Brian is originally from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. He has a BA (Honours) in Geography from the University of Victoria, Canada, an MA in Geography from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and a PhD from the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience (part of the Geography Department) at Durham University, UK. He is presently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Before coming to the University of Melbourne, he held a Postdoctoral Researcher position at the UNESCO Centre for Water at the University of Dundee, UK.


Brian’s research explores the topics of water, risk, scientific knowledge, expertise, and sustainable development. His recent research emphasises the role of scientific knowledge in environmental governance, situating the work at the science-society interface. He explores the (often) hidden power embedded in the knowledge that informs governance, most often relating to water and flood management. He is an applied social scientist with interest in the geographies of risk, culture, and development. He uses environmental controversies as entry points to examinations of the prevailing or dominant knowledges that inform policy and practice. He employs mixed methods, primarily qualitative, to engage with knowledge construction, calculation, and transfer in both developing and developed world contexts. His research is situated in multiple contexts (i.e., Australia, Cambodia, Canada, the UK, and Bangladesh) and across multiple scales.

IMG_2156Brian uses the social sciences to analyse how and why particular forms of knowledge become established and persist. This has enabled collaboration and engagement with NGOs, scientists, engineers, and policy makers. It is through an understanding of practitioners’ expertise and experiences that a better understanding of  governance is possible. Using science and technology studies (STS) and human geography as a foundation, his research is driven by recognition for the increasing complexity of sustainable development due to social, economic, political, and climate change. These themes coalesce around the disaster-development relationship, contributing to the wider issue of sustainable development.

Ongoing Research 

Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR). There is widespread agreement in the risk management sector that existing approaches to community engagement fail to generate interest, trust, learning, or the behavioural changes needed to increase resilience. Despite growing acceptance that community engagement is a prerequisite for resilience, risk managers and organizations remain locked into a paradigm in which engagement is synonymous with education. Education is not engagement, and there is growing acceptance that education-based activities are ineffective, necessitating the development of alternate approaches. While the message that ‘education is not engagement’ is beginning to be accepted by practitioners – evident in the changed language emanating from government – there remains a significant barrier to such engagement: there are few alternatives and even fewer empirically tested alternatives that can replace education-based practices. This lack of ‘proven’ alternatives inhibits governments, organizations, and individuals from breaking from existing, failing practices, and is the basis of this project.

The CEDRR project has developed and is testing a blended web and face-to-face approach to disaster risk reduction. Specifically, it incorporates research of learning, knowledge transfer, knowledge communication, expertise, and participation to develop an alternative approach for the agencies and organizations involved in disaster risk reduction in Victoria, Australia. Existing community engagement is developed by experts and disseminated to publics, using ‘engagement’ and ‘participation’ as tools to convince the public to accept expert planning and management. In such contexts, efforts to partner with publics are disingenuous because the experts are in control, have a predetermined objective, and dictate the ways that publics can contribute. In addition to being common, this approach is also ineffective. Similarly, the opposite ‘bottom-up’ approach is equally fraught because of its detachment from the practitioners with expertise and from the bureaucrats who understand government operations. Neither top-down nor bottom-up risk reduction is likely to succeed. Instead, DRR requires a collaborative approach in which both experts and publics are necessary but insufficient partners.

This project involves collaboration with Victoria’s State Emergency Service (SES), the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB), Red Cross, the City of Melbourne, and Cardinia Shire council.

Uptake of agricultural technologies amongst farmers in Battambang and Pailin provinces, Cambodia. Agriculture is the primary economic activity in Cambodia, accounting for 36% of the GDP and employing 71% of the population. In the last 5 years, in the north-west provinces of Battambang and Pailin, the agricultural sector has undergone a rapid expansion of area as part of a transition from rainfed maize/soybean rotations to cassava production. Cassava as currently cultivated degrades soil fertility and increases erosion. For cassava, there exist planting, growing, harvesting, post-harvest, storage, and transport ‘technologies’, which are defined as including knowledge and practices, that can delay or arrest detrimental impacts. These technologies each offer economic, environmental, and social benefits, but are not being adopted by farmers. The rapid adoption of cassava presents an opportunity to analyse farmer decision making, and of testing an approach to extension that is grounded in farmer perceptions and needs.

Research of technology adoption tends to focus on specific technologies and/or is conducted by the experts who developed the technology. No matter how objective, this means that farmers’ needs, problems, and desires are secondary to the technology. There is a critical need to balance this extension of technology in a top-down manner with farmers’ needs. Our hypothesis, supported by the social sciences, is that extension that begins with farmers and ‘looks up’ for technologies, will better align with existing efforts ‘pushing technologies down’. This project recognises the realties of both top-down and bottom-up processes, preferring to seek out connections in order to identify pathways for improved adoption.

Twelve villages from Battambang and Pailin provinces will be analysed, applying a mixed-methodology developed and tested during the preceding project (ASEM/2014/009). We will explore farmer perceptions of their problems, attuned to the role of agriculture (objective 1), what solutions they prefer (objective 2), whether experts judge their preferred solutions as feasible and whether technologies exist that would address their problems (objective 3), and whether demonstration sites showing ‘best practices’ for cassava and for farmer suggested technologies result in increased or accelerated adoption of agricultural technologies (objectives 4 and 5). We refer to objectives 1-3 as a ‘problem-solution pathway’ (PSP), which is tested and assessed in objectives 4 and 5. The over-arching research question asks: how does a PSP-based approach to extension-adoption affect the adoption of agricultural technologies amongst poor and marginalised farmers in Battambang and Pailin? This question will be answered through nine sub-questions, which organise the proposed research and this proposal.

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