Creating space for diverse perspectives makes a real impact in the world
MSDI Water Director, Briony Rogers, has always liked to work in an interdisciplinary way; moving across boundaries in studies, sectors and spaces.
This way of working allows her to build collaborative partnerships, embrace diverse thinking, empower communities, and create deeper impact in the world.
Early engineering pathways
Her approach began early in her engineering career. Briony says, “I was interested in community development and had done some volunteer work. From that experience, I recognised the importance of understanding the social dimensions of the problems I was solving with technology. And I was always passionate about sustainability.”
It didn’t take Briony long to realise that just wearing a technical hat was limiting. She says, “I realised that by the time an engineering design brief landed on my desk so many of the opportunities to really influence sustainability had already passed.”
That’s when Briony came to Monash to pursue her PhD with (now Deputy Vice Chancellor – Research) Professor Rebekah Brown and Professor Ana Delatic. The two supervisors offered their expertise in Social Sciences and Engineering which matched Briony’s desire for an interdisciplinary research approach.
Her PhD focussed on how to achieve system transformations that address climate change, urbanisation, and evolving community expectations to create a more sustainable and resilient water system and approach.
Looking back, Briony admits, “I thought my social science focus was going to be a temporary side step and eventually I’d go back to engineering with that insight and experience to continue my work in a more holistic way.”
But Briony was hooked.
“I loved the research experience and I could see its value. My action research involved stakeholders in discussion around their envisioned future and how they thought they could get there. I supported those conversations with theory, knowledge and evidence. And I saw how impactful that work was.”
Ever since, her academic career has flowed down a water path.
A career in water
Briony conducted research in the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) where she focussed on how to drive transitional change by bringing together different stakeholders to create a shared vision.
This led Briony to become a Program Leader at CRCWSC where she was a key designer in shaping an impact and research program that would respond to the needs and priorities of diverse stakeholders.
Then she led a program that considered tools and methods that could be applied at scale to help cities think about their change processes from all angles, including governance, community, technical and planning perspectives.
The value of transdisciplinary impact research
During this time Briony says she, “learnt the value of robust thinking and research frameworks that support those discussions. When they’re presented in a way that’s accessible to industry, they see the value of that contribution.
I also saw the value of Universities having a convening role where we can increase industry ambition and create the opportunity for learning and evidence building to help stakeholders on their journey to sustainability. I learned about the importance of making connections, sharing the lessons, and creating self-sustaining networks of champions.
“And the importance of deep discussions. So right from the beginning we’re co-designing the questions that we’re asking, the approaches we want to take, the form of the insights and results, and the scaling models so that the research has a fast impact.”
That doesn’t mean that action research, or transdisciplinary impact research, is easy. Briony recognises that it requires a collaborative mindset, humility, a certain level of comfort with uncertainty and complexity, and a need to prioritise real world impacts.
In the last two years of the CRCWSC, Briony was its Chief Research Officer. And she was thinking about how to maintain its momentum, draw from the learnings, and what we need to do next to create change.
A future vision
Now as Director of MSDI Water, Briony’s vision is to think at scale for water system transformation.
To accelerate water system change for cities around the world we need to share what we’ve learned and make use of our socio-technical understanding to help guide cities on their own transition in sustainable water management.”
Briony and her team have a vision for a global platform that can organise tools, knowledge and networks so that cities can effect change in a way that recognises their unique local context.
And while she knows there is still work to do to reduce carbon emissions, Briony says, “We need to be empowering climate-adapted communities. That can’t be done just in a top down or infrastructure way, it has to be thought about holistically. We need to think about how communities, governments and industry can collaborate.”
Briony is also bringing these perspectives and experiences to her leadership of MSDI’s Fire to Flourish. Through deep collaboration with communities recovering from the 2019/20 Australian bushfire season, Fire to Flourish aims to trial and scale innovations in community-led resilience. The Program is a five-year transdisciplinary program working at the intersection of disaster resilience and community development, in partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Metal Manufactures Pty Ltd and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.
In her roles as MSDI Water Director and CEO Fire to Flourish, Briony has the opportunity to create a space for transdisciplinary work that she has found so enriching and valuable across her career.
She can also ensure that collaborative experience contributes to the whole of MSDI and the broader Monash University community network. MSDI Water and Fire to Flourish are hubs of knowledge that support the MSDI strategy, and are also conduits that connect the institute to relevant expertise across the University.
Water and community are such important parts of creating places that we love and care for.
Briony believes that, “We’ve got to learn how to work differently across society and value different types of knowledge.
From Indigenous, community, science and practitioners, they all have an important role to play to solve our shared challenges.”
She knows that change can be hard but Briony also knows that we will find the solutions together when we have a shared, aspirational vision of the future, as well as the structures, mindset and practices that allow us to collaborate.