Unconference 1

Massey University hosted what is thought to be New Zealand’s first unconference on November the 3rd 2011.

The event, at the Manawatu campus, was part of the Challenging Sustainability project funded by the university’s Strategic Initiatives Fund.

Organiser, Associate Professor Christine Cheyne, says an unconference is the opposite of the usual conference format that tends to be top-down, with one-way communication.

“Unconferencing is participant-driven and involves a level playing field of communication. It explicitly recognises that knowledge is shared by all participants.”

Dr Cheyne, one of New Zealand’s leading local government researchers, says the Local Government Act requires councils to make sustainability a core part of their planning and decision-making.

“Councils are very much focused on the longer-term and want their sustainability planning to both be informed by research, and inform further research,” she says. “That’s where Massey researchers come in.”

The Challenging Sustainability project aims to foster “living laboratories” where staff and student research is connected to communities.

The project has launched collaborations with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Wellington City Council, and Palmerston North City Council to connect Massey research with local government efforts to promote sustainability.

It involves working with councils on a wide range of land-use issues, including rural subdivision, the socio-economic implications of irrigation and the design of urban agriculture.

“For Massey this is a fantastic way of linking our curriculum and research to pressing challenges facing councils and communities”, says Dr Cheyne.