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Conflict and complexity in a participatory process: Lessons from a wind energy dispute in King Island, Tasmania

Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University

Tue 20 February 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


In 2012, a large-scale wind energy development was proposed for development in King Island, Tasmania. Despite adopting what was described as ‘best practice’ community engagement, the time of the proposal was marred by social conflict between people and groups in King Island. The local dispute escalated to levels where families, friendships, and business relationships were damaged. This presentation outlines findings from a research project that examined how the participatory process went wrong in King Island. This study applied perspectives from social psychology to understand why the proposal caused such significant social conflict, despite the use of a 'best practice' community engagement strategy. Five key drivers of the local conflict were identified: problematic pre-feasibility engagement; the lack of a third-party facilitator of the community consultative committee; holding a vote which polarised the community; the lack of a clear place in the engagement process for local opposition, and; the significance of local context. These findings are instructive for understanding community engagement around wind energy, an improving participatory designs for participatory processes more broadly.

About the speaker

Dr Bec Colvin is a researcher and knowledge exchange specialist with the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University. Bec’s research interests include how people engage with each other and the challenge of climate change, and how we can intervene in these interrelationships to achieve better outcomes for society and the environment. Before joining the ANU, Bec's research at The University of Queensland explored ways of understanding social conflict about the environment through using the social identity approach from social psychology to interrogate processes of stakeholder and community engagement. This included a focus on conflict about wind energy development and an exploration of the role of framing in shaping attitudes toward land use conflict. Present research interests include the practice and psychology of knowledge exchange and working at the science-policy interface, the human dimension of climate change, framing and communicating climate change, and the links between social psychology and decision-making processes.

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