Archive for January, 2010

Fostering Rural Innovation

January 28th, 2010

normal_plant-cotton-ruralInnovation is the creation and application of new ideas into products and services that benefit an industry, organisation, nation or society. The importance of innovation is well recognised by rural people, particularly in the areas of agriculture, education and healthcare. The Australian Government recognised its importance with its Review of the National Innovation System (2008).

Dr Philip Thomas from the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, in collaboration with other UNE staff and Industry and Investment NSW, is driving UNE’s research on innovation and adoption.  Through the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC), Professor Bob Martin has been active in fostering this research agenda, which has also benefited from the support of the Sheep CRC. A related health innovations theme is being led by Professor Steven Campbell from the School of Health.

The focus of the research team is on strengthening UNE’s innovation research capabilities by establishing strategic collaborations. The approach is to:

  • create strong connections with the private sector and public and higher education institutions;
  • coordinate UNE’s capacity to service the need for achieving innovation; and
  • reduce the fragmentation that inhibits rural innovation-to-adoption research and practice.

The research involves:

  • identification and application of cutting-edge research tools to assist in creating innovation;
  • identification and use  of advanced translation strategies to support adoption; and
  • improvement in organisational processes, to ensure receptivity to innovation.

Dr Thomas recently co-presented a paper with Dr David Evans (Atlatl Management P/L) at the Australasia-Pacific Extension Network 5th International Conference entitled ‘Intentional Innovation Communities; Fast-Tracking Radical Improvement of Australia’s Innovation Performance’. This paper explained the concept of an Intentional Innovation Community (IIC) and outlined a proposal for a demonstration project in a rural / regional setting in Australia.

With the support of Bob Martin, planning for pilots is proceeding with Industry & Investment NSW, an agricultural interest group in Tamworth, PIIC and the NSW Farmers Association. Discussions are also underway for the involvement of other interested parties including Nuffield Scholars. It is expected the pilots will commence in early-mid 2010.

In July 2010, Dr Thomas will be chairing a meeting for CEO’s of Cooperative Research Centres on Innovation and Adoption at the Australian Society of Animal Production Biennial Conference, to be held at UNE.  So far 5 CRC CEO’s have indicated their intention to participate in what will prove to be a lively and engaging session.

For more information contact the researcher, Dr Philip Thomas:

Regional Development

January 25th, 2010

september-2009-268Across the New England and surrounding regions there is an enormous number of natural resource and land use, economic and social development issues to be tackled involving state and local government agencies, non-government organisations and communities. To ensure the best solutions to the challenges requires excellent data, analysis and decision support.

Under the Rural Resurgence programme a number of projects have been initiated that deal with different aspects of this challenge. These include work by Dr Lou Conway and Professor Alison Sheridan and by Professor Brian Dollery and Bligh Grant, all from the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy.

In late 2009, Professor Paul Martin worked closely with the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, three NSW State Ministers and senior officials to consider the potential of a regional research hub to coordinate and fund long term research. The active support of the Chancellor, the then Vice Chancellor, Dr Conway, Professor Sheridan, Dr Amanda Kennedy and Dr Jacqueline Williams from the Professions and Dr Julian Prior from Arts and Sciences, has been vital to advancing this concept. The response from government agencies has been very positive. It is hoped that during 2010 UNE will be able to lock in, to a well-structured and supported approach to this research.

This project is a prime example of UNE working with its community to create stronger communities and stronger links between UNE and the region. For more information on this project contact Professor Paul Martin at:

UNE Improving Life in Rural Communities

January 21st, 2010

normal_trees-q0026Rural people and communities experience significant social and professional isolation including the lack of access to formal education, vocational and social information, and professional services. This can adversely impact individual and community health and wellbeing and the resilience of rural people.

Launched in 2009 the UNE’s Rural Resurgence Initiative (RRI), a cluster of research projects, aims to assist rural people and communities by tackling knowledge disadvantage in its different forms. The projects are all focussed on working with communities to improve access to knowledge so as to allow improvements in health, education, social welfare, employment and economic capacity in rural communities.

There are around 10 projects in various stages of development under the Rural Resurgence banner, including:

Access to Professional Services

Inequity of access to professional services goes to the heart of communities. It spills over into difficulties attracting new staff, conducting businesses, promoting opportunities and creating new enterprises. The issues that prevent there being sufficient services for rural people and sufficient support for rural professionals include some that are specific to a particular profession and many that are common to all.

In 2008 UNE held a Rural Professional Services summit involving over 30 professional workforce groups. The participants scoped a research program to improve rural access to professional services. The Summit identified 14 key research issues including; better understanding of the needs of professional service providers, recruitment and retention, Continuing Professional Development, supporting professional associations, innovations in the delivery of services and better addressing of personal and family needs.

Eight of these professional bodies are now working with UNE researchers to create a program to address some of these issues. In August 2009 a preliminary survey of needs was initiated. During the coming year detailed consultation will be carried out to specify the questions, methods and funding support that will be required to address the issues that have been raised.

This project involves staff from the School of Law, the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy and Professor Belinda Tynan, leader of the DEHub project. The co-ordinator is Dr Amanda Kennedy:

‘DE Hub: Innovation in Distance Learning’ project

January 18th, 2010

de-hub-logoThe ‘DE Hub: Innovation in Distance Learning’ project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, has been established as a central agency or ‘hub’ for the development, facilitation, and dissemination of research on best practices in distance education in the Australian higher education sector. As a consortia of four universities, UNE, CQU, USQ, and CSU, DE Hub seeks to bring together the expertise of academics across these institutions to pool resources, strengthen research outcomes and reduce overlap and duplication. DE Hub’s research team is exploring fifteen key research areas under the banner of our three key research themes: Distance Education Research and Development, Distance Education Community and Open Learning, and Distance Education Teaching and Learning (more information on this research can be found here: Hub/Research_Themes <> ). DE Hub staff are also facilitating the dissemination of information and resources through the DE Hub website ( <> ).

DE Hub will engage in national and global collaborations on evidence-based approaches to new teaching technologies and build capacity across the sector. It will promote innovative modes of teaching and learning that strengthen the capacity of regional universities to meet the demands of their distance education students and to assist rural communities enhance their economic and social sustainability. DE Hub has identified a distinctive strategy that will consolidate sector expertise in the use of technologies and enhance and build upon existing leadership in distance education. There is an absence of a dedicated higher education agency to support the sector on best approaches to learning technologies, to reduce duplication and address student attrition in distance education. Australia is more wired than ever before, but we are yet to capitalise on this infrastructure to enhance access to education. Increasing non-metropolitan participation rates will have high impact, economically and socially, and shift the paradigm of relying on major population centres for basic needs to enhance productivity and sustainability of previously vulnerable communities.

DE Hub is facilitating research into distance education practices through a range of activities. DE Hub’s development of the Virtual Worlds Working Group has brought together researchers from across the consortia to undertake research around the use of virtual worlds in education. DE Hub also recently received a $74 000 grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Council of Australian-Latin American Relations (COALAR) to facilitate an academic exchange with several key South American distance education providers. A similar application was recently put into DFAT’s Council of Australian-Arab Relations to facilitate a research-network building exercise with several North African distance education providers and we are awaiting news on this.

DE Hub, as a central agency for distance education best practices, will be the primary ‘first step’ site on the way to updating and improving pedagogical approaches within these areas. The key DE Hub operational priorities of ‘ease-of-access’, ‘ease-of-understanding’, and ‘ease-of-implementation’ are aimed at contributing towards DE Hub’s goal of being the principal resource available to people engaged in distance education.

For further information on DE Hub please contact the Director, Professor Belinda Tynan ( or +61 2 6773 3196) or the Project Manager, Dr. Nathan Wise ( or +61 2 6773 2810).


January 14th, 2010

Len UnsworthA sequence of projects in the area of multiliteracies indicates the emerging strength of this field at UNE. Professor Len Unsworth has secured an ARC Discovery grant (2005-2007) and three ARC Linkage grants (2006-2009; 2008-2011; 2009-2012) in this field.
The ARC Discovery (Image/Text Relations in Narrative and Information Texts for Children in Print and Electronic Media: Multimodal Text Description for Multiliteracies Education) focused on three main literacy areas: children’s literature in the form of picture books, science books for primary age children, and educational e-texts relevant to primary school social studies curricula.
The ARC Linkage grant (New Dimensions of Group Literacy Tests for Schools: Multimodal reading comprehension in conventional and computer-based formats) focused on image/text relations as a foundation for effective literacy assessment tools incorporating the comprehension strategies required to understand conventional and computer based texts with increased integration of images and print.
Teaching effective 3D authoring in the middle school years: Multimedia grammatical design and multimedia authoring pedagogy (ARC Linkage 2008-2011)’ with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, focuses on multimedia writing pedagogy to prepare students for a world where communication is increasingly digital, multimedia and online. The pedagogy is distinguished by developing students’ explicit knowledge of ‘grammatical’ design – strategically integrating the meaning-making resources of language, image, sound and movement in dynamic, three dimensional compositional contexts.
The most recent project, led by Professor Michael Bittman with Associate Professor Leonie Rutherford and Professor Len Unsworth (Digital Natives’: Growing up with new and old media in Australia) ARC Linkage 2009-2012, with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Australian Communications and Media Authority seeks to develop sophisticated digital literacy for both the future of children, the cultural, social and economic well-being of the nation. Investing in the development of a digitally literate Australian population has become an explicit means for promoting the future economic and social well-being of the nation.
The impact of the multiliteracies work in the school sector is illustrated by the receipt of an Association of Independent Schools, WA research grant ‘Knowing and using the language of informative and argumentative writing: Enhancing the potential of text types for transformative learning’ with Associate Professor Mary Macken-Horarik.
The significance of this research is evident in Associate Professor Mary Macken-Horarik’s extensive publications in this and related areas and in Professor Unsworth’s publication record dealing with the explicit development of students’ systematic knowledge about language and images, in traditional and computer-based media, as a practical tool to improve critical comprehension of different types of texts and effective production of texts to demonstrate effective learning and critical response. This entails complementary research embracing linguistic and visual semiotic analysis as well as research on children’s learning through both digital and paper-based multimedia texts. This bridging of social semiotic and pedagogic research is also being extended in publications by other members of the English and Literacies Academic Team including the publication this year of a new book by Dr Susan Feez on Montessori and Early Childhood.

Migration Matters in Southeast Asia

January 11th, 2010

amarjit-kaurCross-border flows of people, goods and capital, consistent with neo-liberal doctrine and increased integration of economies, are fundamental features of economic globalisation. However, while trade and investment flows are welcomed by nations, immigration is a contentious issue, particularly in western democracies, but also in the Asia-Pacific. There are currently about 200 million international migrants, of whom about 90 per cent are migrant workers. Mixed migration movements (refugees and displaced persons) and forced migration and human trafficking is also on the rise. For most governments, migration is increasingly seen to undermine border control systems and is related to security threats and terrorism. Increasing population diversity also raises questions about national identity and citizenship while transnational connections are viewed as unfavourable to nation-state sovereignty.
Effective governance of labour migration depends more on interstate cooperation and transnational networks rather than international institutions such as UNCHR or the ILO alone. Human rights and human welfare should be the main priority since the guest worker program is increasingly seen as the optimal solution to fill labour market gaps. The contracts offered to foreign workers are typically short-term, and include a range of restrictions: the majority of workers must return to their home country when their contract is completed; they are not permitted to seek employment elsewhere; they are they allowed to have their families accompany them; and they cannot settle in the country. Most migrant workers are also locked into exploitative labour conditions and the ever-increasing drive for higher profits has encouraged use of undocumented or irregular labour and promoted human trafficking.  Meanwhile, political leaders zealously seek to control mobility through evolving border control regimes, more border fences, and tougher legislation.
Professor Amarjit Kaur’s main research is centred on transnational labor movements; theoretical frameworks to illuminate historical analysis and enhance transnational approaches to migration issues; and research on (and involvement in) NGO activities, focussing on women domestic workers, refugees and trafficked persons. (See
Amarjit has international collaborative links in Asia, Australia and Europe and her research has been supported by a variety of funding agencies, including the Australian Research Council, AusAID, the Toyota and Japan Foundations, the British Academy, the International Institute of Social History and the Wellcome Trust. Amarjit has also served on an AusAID Technical Assessment Panel for selection of tenders for the Asia Regional Trafficking In Persons Project, and was a participant in the Asia-Pacific Roundtable World Bank/UNDP Regional Consultation on the Global Human Development Report 2009.
Amarjit is currently supervising six doctoral students researching on international migration in the Asia-Pacific (labour migration, human trafficking; refugees). She is also involved in organising three panels on “A global perspective on continuities and discontinuities in 19th- and 20th-century mass migration systems” with American, European, Asian and Australian colleagues for the 21st International Congress of Historical Sciences in Amsterdam (2010) and a joint UNE and University of Singapore Workshop on “Safe Migration Channels for Women Migrants” in November 2010.

Centre for Local Government

January 7th, 2010

Centre for Local GovernmentUNE’s Centre for Local Government, headed by Professor Brian Dollery, has recently undertaken extensive research into the devolution of political and economic authority, in particular the ‘place-shaping’ approach developed in England by the Lyons Inquiry into local government reform.
There is a strong global trend toward the devolution of both political and fiscal authority across developed and developing economies. The World Bank has endorsed and labelled this trend Local Economic Development (LED) However, unlike the 1980s and 1990s, where devolution was initiated and sponsored by parastatals (quasi-governmental organizations, corporations, businesses, and NGOs) current trends see devolution to municipal, elected authorities.

This global trend to devolution, and importantly a strong role for leadership within this, is exemplified by the idea of ‘place-shaping’, which gives centre-stage to the significance of ‘place’, especially in conditions of economic and social marginality. Place-shaping is supported at both the theoretical and moral levels by a number of ideas in contemporary thinking in social science, but, most importantly, the over-arching goal of continued economic growth and prosperity, particularly outside the metropolitan centres.

As an appealing amalgam of important empirical and normative trends, place-shaping is a powerful basis for contemporary policy formulation. More specifically, it involves:

  • Increased powers for generating income at the local level;
  • Articulating a strong idea of local identity and local ‘sense of place’ in particular economic identity and where a community will be in the future – inclusive of environmental sustainability;
  • The encouragement of partnerships (with both private enterprise and community-based groups) for service delivery such as aged care; and
  • An emphasis on the idea of leadership, both political and administrative.

The idea of place-shaping is immediately relevant and offers the possibility of exploring council-led economic development and regional resurgence, rather than seeing the regions as recipients acts of largesse on the part of state and federal government agencies with occasional peaks of (seasonally dependant) prosperity.
More importantly, it also offers the possibility of re-defining what is meant by prosperity, aligned with the ethical and moral imperatives of our times – environmental sustainability, community sustainability, and also democratic sustainability – something which is usually neglected in contemporary discussions of local and regional development.
Members of the UNE Centre for Local Government have published a series of articles addressing place-shaping at both theoretical and practical levels, focussing in particular on the New England/North-West region. To some extent our communities already engage in ‘place-shaping’ by branding themselves on the basis of their history/identity/difference as a form of marketing, such as – Glen Innes as ‘Celtic Country’, Tamworth as the ‘Country Music Capital’, Walcha as an ‘Open Air Gallery’ and so on. In all of these instances, councils work in close partnership with business. Further projects will continue to address this series of questions, working in partnership with these communities.

Rural Healthcare Research

January 4th, 2010

Spatial CRCThe deficiencies in rural and remote health and medical services are well documented. Distance and rural location translate into space between users, practitioners and facilities, which in turn translates into time delays, costs and significant difficulties in bringing together all of the elements needed for effective primary healthcare.  The maxim of the patient’s need for the right health professional, with the right skills being in the right place and at the right time is most clear in the rural and remote settings.  Workforce gaps, the insufficiency of general and specialist infrastructures, the impact of transport and logistics upon delivery of and outcomes from services, the effect of remoteness and rural demographics on underlying health status are but some of the challenges which have a spatial dimension.

There are many strategies and innovations that are being used or developed, but often these are not effective or not readily adopted. The School of Health and the School of Rural Medicine, working with innovation researchers from the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, are creating a new research programme, partly supported by the CRCSI Health research theme, to identify useful innovations systematically and to improve the way in which these are translated into practice.

Led by Professor Steven Campbell with colleagues from the Schools, the proposal has attracted the keen interest of front-line health organisations in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and Western Australia.

The research will make four contributions.

1. To develop a practice-based comprehensive understanding of

  • the unmet or inadequately met needs of front-line practitioners and patients for data, better intelligence, and integration of intelligence with practice;
  • the forms in which such intelligence ought be delivered to fit with the needs of users; and
  • the systems and support needed to make such ‘solutions’ effective.

2. To allow front-line rural practitioners to test and collaboratively refine potential solution configurations.

3. Through this process, and through related investigations, to improve the intelligence provided to front-line rural practitioners. This involves:

  • Improving the comprehensiveness and quality of the data with emphasis on approaches that do not add to (and hopefully reduce) the administrative loads on primary health service deliverers;
  • ensuring that the data that is consolidated and analysed within various systems is reliable for decision-making at the front line; and
  • Ensuring that the pricing, use rights, timeliness and other considerations that can limit usefulness are also addressed.

4.    Identifying a framework for adoption, by addressing the matters that are important to primary health service deliverers such as

  • Easy integration of innovations into practice infrastructures and processes;
  • Coordination and collaboration across various service providers;
  • Education and support;
  • Economic and other incentives; and
  • Reduction of institutional or other impediments that could make adoption difficult.