistake but realised that I was very interested in bridging the gap from the corporate naiveté to something that made a difference in a long term. Which we know in the end has served me very well.


Sam: You mean the naiveté of the corporates?


Steve: The naiveté of the idea that we can just keep doing this as long as we like. And wanting to find that middle ground.


Sam: Is there also a naiveté that not engaging the corporates is going to make a difference?


Steve: Yeah, that’s right. I saw the confronting, head-on activism not working at that time, and I went … There’s got to be another way. There’s got to be a way where, and I was quite influenced at the time by reading Karl-Henrik Robert’s work around how in Sweden, that group of people have begun working with the likes of the polymer industry who are producing a lot of plastics and toxicity. Of how it would be in their interests to actually have a better solution.


  And that was news to them. They had done it from purely an engineering point of view of how can we make this stuff. And then bringing in well, how could you do it so that people actually knew there was a good story with it? And I think about hydro-polymer now which is recycling PVC and doing all sorts of stuff in Scandinavia, which was unheard of. And they went on to work it out really.


  So that was a very formative time for me.


Sam: Around ’89 of course, is when the sustainability as a term really rose to prominence. Can you remember the first time you came across that as a term?


Steve: Yeah, I think it was learning about the natural step and swing and, I mentioned Kyle Hendrick’s work. I was pretty impressed that the Swedes had a woman minister for the environment who later went on to become Prime Minister Bruntland. And authored probably one of the seminal reports.


  So in New Zealand very much the ministry of environments the sort of short straw that you give to your not most dynamic MP or leader. And what I observed in Scandinavia was it was taken incredibly seriously and largely because they had poisoned themselves in the 16th Century with all the mining they did when they industrialised in a big way and then when the synthetic chemical industry took off in the 1940s and 50s the [inaudible 00:11:51] lakes in Scandinavia really got polluted and people just really reacted to that.


  And it was a huge win grow and say I watched this. And we’d file on how long that’s gonna take in New Zealand to happen. It happened in my lifetime that we shifted the thinking.


Sam: Sweden’s pretty well off, is that a luxury that they were able to now think like that?


Steve: Well, I think I didn’t see it that way. I saw that they were well off because they made some really good choices, like putting the outlet of wastewater for a factory above the factory. And attach it to the inlet valve. You know? By law.


  It’s got a lot for me that just seemed like smart decision making rather than. So very much into the upstream thinking the stewardship type models, let’s not create waste, let’s design another system. I was pretty inspired by it. And I’ve always taken a view that I’d rather be inspired to engender change than complain about stuff.


  So I felt that the immature type of activism I was involved in in my early 20s, I felt like I got educated to actually solve it positively and Friends of the Earth was the first place I looked to do that when in London.


Sam: Yeah. Were you still teaching at the time?


Steve: Yeah, I was. And so I came back to New Zealand and ended up in Wanaka and it became clear to me that I wanted to do more than just educate about nature or even in nature throughout their education. I wanted to start educating for nature.


  And that was about the time that I got invited by [Jahaket] in Queenstown to run an environmental management workshop for a staff around raising the awareness within their company because they were interested in building a new building which could be environmentally friendly. Which in those days was not really thought about and it was quite. And they wanted to build a building that would be there 100 years by the [inaudible 00:13:54] and it was a neat thing too …


  And I found I really enjoyed that. So, I had a pretty open minded principal who was a boss and I said, look, do you mind if I go? A month a week, a day a month and go and do this work that’s really flooding up on. And he realised I was probably going to go if he didn’t give me that so he happily conceded to that. And here suddenly another company wanted to do that and then another one.


  Before I knew it, I found myself leaving secondary teaching and realising I wanted to get some credibility in the space. So I set up a tourism company of my own taking clients into the wilderness and really enjoyed that but also realised that my heart was in education and change rather than making a lot of money, which it was pretty easy to do. I was surprised, I set myself a target of earning 100k in the first year of operating that company and I met that and everyone said you’ll never do it, but it was … I didn’t see why you’d want to lose money if set something up with the intent of making it, if that makes sense.


  And I realised through that process that money wasn’t motivating me. It was about the difference I could make. So that’s when I learned I needed to learn more. So I went and did a master’s degree in environmental education. And it was ahead of its time really, it was online out of Griffith University out of Australia and was the only thing of its kind that I could find around then. And this was in the early 2000s.


  And … Yeah.


Sam: You said your heart was in education and change … that rattled off your tongue as a single unit. Do you see those two things together?


Steve: Yeah, because for me being willing to educate or … If you’re willing to educate, then you’ve got to be up for change or what’s the point? SO I did a fair bit of training in the corporate sector, you know like leadership training and team building and all that sort of stuff.


  And it taught me that unless organisations really wanted to change, it was just synthetic what we were going through. It was just a lightweight exercise. And it wasn’t real enough for me. There wasn’t enough genuine commitment to change.


  So I made a commitment that no matter how many of these companies wanted to pay me to support them to grade up. That unless they were authentic about it I didn’t want to know about it. And that became a really interesting thing. And at that time the labour government in New Zealand had the 100% pure campaign had just come out around tourism and there was a lot of optimism how [inaudible 00:16:48] government was still supporting sustainability as a development platform.


  And the ministry of tourism ended up contracting a few regions to have a go at embedding sustainable tourism. And I ended up winning one of those contracts to work with organisations in Queenstown and Wanaka. And [inaudible 00:17:06] to support sustainability on the ground in the businesses.


  So I got to go and meet and have conversations with a couple hundred businesses over a period of a couple of years. And it was incredibly insightful. As to what people’s motivations. I had this myth before them in my mind that people who own business are really on to it.


  And for some reason I felt like the people who were in education weren’t quite as worthy as people who were in business for some reason. I don’t know where that had come from. Perhaps to do with earning money and … The power and the influence that money has.


  So at that moment I realised, that when I went and talk to those people I’d rock up. And they thought I was coming in to help sort the recycling out and maybe reduce their energy bill. My first question was why? Why do you do what you? And are you interested in adding value to that? And how do you do that. And they sat down and went, crikey, well, the main reason I run my business is to get away from the wife actually. Or, I came here for a lifestyle and the bloody things grown and it’s ruined it, you know.


  And I was amazed what happened. So what was sustainable for one person was certainly not for another, if you get what I mean. That took me back to well, if we really are serious about the sustainability thing, we need to know what it means and we need to know what we’re sustaining. Are we sustaining a really bad business because someone feels obliged to? Or what are we sustaining?


  And that led me back to Scandinavia and I ended up going on a study tour there where I went there for 6 weeks and did a tour around business education and government as a part of The National Step internationals group. And it was incredibly insightful for me.


  And I did this post my master’s because I had become really interested in understanding that we can only define ecological sustainability from a set of principles. Right? And those are pretty clear at the end of the day. Don’t trash nature in its simplest form. You need to understand nature before you do that. Don’t prevent people meeting their needs essentially, fundamentally from a social science. I got very interested in that.


  So when I came back from that study tour I made a decision to ramp up what I did. On a pivotal day I started contracting staff to work for me to deliver things, by this stage I was contracting into various organisations across the country to support their programmes.


  I had a fortuitous conversation with someone on a plane from Otago Polytechnic who said, oh, we’re looking at setting up a centre of excellence around horticulture viniculture tourism in Central Otago. And this was 2005 by now. And I said oh, that sounds interesting. So I went and rocked along and had a chat.


  And I’d been already in Queenstown and Central Otago area working attempting to open up sustainable tourism so I said, well if your idea of excellence is around financial, social and ecological success, then I’m interested in that. Because for me that’s what sustainable development is, having simultaneous wins across all those areas. That worked well.


  And so I got offer that job, and I said hang on, before I take it I’d like to have a chat with your CEO, because I just want to check that we’re on the same page. Rolled on down to Dunedin and met a guy named Phil Ker who I didn’t know at all. And I walked into his office and said, look I’ve currently been offered this, and I just wanted to check that you’re really interested in sitting at the centre of excellence, but I don’t see that your organization’s excellent.


  And at the time it was a pretty cocky thing to do in lots of ways. And I realise he was either going to tell me to get out of his office really fast or we’d have a meaningful conversation about it. And of course he laughed and said, okay, so what do you see?


  And so I told him what I saw, which was an organisation which didn’t walk the talk if you’re pretending to set up a centre of excellence to provide expertise on that, then you kind of want to come from a place of credibility, don’t you? And we had a very successful conversation for an hour or two. And the long and short of it was, he said, well you come and help me sort out the organisation and take a leadership role in that, and we’ll do that centre of excellence thing once we’ve done that, shall we?


  And that led me to met you, Sam, and others at Otago Polytechnic who understood that educating for a sustainable practise and beating that into a curriculum was the most influential thing Otago Polytechnic could do. It’s a bit like Nike changing the recycling in the office but not looking at how they make shoes.


  As far as I’m concerned educational institutions, what they teach and how they teach and their curriculum is their bread and butter. It is their product. It was a great moment in 2006 to realise that, hey, here’s a tertiary education institution that’s actually committed and serious about this. And here we are now in 2017. What’s that, 11 years later is it? Is that math, no 9. Yeah 9 years later.


  And when Phil and I first had those conversations I said I reckon it will take 50 years. So don’t prod me with resourced effort, resourced focused effort. And I’m not pretending that Otago Polytech is there by any means, but it’s begun the path, and when you’re measuring how far it’s come, yeah, there’s a few indicators that it’s doing all right. A lot of people are saying it is. But when you’re involved in something you can always see what can be done differently and better.


  So that began my work at Otago Polytech, which was to go around to various, there was 16, if you like, faculties or schools inside the institution at that time. That’s been condensed a lot now, but at that time I was charged with going around and having a cup of tea with each of those to have a conversation about what could be done to embed broader economic social success thinking into the curriculum. Which was met with open arms but some of those entities, and with utter hostility by others. As expected.


  So fortunately I’d learned by going and talking to all the businesses that I had the list of an agenda I had going and the more successful the meeting was. So I wasn’t pretending to go in and tell the midwives how to implement sustainable practise in their … In what they did. Or the nurses, or the designers, or the business school, or the guys in blue overalls training the apprentices in mechanics or building.


  I learned pretty quickly to say less and listen better and have a look at where the wins were possibly going to be. And beginning to create a culture of opportunity around it rather than a culture of, you must do this or you’re evil because you’re printing too much. So, it was very much a team effort by that stage, and I joined a group of people who were committed to doing this.


  And three years later Phil said to me, we’ve just about run out of time for you doing that, thanks very much. And we’d had a lot of interest at that stage around what we were doing. And we concluded it would be a good idea to set up some kind of centre to host inquiries and perhaps run courses. And so at last the centre of excellence thing came full circle. And we had a look at setting up a centre which we ended up calling the Centre for Sustainable Practice.


  And at the same time we got given a generous grant by somebody living in the Central Otago.  And we used that to develop qualifications, a graduate programme in sustainable practise. A graduate diploma. And at level 7 and level 5 certificate level programme. And we’ve since been running those. They got developed in 2009 and 10.


  And since 2011 we’ve been rolling out a business programme across the country, that about 120 organisations have been through now called Adding Sustainable Value. And we’ve run that in 9 regions, groups of diverse businesses coming together with the focus to embed social and ecological gain in their organisations. And if you’d told me when we started that that many organisations would have been through, I would have been thrilled. But now I’m kind of like, well is that all? It’s funny how you change your goals.


  And the graduate programmes and the graduate diploma in sustainable practise have really … They’re getting a life of their own now and it’s about 20-odd people a year goes through that programme who are wanting to lead in this space.


  So yeah that’s kind of the back story to get to where I’m at with that Sam.


Sam: All those businesses that you’re working with, are you seeing a pattern of them changing over time, in terms of what they’re coming in to expecting sustainability will deliver? Were they seeing sustainability as a barrier, and now they’re seeing it as an enabler? What are the patterns there?


Steve: Well, I’ve talked about the Manawatu, it’s actually a place in New Zealand … It’s pretty low profile, but actually it’s got a thriving economy. And it’s thriving because it’s a real transport hub in the north island. Toyota have got their head office there, there’s a whole lot of serious bits of infrastructure in the Manawatu, which a lot of people don’t know about. Engineering companies, and the likes of Ashhurst Engineering who make most of the pile-ons in New Zealand for transport and stuff.


  So some of these big companies have … And so Palmerston City Council recognised that they wanted to honour the local government act and have a sustainable city. Which really, it’s a surprise that so few local governments at the time made that decision given that the local government act at the time said that it was about social, economic and ecological wellbeing. Which has since been modified. But at the time they did that.


  So they organised … They had heard about what we’d done down in Queenstown. And by this time I’d realised that individually consulting with businesses one on one was a really inefficient way to use that ministry of tourism grant to reach business. We actually ended up running classes of groups.


  We’d get a bunch of high country farmers in the room and then a bunch of tourist operators. And suddenly, at one event we decided to merge this event of high country farmers and tourism operators as a bit of a trial to see what would happen. And they all walked in the room with arms folded and it was like, oh well.


  And low and behold, when we began talking, they went, hey our problems are really similar to yours. You know, when the dollar drops this happens, got these compliance pressures, we’ve got all these expectations from people not in our sector. You know we began mapping those and using some pretty simple tools to map the drivers of change.


  And Palmerston City heard that we had done this and invited me up to come and have a chat. They said, oh we’ll put on an event you could speak at. Would you be up for that? Oh, yeah, great, fantastic. So there were 110 people in the room. Half of them business owners. It was like, wow, what a surprise.


  And long story short is that the Manawatu Council ended up … And Manawatu District Council joined Palmerston City in supporting over 70 organisations, over half of our organisations that have been through that programme have been in the Manawatu. And what they did through Vision Manawatu, which is the economic development agency, was we partnered with them. So they organised all the events and we kind of came in as the experts to support organisations to think about stuff.


  So we worked out a way to do that very effectively over four one-day workshops with mentored support. As opposed to come and enrol in a course that’s going to take forever. But it was very much at work about work. The work was the curriculum for each organisation.


  And we learned from our experience, the more diverse the businesses in the room, the better learning people were finding. So that got us really excited and some of the companies who went through the Manawatu absolutely transformed the way they saw their organisation and its path in the future. So, we’re in the process of reviewing that programme right now entirely, and it’s been offered in 9 regions across New Zealand.


  We’ve had some pretty tough decisions to make along the way. Do we want to mainstream this work, or do we want to keep it as the bleeding edge, if you like? You know, because as sustainability has become more accepted and more mainstream, do we want to keep that edge of bringing the next piece in, or do we want to focus on working with the 30,000 businesses who are tied up with efficiency for example. Who are very mainstream.
  So those were decisions we were forced to make. We made the decision to attempt to mainstream this work before we got too far away from it. And in many respects that’s worked because we’re no longer needed if that makes sense. The programme has lost its relevance in the current market because it’s common practise now to implement a lot of sustainable practises that were novel in 2011. And now in 2015, 16, 17, it’s considered absolutely business as usual to implement efficiencies and do that stuff.


  So we’ve really positioned our energy now in saying, look, we don’t want sustainable as aspiration. We want restoration and regeneration as our inspiration. So we’re very interested in how organisations can add value to what they do and become more restorative and resilient and regenerative.


  Which may be new terms for people but the idea, if you like, that sustainable is cyclic. So if you can imagine conventional being quite linear. Take, make waste type industries. Greening up a bit, curbing that linear arrow a wee bit, and by the time things are sustainable they’re cyclic. So, not doing harm but not necessarily doing good either. Step in to the restorative space and you’re actually doing good while you do things. And step into the regenerative space and you’re actually having an influence where you’re providing a platform for others to do good.


  So a couple of quick examples if that’s helpful. Electric vehicles are all the rage at the moment. Great to see them coming in. It’s wonderful. A platform like Uber that has been disruptive to the conventional system, taxi ride can cost you 2 or 3 times as much as Uber and Uber’s come in and gone well, we’re going to do it differently and here’s how we’re going to do it. So you could argue that in ride share, for example, I see the potential to partner with a company like Uber to reduce the number of vehicles on the road in Auckland immensely.


  But we have compliance issues preventing that essentially. Uber are up for it, that’s clear. So the question becomes for a company like that, how do you manage the compliance, and how do you work with government to enable things to happen.


  And so the challenges are different for every organisation, Sam, to answer your question. The way sustainable would be. I mean, what are we trying to sustain? That has to be the question that’s asked now. Are we trying to sustain a whole lot of conventional based companies which are polluting and are struggling to remain profitable because someone has come in with a better business model which might be new, but it’s actually a better way to do it.


  So, I would argue the Uber taxi case, if we could work out how to tax Uber properly in New Zealand, and our laws are behind so they don’t know how. If we could work out how to enable ride sharing which we need compliance changes for drivers who can be paid to ride share. And the argument Uber are pushing is that if you’ve got a driver’s licence doesn’t that mean you’re safe to drive? If someone wants to get in the car that’s their business. And that’s very different from how the Taxi Federation see it.


  So you’ve got an issue like that which is actually constraining potentially great change. So I’m really interested in looking at things from a systems perspective and looking at how to get such change happening now. That’s really where I’m at.


Sam: Okay, I’ve just invented a four-part scale. Because I can’t remember the five-part scale of sustainability maturity of businesses.


Steve: Okay.


Sam: And it goes compliance is number 1. Compliance and avoidance. Perhaps that could be 2. And then efficiency gains is number 2. Opportunity, number 3. And 4, it’s the reason for being in business.


Steve: Yep, sure.


Sam: Okay, percentages of New Zealand business.


Steve: My read is that the easiest way is to start at the other end and go, so what percentage of New Zealand business that their sole reason of being in business is to do social/ecological good. Well you can count those on your hand pretty much. Right, you know? These are in the social enterprise type spaces. The Rekindles in Christchurch and they’re not very common. Seeking good by design.


  The opportunity organisation … There’s a lot of organisations now in the opportunity space. I put Otago Polytech in the opportunity space. Through its work of efficiency and getting beyond compliance. It’s actually seen that there are enormous opportunities to deliver differently.


  For example … We’re talking really differently instead of having taught degrees, 50% of Otago Polytech’s programmes are degree-based. Instead of teaching, why don’t we create an experience for example. Okay so Otago Polytech’s begun doing that very successfully through its business unit in New Zealand. So, that is one of the most sustainable initiatives Otago Polytech’s been involved in. And it’s a bit of a game-changer like Uber.


  So instead of people sitting in lecture theatres, having information rammed down their throat which they’re going to forget anyway, we’re saying, let’s harvest the experience you’ve had, and grab the learning from that. And we’ll credit you for that. So that sort of opportunity begins to do an awful lot of good.


  Other companies who are really getting into the opportunity space, and organisations, the likes of New Zealand Post, who are absolutely against the wall, with the declining mail service. The disruption’s come at them faster. So they’ve forced themselves into having disruptive challenges to see how they could do it.


  Some government departments have done it. Department of Conservation, post-Cave Creek, has done a huge amount of reinvention of itself to look at the opportunity of doing business differently. The question is will the taxi company disrupt itself so it can turn into Uber? The answer is it’s incredibly difficult to disrupt. So the majority of New Zealand businesses are in the compliance and efficiency space.


  We’ve realised with our own sustainable business programme, we don’t want to be any more in that compliance and efficiency game space. We want to work with … You can go do other courses for that now. Because it’s business as usual.


  We’re interested in that opportunity and reason for being in business space. How can you align your profitability with ecological and social good as you go? There’s some companies that are committed to doing that. And who are beginning to do that very well. They need to be celebrated more, not less.


Sam: You said how to align profitability. So you’re happy with capitalism?


Steve: Absolutely, I think there’s nothing wrong with people doing enterprise and getting paid for it. I don’t have a problem with it. The problem I have is when there isn’t full cost accounting around that profitability. Social and ecological harm carries the can. So if you like, what we’ve done is privatised our profits and we’ve socialised our losses. To quote Alexa Forbes in all her glory, right, from Queenstown.


  And you think about that. Take housing in New Zealand and the affordability of it. The price of allowing the free market to do what it’s done has meant that our housing system has become unaffordable. And for me that’s an unacceptable privatisation.


Sam: So as we move away from the sustainability as usual and move perhaps back to sustainability as disruption, what are you doing about that?


Steve: Well, we’ve begun in our graduate programmes in sustainable practice, we’ve begun to work on a great project. About 20 people a year are working on their own individual projects. And some of these projects are incredible. They’re all the people’s life’s work, you know? And they’re marvellous things, and I don’t want to name any particular projects other than to say they’re interested in transforming business as usual. That’s what they do. They’re in that opportunity space or in that reason for existing space.


  So we’re talking social ecological enterprise and we’re talking changing the trajectory of major organisations. So, with the consent of the owners and directors.


  One of the things we’ve realised is we that when we have a huge … When we sat down and designed the graduate programmes in sustainable credit we asked ourselves the question how would nature do this? If nature’s really smart, and over millions of years of evolution it’s figured out a whole lot of things. Well, how could we mimic that in the learning setting? Because nature learns essentially. Things learn. A mollusc learns how to have the right shell or the right colour so it doesn’t get eaten or a bird has learned to have a certain pattern of being. Do you get what I mean?


  And so we asked ourselves, what does that look like for learning? And the answer of course has to start with diversity. You can not operate in a single sector. So the dairy sector will never willingly disrupt itself, is my conclusion around that for example. Or those who are real estate agents in the housing sector where they’re making more and more money it seems for doing less and less work as housing is a commodity that’s traded. They’re not going to disrupt themselves.


  It’s a combination of having to come in and go right, where can we make a difference? And that’s really what we’ve been asking ourselves the question now. Is how can we make a difference?


  And so, perhaps the argument is going away from it being about sustainability and sustainable practise, to how can we make a difference to go down from compliance to efficiency gains to opportunity to reason for being there.


  And if people can have their awareness shifted to see the opportunity, to shift along that trajectory. And that’s what happened for the sustainable business programme. Of the 120 businesses that have gone through, I’d say that 20 have changed their reason for being essentially. And probably 50 have done it for efficiency gains, and trying to get their head around this thing that’s coming at them, all this disruption. And the rest have done it for the opportunity.


  We’ve very much learned, if you focus on the opportunities, people are much more engaged in the conversation. Much more willing. Rather than saying what you’re doing is wrong, and it’s evil and it’s going to be outdated soon, so stop doing it. Well that doesn’t go down very well. Whereas you say, there’s more and more risk to your brand, there’s more and more pressure coming.


  And I think about there’s a beautiful thing called a law of three which has … One of the three is pushing in and this is the activating force if you like. So you’re asking about activism, so this activating force say might be the desire to lower a carbon footprint. And you get this constraining force pushing against that activating force, which is business as usual using carbon. And not having solutions to do anything else or it being not convenient for a business model.


  And when those two forces collide that can do one of two things. They can either … And I’m holding my hands punching into each other with fists here, and they can either go up or they can go down. If things go down around there, you go into denial and carbons classic for this. I mean, carbon, schmarbon as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s one of the smaller issues for New Zealand to think about.


  You go into this compromise position of it decreasing the energy and everyone loses basically. So you end up making shitty carbon trading platforms and offsets which to me seem quite ludicrous. And complex systems and hide behind the bureaucracy of that. Rather than saying, hey look, we’ve got this confronting challenge coming. There’s an increasing force to de-carbonize. So hey you carbon guys, what is the opportunity for you to move that and evolve it? And reconcile that and therefore evolve.


  So in other words the law of three is when you’ve got an activating force and a constraining force, if you can take it into the direction of reconciliation, then you can evolve it.


  And I think what we’ve done with those 20 organisations who really got it was to say look. And they saw the change coming. They know what’s coming. Digitalizing things, and ecological challenges, the price of resources. Moving things around. Customers intolerance of single-use products. All that sort of stuff. Driving change. Okay how can we evolve what we do?


  And when an organization’s willing to say how can we evolve what we do as opposed to oh the laws coming, it’s going to kick us in the bum, then you begin to have a different conversation. It’s a conversation of possibility.


Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability now. You’ve talked about how it was, but what is it now?


Steve: It can go on and on forever.


Sam: But you’re not using the sustainability word anymore?


Steve: Not much, no because I think I’ve found it isn’t effecting change as efficiently, as well as talking about making a difference.


Sam: And people see the on and on forever meaning we don’t have to change. Whereas the hidden secret really is that in order to go on and on forever we need significant change.


Steve: Yeah.


Sam: So maybe we need to make that transformation explicit, as you’re doing.


Steve: Yeah, that’s right.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Steve: Biggest success. Designing myself out of the system of the graduate programmes that I’m involved in. Yes, so it’s not dependent on me. I think Otago Polytech’s success at embedding into its curriculum is something I’m very proud that I’ve been associated with. But that’s a team effort. It’s not just me. Yep.


Sam: And you can go sailing every day.


Steve: I can, I live by the sea and I find that I do much more productive work if I spend an hour a day at high tide out having a little sail.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So, what is your superpower? What’s your sustainable superpower.


Steve: I think being able to bridge the gap between the world of being a dirty hippy as I used to be, but not now, I’m kind of a corporate hippy. Being able to bridge the world of being a deep green thinker and understanding natural systems and understanding the systems we’re in and being able to see that.


  And being able to relate with a group of people who are either in ties or have no concept of wanting to think broadly. Being able to present to them the case that we’re going to be forced into holism anyway. So being able to articulate that I think is my super power. To motivate people in that conversation, to see the possibility of what they could do rather than, oh my god this is so big. I’ll go and top myself now. Seeing it as a positive opportunity rather than a downer.


Sam: What do you do … How do you present it as a positive opportunity for … I’m thinking of the farmer that recognised that you weren’t going to be a farmer. But let’s say that farmer found themselves into dairy farming and they’ve got a massive debt and … We might like to paint them as being baddies but they’re kind of against the wall.


Steve: Yeah. And they’ve designed themselves into a pretty inflexible space. So they want freedom more than … Just as I don’t want the cows poo in the water. They don’t really want it there either when you talk to them.


  So, looking at what they can do to make a difference and the best thing that you can start with is to have a conversation. Not come to you’re evil, you’ve done it badly. I’ve found that doesn’t help. Being judgemental I guess is what I’m saying. Is that it doesn’t help. Because they know. It’s not that they don’t know. They do know.


  My biggest frustration is with the high level of indifference our governments have shown to having some policies with teeth. I mean that deeply disturbs me. And undermines my trust in the governance. In the democracy we’ve got. Which, I’m lucky to have. But it challenges me greatly.


Sam: When you’re running a session, do you front load with doom?


Steve: Very little. It’s very much. Rights, let’s get the doom out of the way. Who thinks? It’s very much. It’s probably … If you’ve got a day to give it it’s literally 3 minutes. It’s like, rights, what’s wrong. Waterways are stuffed, this is happening, carbon monoxide levels are going up, this is … Right, we’ve got that out of our system, right.


  So, now we’ve said all that, can we actually focus now on doing something about it, rather than continuing the mantra of what’s wrong. Because while we put energy into what’s wrong, it will continue to be wrong. Let’s put energy into making a difference, towards changing it. Yep.


Sam: What do you do if you’ve got someone that’s stumbled into your class that sits at the back saying, this is all garbage, he’s still a dirty hippy.


Steve: No, they don’t come. We’ve kind of … One of the things we learned early is with organisations we don’t just want the environmental manager to come thinks. The CEO either needs to be there, or the leader, you know someone from your leadership team at a big organisation. And they need to buy into the process.


  So we learned instead of just one person enrolling and turning up, you’re allowed to bring up to 4 people from the organisation to the first workshop, so we’ve kind of been insisting that the leadership folks come to the first workshop so they can see this is an opportunity not a smashing session. If you get what I mean.


Sam: So, you said you used to be an activist. Are you still an activist?


Steve: Yeah, very much.


Sam: In what way?


Steve: I think I’m being influentially disruptive in the education system. But positively. That’s how it feels to me, so I’m kind of being an activist by stealth I guess. But it’s not by stealth because it’s just what I do. And it’s not seen as by stealth.


  I’m not out there with placards waving my arms around. It’s in there having conversations and supporting people who are willing to change. And I’ve found there’s more people who are willing to change than I thought.


Sam: I think that that was one of the things that we both found quite surprising, was how little opposition there was. Most people didn’t know what to do, but there weren’t many who said let’s not do this.


Steve: No, there was a pivotal day in 2005, wasn’t there, when we got 80 people in a room at Otago Polytech, which at the time represented about 10% of the staff. Roughly didn’t it? Or 12% of the staff. Something like that. And someone asked, Phil Ker asked the question, is there anyone who thinks we should not go down this pathway? And there was silence. That’s like right. Let’s go.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Steve: I see it’s that I’m making a difference. That I’m having a life that’s worth living, I guess. Yeah, that gets me out of bed in the morning.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next year or so?


Steve: I’m really excited about taking the idea of qualifications by experience and turning that much more into projects. If we’re harvesting people’s experience into qualifications, can we generate those experiences without teaching? Without this traditional idea that you have an adult who stands there, who knows more than you and vomits on you, knowledge-wise.


  Through just supporting people to make a difference. Because I think there’s a whole lot of people very keen to make a difference. And get credit for it. So that interests me a lot.


Sam: Watch this space. Because we’re working on it aren’t we?


Steve: We are too.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?


Steve: I think I’d love to see much more cooperative working than solid working. What I mean is to have well-intentioned organisations almost competing in the non-governmental sector. And government I’d love to see a lot more integrated holistic planning/design.


  I’d like to see schools drop the curriculum as they have in Finland. There’s no school subjects in Finland anymore in secondary school, which I think is an incredibly wonderful way to go.


  Yeah, what else would I do if I could wave the wand? I’d change the tax system to be entirely transactional. I’d use the block chain and these other new algorithms to run a lot of our systems, banking systems, accountancy systems, law systems.


Sam: And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Steve: I don’t feel I do really, Sam. What’s the advice I’ve got. I think being a crusader in the sustainable practice space.


Sam: Thank you very much.


Steve: Be kind to yourself. That’s my thought.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Steve: It’s a pleasure.


adventure education

place of outdoor education

Jo Martindale


It was an idealistic assumption, that if you cared, you would just naturally act, but that’s not the case at all and  you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.

Jo Martindale is an outdoor educator.  Her current research concerns place responsive outdoor education.  She tells us how she is developing approaches to reconnect: how to transform caring into intrinsic motivation to look after your place.


Shane: Let’s turn to our guest tonight who’s Jo Martindale. She’s an outdoor educator, welcome to the show.


Jo: Thank you.


Shane: Jo, where were you born, were you born here in New Zealand or …?


Jo: No, I’m from the North of England, lovely county called Cumbria. Generally, I’ll refer to it as the Lake District because it has that within it but I actually come from the industrial part of the bottom. But you can forget that because luckily I had the lakes to go and play in, as a child.


Shane: All right, so what brought you to New Zealand?


Jo: Oh, the typical old story. Met a kiwi guy back in the UK, he wanted to come home. Sounded like a great adventure and here I am.


Shane: What was it like growing up in Cumbria? I mean, you had the lakes to go and play with and though that’s quite an amazing and beautiful area of England but it’s quite changed from what it used to be. There’s lot of sheep farming there, and it’s quite a modified landscape. It’s an old ancient landscape isn’t it?


Jo: It is and there’s certainly heaps of history there. I know just going and exploring the local villages, you’d find ruins of old castles and I used to go and climb around the walls and imagine what it must have been like when it was actually a full building. I think it was a great place to grow up. I was in an actual town but it took nothing to get into the countryside.

I suppose now living in New Zealand and seeing a lot more of the natural environment, I can now understand that how modified it was but as a child you just knew no different.


Sam: It’s interesting how far people in the UK travel to get to those supposedly natural environments. I remember being taken sailing from somewhere and travelling for 2 hours to get to their boat which was on Ullswater . Then sailing for couple of hours and then driving 2 hours back again, through the industrial north. It very much does enhance that kind of sense that nature is out there somewhere.


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: We can go and visit it sometimes. It’s nice to have it there and most of the time we don’t go and visit, which living here we just don’t have that same disconnect. You and I both come down past the harbour every day.


Jo: Yeah. That’s definitely very true actually. I remember when I got my first job in an outdoor center and it was mainly working within a city, students coming out and I was amazed that they’d never seen sheep in real life before. You’d walk around the lanes and you’ll be picking blackberries and things and they just couldn’t believe you could pick food to eat it. They thought it came from cans and other such things. They just had no understanding.


Shane: Well I taught in a central London school as well. Some of the kids didn’t actually realize that milk came from cows. They thought it was just like something else you drank like soda or whatever. Were quite horrified when they realized. They didn’t make the connection between the cows on the bottles to actually the animals and that’s where the source of the milk was coming from. That was something that wasn’t their experience and it was really shocking for me. It was obviously very traumatizing for some of them but it was quite shocking for me to realize that these kids just had never actually been outside the city. A lot of them hadn’t.
It’s probably hard for people in New Zealand to understand just how big London or this big metropolitan area is, just how vast they are, how far into the countryside they travel and how hard it is to get actually into this thing in 2 hours, well that’s nothing if you live in London and you’re trying to visit a beach.


Sam: Sorry, we can’t spend the whole hour reminiscing about living in central London. What did you want to be when you grew up?


Jo: Well apparently at the age of about 3 when I got my first climbing experience, I did tell my parents I wanted to be a climbing instructor when I grew up.


Shane: That’s pretty good.


Sam: What did you do at school to achieve that?


Jo: Yes, school was something I went to because you had to go to, and I spent most of my time daydreaming looking out of the window wishing I was in the fields and things over there and just made sure I got good grades at the end of it. Schooling itself had nothing, no bearing on it. I did manage to during PE, get my PE teacher to allow me to go climbing at the local leisure center instead of attend PE classes.


Shane: Sounds good, that was pretty awesome.


Sam: What did you do when you left school? What got you into working in outdoors?


Jo: I’d met a local fireman down at our local leisure center who just loved introducing people to climbing. That’s how I got into it before I left school. As I left, I just decided I had enough. I was going to go off and work. I was going to travel and do all these other things.


The same guy that I came to New Zealand with, ended up with a job in a center in North Wales. I just decided to follow down there, and just went down as a campus system, no real experience just enormous spare time, run off to help with the sessions and they put me through my single pitch training while I was there that summer. The end of the summer finished and it was like I just knew that was what I wanted to do.


I think a lot of it was working with the inner city students. I had this idealistic notion that by taking them from their environment and putting them into what I considered to be my environment that I could make them somehow realize that if they just looked after their environment a little bit better, it would be nicer place to be in and therefore in general life would be better and nicer for them, as I said very idealistic.


Sam: The thought was that they would be in this nicer place enjoying themselves outside, having a good time?


Jo: Yeah, and get that connection and go back and be able to reapply it in their own, in more suburban environment.


Sam: We’ll certainly come back to that. You got yourself in New Zealand.


Jo: I did.


Sam: Then what?


Jo: I tried to get a job in the outdoors but I was very land based and didn’t know anyone here, really struggled. I went and volunteered for 6 months, at what is now Hilary outdoors and Tongariro. During that time taught myself to Kayak and realized that most of those staff there had come through the Aoraki Polytech program. I decided it was time to road trip. Came to the South Island and on my way around popped into Timaru and decided that I would have a chat to them and just started studying there the following year in their 3rd year.


Sam: Eventually to a degree?


Jo: Yeas, so I did the 2 years at Aoraki and then went off. I had no real, where I was going. I was just feeling my way through and headed up to Nelson, to just climb for the summer as you do and hung out of Paynes Ford and someone told me about this climbing wall that was open up in Nelson and that they were after people to work there and guide at Paynes Ford. I thought, “Ah! Sounds pretty good.”


Went down for an interview, found myself in that job and decided that, it didn’t really have enough meaning and purpose and so ended up going down to what we came forlorn to do and got an interview with them working with American teenagers and they do this one day personal development day, is the best way push it, where they sow the seed and expand these teenager’s lives.


Sam: You do that in a day?


Jo: No, not at all. Yeah, good concept and it was great work. It was actually not until 2008, I went back to doing my degree at CPIT.


Sam: You did some study there, you were looking at secondary school teacher’s perspectives.


Jo: Yeah, that’s what I did for my research while I was there, because I’d worked with so many schools and so many teachers and I had this grand concept of what education outside of the classroom was and I wanted to find out whether teachers actually also believed in this idea that it was cross curricular and that it should be for every subject area and how they can come together.


It’s like on an intellectual level, they all understood that. Yet when you got them down to the practical level of asking them about applying it, it always ended up falling back with a conversation to PE and health and doing school camps.


Sam: How is it actually structured in terms of school curriculum. Is there a thing that says outdoor education or is it scattered across everything else or …


Jo: Well outdoor education does come under PE within it but education outside of the classroom is just a guideline that can be picked up for anything. Any field trip, whether it is for geography or history, art, anything is classed as education outside of the classroom.


Sam: They don’t need to be kayaking or climbing mountains in order to get that benefit?


Jo: Not at all.
Sam: But it will make it more fun?
Jo: Potentially.
Sam: Can you get that same benefit across the curriculum, if that’s what you’re doing. If you’re camping or kayaking and things, does it still have the benefits?
Jo: It can though. I depends on how you actually teach it and how you apply it. As one of my … It was actually for one of my post grad papers, I designed a year 8 camp for the local high school where I was living at the time, which is a water based camp, it was in Warren Place and managed to get links into English, Art and all the technologies as well as the PE and health side of things.


Shane: How would you get English in there because a lot of people would struggle to figure out how you get English Literature into camping?


Jo: Well with English Literature, I mean it’s about them writing so you can get them to either write poems or stories or even just about what they’re actually doing. With many places around New Zealand, you can find books that have been written about it whether they’re fictional ones or factual ones that you can then do for reading, so you can then tie, say a fictional book which is just based in a real place, into the real place when they go there.


Shane: All right, and then you could follow the book around and that kind of thing around.


Jo: Yeah, definitely with some of them.


Shane: What kind of other activities would you be able integrate, what other subjects? Obviously, History might be one.


Jo: Yes, History, with a lot of places in New Zealand you’ve got both Māori History and then the European History that follows on later. New Zealand might be a young country but it’s really rich in History.


Shane: Do teachers understand that? I mean obviously you might have some teachers who were taught in the old method and aren’t used to these concepts. How did they receive them?


Jo: All of them received it really well. I mean when you talk to them, it’s like they say, on an intellectual level they definitely understand it. I think for a lot of teachers, their workload is really high. One of the biggest barriers was actually time to be able to actually develop things and then of course they’ve got that whole trying to organize time tabling and it’s really hard for teachers to get any students out of the class, other classes.


Shane: How do the kids like it?


Jo: Personally I think that students benefit greatly from getting out of the classroom and most of the research I’ve read would agree with that. I think there’s only so many people can learn in these abstract subjects and most of us need to be shown real applications for things for it to really sink in and understand.


Sam: You did your finishing degree at CPIT?


Jo: I did, yes.


Sam: Then what?


Jo: From there, I was running my own business, I was still working so I did work pretty much full time throughout doing my degree as well.


Sam: That’s taking students from a whole pile of different institutions and school and things on these camps and so on.


Jo: Yeah, definitely and working with different Polytechs at that level as well. I realize that I’d enjoyed using my brain as part of the degree and initially thought I’d go into teaching and do my post grad in teaching. Only, I discovered that a lot of the teacher’s colleges, well one, don’t let you do it by distance and two, the ones that did talk to me, as if I was just a school leaver and I didn’t really enjoy being talked to like I was about 19 when I was actually in my late 20’s at the time.


I used to work on the PE camps throughout the PE school here at Otago University. On one of them, I came into the room and I had Mike Brown was in there and Allan Hill was in there as well and I was just chatting to both of them sussing out their varying post grads thinking good to keep my brain going and talking about the pluses and minuses of both of those. Essentially, I went with Mike Brown due to the fact that I could do my post grad by distance and it didn’t have to be in the location it was happening.


Sam: You were running for a while, you were running or helping run the outdoor education program at Aoraki in Timaru.


Jo: Yes I started …


Sam: It was mostly an Alpine course?


Jo: No Aoraki is definitely multi skilled.


Sam: Okay.


Jo: They are definitely known for being strong for their mountaineering. They’re also really strong in the white water kayaking and the rock climbing as well.


Sam: That’s teaching people to do what?


Jo: I worked on the level 5 Diploma. That was teaching people basically to become outdoor instructors.


Sam: To teach other people to do …


Jo: Teach other people so that basically when they left at the end of the level 5. They’d be I suppose entry level instructors in the outdoors.


Sam: Were they teaching people how to kayak, or were they teaching people math and science through kayaking?


Jo: No, there it was definitely much more about teaching the basics of the kayaking and the climbing. I suppose bush and tramping is probably become my most passionate area of outdoor education due to the fact that it’s got so much potential for being able to integrate things easily.


I did spend a lot of time with the students getting them to think about how to get people to really integrate with bush and a recent assessment I actually ran with … One of the activities they ran was actually about drawing while they were out there in the bush. You can pick the back of tree and things. You can get actually get them drawing on that while they’re out there. You can actually even use the natural materials or leaves if you’re around Dunedin.


Sam: I suppose that’s really about that grand concept that you talked about, about the education outside the classroom. One way to achieve that is by getting the teachers to be aware of the outdoors. The other end of it is getting the people who know about outdoors, to know about education.


Jo: Definitely, very slowly yeah. To some degree, there’s the research out there to show why all this should be happening. I think there’s a real disconnect between the research and people reading it and applying it. I would say that probably a large number of outdoor educators, one, have gone into it because they like doing practical things, not reading academic papers. A lot of it, I think is getting a lot of this research put into normal terminology and accessible for people to actually get to understand.


Sam: You have been today with Otago Polytech Outdoor Adventure Diploma out at the aquarium?


Jo: That’s right, yeah.


Sam: That is because they do get some education about the science?  Is that so that they can be interesting, guides, they can talk about the fish and stuff, what’s the reasoning behind that?


Jo: I mean that’s definitely part of the reason. We definitely talk about value adding when you take your students, clients, whoever they’re, out. Part of that is being able to talk about the environment that you’re in. Today, we were out of the marine centre and that was looking at activities they could use. Also making sure that they understood a little bit about what was actually going on in the marine world. It was definitely very much linked back to the whole, how everything is interconnected and in an intricate web.


We often see that given to us on above or on land version. But it’s very rare, we actually put into the ocean and look at how that is all intricately linked. I think one of the biggest messages the students got today, was how, we talk about all these multiple oceans and seas around the world but ultimately it’s just one ocean and how it actually affects everything.


You had this beautiful NASA images up there showing how the varying sea currents transport things around the world and it really is linked. Just trying to get them to see that. Just because we live on land, how everything we do on land still affects the sea vastly as well.


Sam: The Otago Polytech tagline is that every graduate might think and act as a sustainable practitioner. What does it mean to be a successful practitioner as a outdoor practitioner?


Jo: I suppose with that, often for outdoor people they will go immediately to the environmental side of things and think about protecting the national parks, the trees, the plants, if they’re more kayakers stopping damming of the rivers and pollution. I think that often failed to see the sustainable side of when you’re back at home. It’s one of those things that definitely is a little bit of a push pull inside of me because I know that to some degree outdoor education really pushes consumerism with all of the beautiful gear that we have.


A lot of our clothing and equipment is made from petrochemicals, it’s all plastic based. There’s definitely a lot of thinking to go on there. I know there’s some courses that do some amazing stuff around getting students to really start thinking about, where everything they use comes from and what actually is going on and even down to how far they’re travelling to get into the outdoors because we say we’ve got the harbour right here yet so often when we talk about doing the outdoors. We pack our students into buses and we’ll bus them out to a national parks somewhere and that’s then deemed to be wilderness and the outdoors, when it actually is literally on our door steps.


Sam: But compared to some other activities, the impact per well-being benefit, I just invented a measure, must be okay.


Jo: Definitely, yeah.


Sam: It’s not like they … You’re not teaching them jet boating.


Jo: No.


Sam: Although you have been a quad bike guide, I see.


Jo: Yeah, it was quite good fun for a little while.


Sam: They are aware of that kind of balance?


Jo: Yeah definitely, yeah. I think the younger ones probably struggle with it. We do get a lot of school leavers come in and there’re still teenagers. It is definitely more about them, it is more about having fun. It’s definitely about drip feeding that awareness into them. I think a lot of that probably does come to that, even New Zealand students are getting less and less exposure to I suppose essentially, the natural world.


Sam: I suppose we in the West are the ones that can teach outdoor education – it’s a luxury, these outdoor experiences, kayaking, climbing whatever, that’s a pretty selfish hedonistic act. On the flipside of that, you’re teaching people how to be guides and to look after people. There’s an interesting balance on where they sit on that.


Jo: There is and you definitely, I mean you’re right. Rock climbing, mountaineering, it is very selfish at end of the day and it’s very much a middle class white European thing to be doing. Sometimes you go, “Well why are you climbing that random bit of rock?” I think a lot of it does come down to, even just that being outside and that whole well-being and feeling of well-being that you get from being outside in nature and those wonderful hormones that are released to make you feel good.


You’re right, when you transition from the level 4 to the level 5, you spend a lot of time actually really explaining to them that they’re now moving into the more professional realm of taking other people out and that, I’m actually quite brutally honest with them and tell them that it’s no longer about them, It’s now about other people and that they need to actually get that mind shift, it’s like when they gotten their own time, that’s when it’s about them. When they’re interesting or guiding, it’s now about others instead.
Sam: You’re now working on a Masters in Sport and Leisure Studies?
Jo: I am.
Sam: Tell us what the topic is?
Jo: My topic is looking at the place response of outdoor education. I suppose in a synopsis that’s more about, for me not going necessarily often to the wilderness. It’s much more about using the local natural environment, and getting people connected to their place, so that they actually get to know what is here and that you can do all these amazing things close and locally, learning about the history.


That, the ethic of care you can get by having that connection with your people in your place, how it might manage to lead to you actually, talking care of and looking after and improving your place. It was another of those idealistic assumptions I had that if you cared, you would just naturally act and through my research I’ve basically discovered that’s not the case at all and that you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.


Sam: How did you find that out? What did you do?


Jo: I actually worked with a local school for my research. We started off at this school and we biked from there into the centre and we actually went to Otago Polytech. We went to their edible gardens and got a tour around there. We had Ron Bull actually join the group. He did a kōrero  to start the journey off and he unpacked that while we were at the Polytech for the students and really linked beautifully through his story telling, how we really are part off the whole world and nature rather than a part from which is how we often see ourselves as humans.


From there we continued biking into North East Valley, and we actually got to camp at Bethune’s Gully for the night. The big focus was to go slow and make sure we really took things in along the way. We then had a local herbalist join us as we walked over Mount Cargill to explain a lot of plants and things and their uses and what they could eat along as we went. We got down to the other side of the Cargill Road and we had an educator come in from Orokonui, who explained the forest and some of the legends of the whole place.


Then basically carried on round to Quarantine Island over the side to the Albatross Colony and then final leg was to bike back to school. The whole way around was meeting with local community groups and local people so that it was local people that were telling the stories of the varying places. For those students, most of them hadn’t even been to some of these places even though they’re literally right here.


Sam: Encouraging them to experience and to celebrate the place, their place.


Jo: Yeah, definitely


Sam: Did they?


Jo: Yeah my interviews at the end definitely showed that suddenly their picture of Dunedin had improved incredibly. They had gone from saying that the shopping malls were the best thing about Dunedin to starting to talk about some of the beaches and the inlets and the places we’d visited, which was amazing to see.


From there we then ran some environmental advocacy sessions which was basically more taking them through their journey again and looking over some of the issues they’d actually seen as they’d gone around and helping them actually formulate how to plan out an action that they could take.


Sam: Just nice and slowly through that: connection to place.


Jo: Yes, connection to place, got a big tick.


Sam: What was the next bit in the …


Jo: The next bit was a few sessions to actually look at the issues they’d seen while on the journey. Because obviously there’s plenty of issues around Dunedin. They talked about them. It was ones they remembered. They worked out which ones they were really interested in and felt like they’d liked to look at further and they were taken step by step through how to make a plan of action.


Sam: Connection to place and they got from that, concern for the environment in particular around that place.


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: Then you got them to think about advocacy on the basis of that.


Jo: Yes.


Sam: That worked?


Jo: That part of it did beautifully. The bit that I left very airy fairy with them, because this was the crux of my research if you like was whether or not they were to actually do the action. All they knew as I was going to coming back to see what had happened within those sessions post that time.


Sam: Did they?


Jo: They did do a small action. There was a whole heap of things that really shrunk what they did. But within that interview part of my questioning was around whether or not they would continue, would they get into anything else and that was where I think I felt a little bit crushed because essentially, there were two that said they might mainly through things like the Enviroschool’s schools groups that they have running or other environmental groups. I think there was one mention that if they have time and I got a couple of outright no from them.


Sam: Nice and slowly through his, connection to place tick. Environment advocacy plan, tick.


Jo: Yes.


Sam: Environmental advocacy, half tick?


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: Transfer from that to a general ethic of care, no?


Jo: An absolute no, yeah.


Sam: Okay, so why not.


Jo: The reasons that I came down to were primarily priorities, was what it really came down to, is that they just didn’t see it as a priority that everything else in life was far more important. When I reflect on that, I think that’s how we often end up putting it as well. For a lot of us, we prioritize things and so the more the lovely environmental side of things gets shoved down because all this other stuff we deem to be more higher priority, yet in the grand scheme of things it’s quite I suppose short sighted.


I think that the other problem is, is that often because of the way the message has always been put out around sustainability, I think the students naturally went to the looking at almost making more work on what they may have to give up. Through this whole thing I read a fascinating book by, was it Per Espen Stoknes called “What we think about when we try not to think about Climate Change“.


It was a fascinating book which took me into the environmental psychology realm which I hadn’t actually delved into before. A lot of his message is that, when we’re talking about trying to do environmental things, it’s nearly always about giving things up and what we should no longer do. His big message is that we need to start thinking as educators about re-storying that and about the benefits and the gains we get from changing rather than always looking at what we’ve got to give up.


Sam: In this case, you would have thought that they would see the benefit of looking after the place because they’ve enjoyed it.


Jo: It’s that disconnect still between how they live up at home and place. Their biggest thing that really struck them was the plastics from the Albatross Colony, they were horrified, the birds having eaten the plastics and how it can kill the chicks. They decided, because we along the way did some little bits of beach clean ups.


They decided that their big thing was they needed to somehow help stop the plastics. Their way of thinking about it rather than trying to reduce, I suppose plastic use in some way and how you could go around that, was more about we need to get better at recycling.


Sam: How do we take this initial interest in the place, even the caring in the place, how do we turn that into some deep seated wanting to make a difference and making a difference?


Jo: From all of my extra reading, I think the biggest thing is there’s no one magic pill as the big thing. From having now delved onto that psychological side of things, a lot of it comes down to the fact that you need to start being able to look beyond yourself and that being able to look beyond yourself means that as a person, I suppose essentially you’ve got to have pretty good well-being which took me down the track of positive psychology and looking at what they’ve been doing around well-being and getting people basically to look beyond themselves and to start thinking a lot more about others.


Sam: Is there a message in there for education outside the classroom that it’s not so much about just going outside and them enjoying it, but going outside and somehow being beyond themselves so that they can enjoy helping other people when they’re outside the classroom learning about science?


Jo: Yeah. I think definitely actually, there’s certainly research around how by helping others it makes you feel better as well and that you can see things actually changing and happening. Definitely just taking people out to enjoy and thinking that change will happen. It might do for a very minute percentage but for the majority of us it will be no deeper than enjoyment.


Sam: I’m presuming that you would still see a balance on the side of going out and doing outdoor education.


Jo: Definitely, yeah. For the overall well-being of people. There’ve been so many studies done on taking people into nature. By nature it just needs to be green space, whether its forest, bush or just green open fields and the beach and how it really does improve people’s well-being. There have been a few studies done even on how it can enhance your academic performance.


Sam: How green does the green space have to be?


Jo: Well I know they’ve done studies in hospitals where they’ve actually just been able to look out of a window and see something green. I know there was a university study done for students sitting tests and they actually just showed them pictures of green space and it still had some effect.


One that I was reading was about getting people to walk outside and one of them had route that was very much trees, grass, the more rural and the other was very much urban on pavement, concrete around them, and when they did the retesting, those that were in the natural setting, definitely had greater sense of well-being.


Sam: Somehow we need to be able to do that without making worse that problem what we started with, with the “nature out there somewhere”.


Jo: Definitely.


Sam: The city is our environment too. Is it worthwhile getting people to do urban orienteering, urban treasure hunt, sort of stuff? Does that have enough benefit to make it worth doing for outdoor education?


Jo: I don’t see why not. I mean it’s still using the same skills, it’s still going outside and I suppose it ultimately depends on your definition of what outdoor education is. If it’s more about education just being outside, then definitely. I know in Dunedin they’ve started putting, looking for those little sections of nature within the city. There is that campaign about putting little billboards up around the spot to help you see that there is nature everywhere.


Sam: Okay, some questions to finish with. What’s your go to definition of sustainability?


Jo: I always struggle with this one because it’s such a hard to define word. For me it’s definitely about making sure that you do not exceed the resources of the, I suppose the planet, of the place. You’ve got to live within your means, so that you’re not degrading it, in any way and that it’s here for future generations.


Sam: Hard to scale that though. It’s hard for me to know whether or not this thing that I bought is exceeding that limits somewhere else.


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Jo: The biggest success?


Sam: Yeah.


Jo: Oh. I’m stuck on that one, I‘m sure there’s lots. I think probably when I got to actually get … I really wrote the environmental paper at Aoraki before I left and got that running. That was definitely on the back of having just done my environmentally sustainable education paper, through my post grad. I’d got such a far better understating of what environmental action was and that whole idea that it needs to be about, actually trying to find solutions to the problems rather than just band aids.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Because you appear on Facebook, on beaches and stuff before dawn and up top of mountains before dawn. I know what literally gets you out of bed in the morning but what motivates you?


Jo: Well, apart from the sunrises, I actually think that getting outside and fresh air first thing in the morning is just the best way to start any day. It’s people. I absolutely love working with people, at the end of the day and knowing that, ultimately trying to get people to make their place better, it makes the place better because it is so intricately interlinked.


Sam: Do you consider to yourself to be an activist?


Jo: Probably not. I tend to like to do things on a low key way.


Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Jo: The biggest challenge is actually trying to, I suppose get my ideas more into fruition around place and getting people intrinsically motivated to actually take action and to improve their place and to form that connection with it.


Because I still think that as New Zealanders we’re quite disconnected from our place. We may know where we live and where we’re from but we don’t necessarily have that deep rooted sense of connection, as well as hopefully find a more permanent job.


Sam: You live in a nice place.


Jo: I live in a beautiful place.


Sam: Is there something about New Zealand, feeling of being a young country do you think? I mean places like Cumbria, it’s not a natural landscape, it’s a very modified landscape. You very much know that people have been there for a really long time.


Jo: Yeah, definitely. I think some of its perhaps, New Zealanders like to think about always travelling off to distant places and it takes them to go away to realize what they genuinely had. I think it’s also just starting to creep in more as people spend less time outside and more time indoors, more with electronics stuff, instead of actually being outside and just playing and getting to know.


Sam: There’s a premise that New Zealanders’ relationship with environment is a raw one. It’s more like we’re still breaking the country in.


Jo: There’s definitely still a lot of that more pioneering I suppose attitude.


Sam: Is that a different relationship with place?


Jo: I would say so because that’s more about on the whole, I suppose controlling the place rather than actually necessarily living harmoniously with place. If you look at the calendar that were used here, we’ve just taken the calendar that was over in the UK, and plonked it here.


As a real simple thing, we celebrate Easter in Autumn  and we celebrate Halloween in Spring and it’s like we’re celebrating death when we’ve got new life and new life when we’ve actually got death. We’re just very topsy-turvy with even those things, just disconnect you further from the land.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, by tomorrow morning, probably about 4:30 or something knowing you and Mr. Thompson, what would that miracle be?


Jo: That miracle would be for people to stop, I suppose essentially … Perhaps see the benefits of actually changing, actually see how ultimately, we’d all live better if we perhaps started to look more locally for things rather than having to have everything imported in, and that we actually lived in communities because by living in communities it’s not just communities of people, it’s also communities with the land and what is around us. That way we would actually know our place with so much more depth and have so much better support systems around us as well.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Jo: I think my advice would definitely be to go out, explore and learn about your own backyard and where you actually live and actually really get to know and get to know the people. I mean how often do we not even know our next neighbours or the people that live across the street. Actually start to form some of that community bond and be able to help each other a little bit more.






education local government

Lively communities taking sustainability seriously

Alexa Forbes

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

Alexa Forbes is a researcher and development and sustainability advisor for Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice. She is a District Councillor for the Queenstown Lakes District Council. She is a musician, a journalist and founder of a successful communications business.

We open the conversation with her context – where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you grew up? It turns out that Alexa has a colourful background with a lot of stories so it takes longer than usual to get to what she is doing now.

Talking points

Going to Vermont as an AFS student – shaped a lot of my future thinking

I’ve never really been on much of a mission – things just happen.

Where did sustainable practice come from? I’ve explored that recently – I’m studying for a Master in Professional Practice – it comes from my childhood. An interesting childhood, I come from a doctor and an activist, artist musician mother. A lot of environmental concerns built in really early in my life. We were always in the bush, camping, tramping, learning to fish, to hunt – learning to be careful of the environment, to respect it, and to try not to damage it and to be part of it – that was always important.

Sustainability was a spearhead for me – I was working as a journalist, and watching tourism grow…exponential growth…impact on the Queenstown environment

I thought I would love Queenstown to start thinking about the impact of tourism

There were campaigns – take only photos, leave only footprints – and I thought these were feel good, but a lot was being left, damage to our ecosystems that was not being acknowledged, not being addressed.

There’s something in this…

Tourism and the environment is a major tension in Queenstown – most of my job is drawing attention to the tension

I’ve sat in rooms with tourism leaders when I’ve challenged them on environmental impact, and they’ve looked at me like I’m mad and said “we love this environment, we make a living from this environment, we would never hurt it”, which tells me something about the massive amount of ignorance. But I wouldn’t get very far by telling them that, clearly, so I have to be quite careful and unpick some of the knots in people’s thinking.

I’ve never considered myself a greenie – I just think I’m sensible, and a good mother.

Do I need them to vote for me? We if I don’t, I don’t get in and I can’t continue my work, but that doesn’t really concern me either, because if I don’t have their buy in then I can’t continue my work anyway.

I feel that I’m better off on inside than outside.

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

(Compromise?) I operate from a set of values.

I don’t know – none of us know – whether we’ve gone past the ability to retrieve or regenerate ecosystems to a level that they are still friendly to humans, we don’t know if we can managed that or not. But concentrating on recycling schemes and changing lightbulbs is pretty much just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I’m operating within a value system, I would get nowhere by holding a firm activist position, I do view myself as a bit of an activist, certainly an environmentalist,

I’m an activist in that I try to get people to recognise and to question what they are doing.

I don’t expect the helicopters to close down, but I do expect them to accept that they are externalising costs onto a future community

That’s what I want people really understand – when you are doing what you are doing, how are you thinking about mitigating the costs that you are putting onto your grandchildren? That’s a line in the sand, people should know that I won’t move from that.

I follow the Natural Step System Conditions. (see previous SustainableLens conversations)

We’re still very head-in-the-sand in New Zealand, we still believe the 100% Pure. We can still pull that wool over our own eyes.

None of us has come up with how we can do this quickly enough to make a difference.

I have to operate from my values in the most pure way that I can.

It disappoints me that our government refuses to take responsibility – I don’t know what they are thinking. Making it worse in so many ways. Allowing the dairy industry to externalise its costs. All over the country ratepayers are paying to clean up after the dairy industry – it’s not good enough.

It appals me, I can get really angry, or I can go back to my own values, and say I’m not going to allow traffic to increase in Queenstown under my watch.

(Can Councils deliver intergenerational equity?) It’s the only vehicle we’ve got.

You have to take that into account when you are voting, what are you voting for? Are you voting for peoples’ values? We have to get away from a from popularity contests

We (with Ella Lawton) stood for Council because we thought it was a place we could make some change. I think we’re making headway – enough for me not to have thrown up my hands in horror.

I don’t concern myself with whether I’ve got a job tomorrow – I’m quite capable of going back to my old job – and frankly, Council pays a lot less – so it’s not about that.

Here we are, sitting in this amazing nexus of change – exponential change in technology and exponential change in our environment, and in that nexus we face exponential social change. Every thing is changing so fast technologically, everything is changing environmentally much faster than we expected, much faster than we ever thought it would, so it is making us socially incredibly uncomfortable.

I’m one of those people that think that technology will save us if we let it, but we have to change – we have to understand our true natures.

Part of that for me was understanding our waste.

(Success?) I just got a distinguished alumni award from Otago Polytechnic. Selling my business and being willing to embark on a new Masters and a a new career.

(Motivation?) I love life. I really do love life. I love my work with Otago Polytechnic, and I love my work with the Council.

(Activist?) I’m starting to be. I didn’t think I was, but I am starting to think that I am now. I try to keep it low key. I’ve only just realised that my opinions are a bit more radical than most people. I though that most people thought like me until quite recently, so now I’ve become a bit more outspoken – I didn’t realise that it was unusual. So I’m comfortable with that box – I’m an activist on the inside really. I like to stir people up and challenge their thinking. I don’t want to hurt them, and I don’t believe that I’m always right. My own thinking needs challenging, and I don’t want to take hard and fast positions that force people into corners because it’s not helpful and I might not be right.

I go for a consensus model, but I’m not sure that’s right. Looking back on the last three years we’ve always gone for consensus…but I think it has watered some things down too much. That’s a hard one. When you vote against something, personally you’re counted as voting against that and that may have some personal benefit, but – and this is why I’ve gone for consensus, are you better to just go a little way along the way, to put the shot across the bow, planted the seed, let’s move on. So in the past…once it is lost…let’s make this the best it can be, but I’m not sure that it is always right.

(Challenges?) Moving my projects on further. Transport Strategy…would positively affect so many people’s lives. And in education, the programme we offer really on the edge we need to mainstream sustainability – or the education for it

(Miracle?) People will have woken up to the environmental challenges and to their externalisation of costs to the next generation, and that the y want to educate themselves to stop doing that.

(Advice?) Please wake up, look at what you do and ask “am I putting costs onto my children and grandchildren by doing this? How could I do thins properly? And it’s not just about recycling. Look at yourself, look at the way you live, look at why you are, how you are – that’s a most enjoyable thing to do. Give yourself time to reflect properly on where you’ve come from, why you’re here, and what you want to leave behind.

architecture education

Making a difference at architectural scales

Tobias Danielmeier

I rank architecture by going to look at the bathrooms…it is the utilitarian areas that reveal weaknesses…but sustainability weaknesses in architecture are much more disguised.

Tobias Danielmeier teaches and researches sustainable architecture in the School of Design at Otago Polytechnic. He was instrumental in the First Light House – the first Southern Hemisphere entry into the Solar Decathlon. He is also interested in performative architecture – a combination of how a building works functionally and in telling stories.

Talking points

I rank architecture by going to look at the bathroom…it is the utilitarian areas that reveal weaknesses…but sustainability weaknesses in architecture are much more disguised.

There is ideally a marriage of people and place – how the building sits in within its environment.

We’ve seen a shift in how students treat sustainability. For a long time now they have been driven to change the world, then this changed as they saw the problems as too big, we can’t tackle them; the changed again, but now this is changing back again to more inspirational values – we can make a difference.

Connecting with regional experiences, authentic experiences..craft beers, regional cuisines…this is what I mean by post consumerism architecture.

(Activist?) Passive activist. Opening minds of young people.

(Motivation?) Good architecture – striving for better tomorrows.

(Smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) Better public transport – different ways of achieving the 1/4 acre dream. Not compromising on luxuries, but achieving them in different ways.

(Advice for listeners?) Investigate localised energy production. Try to become energy independent.

business marketing values

Valuing value

Phil Osborne

If you can be a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Phil Osborne teaches and researches marketing at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about the role of marketing and the relationship between values and value, before exploring what the sustainability agenda can learn from marketing.

Talking points

At the heart of marketing is exchange, it connects producers with consumers

Products become redundant in a new view of marketing

Value is subjective

Things only become valuable when we use them.

In the 60s-80s we had this surplus to get rid of, and we didn’t think about why customers wanted to buy these products.

I see value as in economic value with a little v, and Values with a big V. Values is what society or individuals are starting to see as worthwhile.
So, value in terms of a market exchange comes from the Values of society.

Marketing is a child of the industrial revolution which privileged the view of the firm – they made massive gains in the factories and efficiencies. Look, society is must better off because we can produce these things. And because society was supposed to be better off, the production view was privileged. But now this has flipped, the service dominant logic asks “is it products we want, what do we do with those products?”. So service dominant logic is still about exchange, but exchange of service.

Marketing had a lot of currently useful generalisations, and at present, a lot of those are no longer useful.

At heart of marketing ethics is a satisfied customer.

How do measure satisfaction, I think there’s an ethical way of doing that. If they are getting their product or service delivered in an unethical way, it’s likely to impact on their satisfaction. The ethics of marketing becomes very transparent. The snake-oil salesman is a generalisation for a reason – people don’t like that approach.

Ethics in business school has become a much larger and more obvious subject to deal with since Enron example, and what happens when you let businesses run away with the efficiency model.

In developing sustainable practitioners, that ethical transparency is gives to sustainability – ethics in the end is an individual choice, organisations don’t actually make decisions, individuals within the organisation make decisions.

If you are in a organisation and you feel like they’re about to do something unethical, it’s only individuals who can make that change.

“Is it legal?” has been the standard in business, but that is changing, I say “if your grandmother knew you were doing it, how would she feel about it?”

Students find it hard to think about their great grandchildren, so my analogy allows them to plug into the understand of their grandmother – but this is really about getting them to think about the future.

We’re on cusp of dawn of the end of dinosaurs of organisations. Questions being asked: How do we create organisations that allow employees behave ethically. How do we reward whistle blowing? This is a positive thing, an age of these questions being asked. And they’re not being asked around the water-cooler any more, well they are but water cooler is the internet and the boardroom.

Marketing has always been about sustainable business, the heart of marketing is about relationships. And those relationships can only be sustained when we are doing things that we each like.

Marketing can bring to the table the role of representing the customer at that table – the marketer is the customer’s voice in the organisation. The voice of sustainability among customers is becoming larger and larger – and the marketer is the one that is going to carry that voice into the organisation.

So how to we value sustainability? It typifies the dominance of the paradigm that we want to value it somehow, to put a number on it. And we can put a number on it in that customers are starting to think about maybe I’m not going to buy that thing because it is cheap because I don’t know what their organisational practices are like.

Brands indicate a level of trust. In the future I think we’ll see that the brands and trust value will enable us to understand the value that customers are putting on sustainable practice.

(how do we wade through the marketing greenwash?) Greenwash was the marketing response when we still had that sales response – let’s trick our customers into thinking we’re green by putting dolphins on there. The can’t do that anymore. We might have gotten away with that in the 70s or even the 90s. Nowadays you put a dolphin on there and someone is going to go and track why that dolphin is on there.

Customers have a role in not falling for greenwash. And call it out

(Are you an activist?) Yes. I’ve had 7000-10,000 students over the years. If I’ve made even half of them consider their practices differently and decide not to stuff a leaflet in your letterbox without any understanding of what that is doing, then I’ve made a few changes.

I think we’re all activists as consumers, we all have the chance to be activists. If all you take from understanding marketing is being a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Marketing is no longer a simple relationship. Society’s conversation about sustainability is influencing consumers’ beliefs, which then has to influence the marketing conversation. It is not longer a delivery of products – a monolithic dyadic conversation dominated by the marketer to a dialogical, learning together, thinking about what is best for society.

(Motivation) Making a difference.

(Challenge) Changing the perception of marketing.

(Advice) Become a more conscious customer, every time you spend money with an organisation you are voting for its continued existence. So think about whether you condone it.


Creating opportunities to connect the dots

Jen Roders

It is important to bring things back to what people think is relevant. Perhaps a place that is special to them, what could affect that place? How could you positively or negatively affect that?

Jen Rodgers is the Sustainable Practice Adviser at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about her background, what led to her seeing education as a lever, and how she integrates advising on both operational sustainability and education for sustainability.

Talking points

I decided to go to Teachers College when I realised that I couldn’t save the world by myself.

If you can find out what people are interested in, then you can start from there.

Opening people’s eyes to things perhaps outside their normal scope.

Sustainability is a journey not a destination.

Saying I don’t have all the answers gives the ability for others to do the same.

Be critically thinking about actions.

Think about things outside the immediate

It is important to have an idea of reality, be grounded and look at what is possible

It is important to bring things back to what people think is relevant. Perhaps a place that is special to them, what could affect that place? How could you positively or negatively affect that?

It is important for organisations to be in this space, yes it is political, and that is important.

Giving people the opportunities to connect the dots.

Communicating positive things that are happening, stories to inspire people.

Challenges, how do we enable people who are sitting on the fence, or on the other side of the fence thinking how is this of any relevance to me?

(Activist?) Yes, Activists are trying to change things, in general trying to do positive things

(Motivation?) Hope. Seeing that people can change, and look at things from different perspectives.

(Challenges) Working out what can be barriers for people to be sustainable practitioners – how to enable them?

(Miracle) Open minds.

(Advice?) Don’t be afraid to look at things, try some stuff, don’t get stuck in overwhelming doom.

design food

Food as experience

Emilie Baltz

Food is our most fundamental form of consumption

Emilie Baltz is a food designer and artist who has produced Junk Foodie and L.O.V.E. Handbook. She was in Dunedin to keynote at Food Design.

Talking points

Food is a personal material for me…it represents identity, community and culture

Slowness means locality, but also greater awareness

Food is an experimental and experiential material

(Traces) Cultural codes – we have tables, we use utensils…getting rid of all the distance and bringing ourselves back to a place of primitive being, in a sustainability mindset we’re reminding ourselves of the place we exist as humans, that brings us to our primitive level within a civilised state

As food becomes more sanitised, we get further and further away from actual ingredients

Eating, over consumption, we need to look as a part of a whole ecosystem

We’ve created a host of products that depend on systems and those systems and those systems have been very badly constructed.

As designers -and design is about the discipline of order – we’re having to reorder and reframe and redesign those systems for better consequences

Food is at heart one of the issues of over-consumption, so how do we begin to look at that as human behaviour and reorganise it and reframe it?

America…is one of those spaces where there is a great deal of over consumption and inequality of consumption.

The pioneer mindset of eating as much as you can is still in place. Greater conversations and awareness are the beginning.

Working in food brings the opportunity for the conversation to be playful, joyful, not just finger wagging. I don’t believe people change when we wag our fingers at each other. But we do begin to change when we’re in a positive mindset and when we move forward in a positive space and the food and the dining experience helps do that.

This isn’t a regime that says “do this, three times, five times a day in massive quantities”, no, it says “re-imagine the things in front of you, use your imagination, use your creativity to transform the everyday into something else”.

Food is our most fundamental form of consumption

Food is an experience, and it is a highly designed experience

Food is a prop for a narrative, and human behaviour is a certain type of narrative throughout the world…so if we look at our food traditions and food rituals…these affect our most fundamental form of consumption – how we behave and how we consume.

The world problems that are at hand today are magnificent, large and beyond immediate repair…the only thing we can do as individuals is educate ourselves and to go forward with greater positive intent and with greater clarity as to how we want to take action in the world.

I think that there is room and there is necessity for healthy ecosystems, so that means there is space and a demand for luxury, there is space and a demand for joy and delight, there is space and a demand for critical thought and analysis, there is space and demand for better policy making, better justice, but if we can bring all of those systems together and understand where we are powerful and where our voice lies as individual creators I think that’s the greatest form of sustainability.

There’s no solitary linear path to a solution, what there is is a greater ability to speak to each other, greater awareness of the different ways and different flows and different systems and their applications to certain environments – and that’s what begins to create true ecosystems and true methods of sustainability.

From material understanding students can begin to design forays into larger issues at hand – like food justice, looking at food systems, how can we take our understanding of this material and then use it as a new means of communication, and potentially as a new means of being able to reorganise some of these systems that are quite broken.

I don’t think that caring enough to do something is an issue anymore…there’s an understanding that we have a huge amount of things to fix. Designers are specifically focussed on problem solving and end users.

Exploring these great issues through the lens of food is…creating greater empathy and greater joy. It is a material that allows you to make right away…to make, to prototype, to test, to learn and to redo. And that’s goal that everybody wants to get to – to take action in the world – to help something.

Design students come in with empathy…they enter into creativity because they want to help something…if as educators we’re able to help focus them more on problems – real problems – they’re very willing to take that path.

I create different lenses onto the world, to show that there are other ways of thinking, other ways of looking at the material that we consume everyday. I would frame this as participation rather than activism.

Challenges not in projects, more in what choices to make next and what those choices mean for how I want to participate in the world. Until now I’ve had the great privilege to be able to make an incredibly diverse body of work, and great privilege in being able to play in that space and I recognise that fully…moving forward, I have a huge amount of learning, great connections and a wonderful network – how do I want to use that? that is my challenge

Advice: Say yes. Don’t let fear make your decisions for you. Moving forward with a positive mindset that embraces, that says “yes and…” and that allows you to participate in whatever way you can…to participate positively.

Works discussed

X-species Adventure Club
Food Design Studio at Pratt Institute
Porcelain Dust Mask Bowl
Junk Foodie
L.O.V.E. Handbook

behaviour change

Flipping behaviour change

Michael Daddo

No matter what role we have in life, we all have the ability to contribute to changing the world for the better – so we should always look for opportunities to do that and go for it as hard as we can.

The Shannon Company is dedicated to Behaviour Change. Michael Daddo is the Managing Director of the Shannon Company. Before this interview we asked around for some background. “He’s the flipper” said one. So we asked Michael about flipping.

We discuss the application of behaviour change techniques honed in campaigns such as Victorian Worksafe “Homecommings” campaign to wider issues of sustainability.

Talking points:

hope and obligation

I’m just a person with a conscience who can make a difference

Inspiring people to make a change willingly and for good, the more we can do that the better.

The greatest thing we can do is change the world in some shape or form for the better. If we can all find ways to contribute to that, in whatever way we can, then we should do that and seek those opportunities.

computing education

Opening education

Wayne Mackintosh


The key challenge we are trying to address is how to provide spaces for the additional one hundred million students – that’s the equivalent of building four sizeable universities with roughly 30,000 students each, every week for the next 15 years.


Dr Wayne Mackintosh imagines a world where anyone in the world has access to a world-class education online for free, and getting credentials for it.    But he is not just imagining it, he is doing it.  Wayne holds the UNESCO-COL Chair in OER at Otago Polytechnic. He is the founding Director of the OER Foundation and the International Centre for Open Education based at Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand.  He talks about the launch of Open Educational Resources University (OERu) – a significant milestone in higher education globally, and marking a transition from an international collaboration prototype to a sustainable, scalable program of accessible OERu study.

We are shifting the question from how do you achieve sustainable OER projects at your institution to, how will your institution remain sustainable without OER? We are the competition on the doorsteps of tertiary education institutions around the world

The conventional model of delivery is not going to be able to respond to the challenge of the growing need internationally.

I’m a teacher by choice, and it’s been the most rewarding decision I have taken in my career

Smart thinking, use technology to reach the unreachable

Absolutely I’m an activist, an open source, open education activist.

it’s (open education) mission critical for a more sustainable planet. We need to be using scarce resources more effectively, and respect the fundamental freedom of expression – freedom of speech- that we espouse to in modern democracies

Shane’s number of the week: 4,500,000. That is there are 4.5 million people in the UK who are members or supporters of environment and conservation groups.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Sam talked us through the increasingly important role of social enterprise in computing.

agriculture food

Sustainable growing

Alex Huffadine heads the Natural Resources Group (horticulture, viticulture and pest management) at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about how sustainability is changing the practice and profession of growing.

design policy

Science meet policy. Policy meet science.

Life at the intersection of science and policy.

During her career in management and governance, Dr Maggie Lawton has help lead New Zealand’s organisations down the road of a sustainable future. She describes her work as “Strategic Sustainable Design”. Not considering herself an activist but as a change agent, Maggie sees her role as “staying inside the room” – helping guide policy and decisions. Amongst other roles, Maggie now leads Otago Polytechnics Centre for Research Expertise in Sustainable Practice.

Shane’s number of the week: 9. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have been since 2001. 2012 is on track to being the ninth hottest year on record.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: This week a new report into consumer attitudes was released. The Regeneration Consumer Study is an in-depth online survey of consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviours relating to sustainable consumption among 6,224 respondents across six major international markets.

adventure education tourism

Outdoor leadership as sustainability

Andy Thompson is prorgamme manager of outdoor leadership at Otago Polytechnic. He quite possibly has the best job in the world. And he does it with an activist’s eye for sustainability.

Shane’s number of the week: 20. All of the world’s energy needs could be provided for solely by wind power, according to new research from the Carnegie Institute and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Is anyone else struggling with the giant light poles and really ugly fence appearing along the West Harbour shared path (cycleway)? While we appreciate the cycleway tremendously, the way it is being built seems quite short-sighted. The poles and fence are separating residents both physically and aesthetically from our beautiful harbour. To really value our city we need to see the whole landscape as the place we live and enhance connections between people and our place. What we’ve now got seems have instead to have focussed solely on engineering utility (with approval from the DCC: ODT 12/12/11). I realise that this is a NZTA project but I’d like to see the Dunedin City Council take more responsibility for the guardianship of our place.