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Capacity for Transition

The Collaboration Lab

Determining the role of collaboration in transforming management of land and water

Collaboration Framework


Challenge funding: $1,500,000

Research duration: November 2016 – June 2019

What Did We Do?

In New Zealand, adversarial processes have dominated natural resource decision-making processes, leading to stalemate and inaction. The magnitude and complexity of the challenges for New Zealand’s land and water require science and society to interact in new ways. One of these new ways of working is collaboration.

Social science over the past 20 years has emphasised the importance of collaboration for achieving successful outcomes in complex systems. However, there is insufficient long-term evaluation of collaborative approaches, a lack of information about Māori participation in collaborative processes, and a scarcity of studies on how researchers undertake interdisciplinary research. This means collaboration has proven very difficult in practice.

The Collaboration Lab programme aimed to address these gaps. The Collaboration Lab developed case studies from the best collaborations occurring throughout New Zealand, to understand collaborative practice and how to build collaborative capacity. The Collaboration Lab also investigated collaborative policy-making processes, Māori models of engagement, and the impact of transdisciplinary research approaches.

Our goal is for citizens and scientists to be more effective in participating in collaborations, for policy-makers to have greater understanding about how and when to use collaborative processes, and for science research team collaborations to be more effective.

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • The Collaboration Lab developed a practical model of what conditions, capabilities and resourcing are necessary for collaboration to be successful, to be used in designing, evaluating or improving collaborative processes. This model was co-developed with collaboration practitioners across New Zealand. See the key variables diagram.
  • This research is being developed into some practical resources for helping collaborative processes and practices.
  • Community confidence and participation in environmental management decisions were measured in three regions using collaborative policy-making processes (Northland, Waikato, Hawkes Bay). Collaboration Lab researchers found that residents perceived water management decision-making to be slightly more responsive to their concerns, but no more effective or fair. This tells us more needs to be done to make communities aware of collaborative processes in their catchment, and ensure participants are representative of their communities.
  • Members of The Collaboration Lab team developed a model for collaboration based on pōwhiri, to support collaborations with iwi, hapu and Māori communities. The model has been tested and validated by iwi groups, including Nga Rangatahi A Iwi, a group of young Māori future leaders, and will be refined. Watch the video here, or read more in Powhiri as a Tool for Collaboration (PDF).
  • The Collaboration Lab used New Zealand case studies to test the I2S (Integration and Implementation Science) Framework. A significant relationship was found, suggesting that when more elements of the I2S Framework were used in research, end-users found the results more usable, and the research was more effective. This evidence supports Our Land and Water’s commitment to co-innovation and transdisciplinary research and can help researchers. Read the abstract here.
  • Co-innovation across the full Our Land and Water research programme is supported via Collaboration Lab workshops and training in integrated and transdisciplinary research practice. Half of the journal publications published or submitted by Our Land and Water researchers had stakeholders as co-authors by mid-2018, and frequency of collaboration increased by 66% (from 1.6 to 2.6 institutes per research programme). Challenge-funded programmes maintain an average of 5.3 collaborations.

Research Updates

Door of meeting room. Copyright Dmitrii Shironosov /

Jul 13 2020

Think ‘Outside the Room’ When Collaborating with Community

Many local governments in Aotearoa New Zealand have, over the past 10 years, invited community ...
Outcome Spaces Framework+

Mar 17 2020

Science Excellence vs Research Impact: Can Researchers Achieve Both?

“A novel experiment” is how former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman described his brainchildren, ...
Scaling Up New Gif

Mar 16 2020

12 Questions Scientists Should Ask Stakeholders to Increase Research Impact

Back in 2014, MS Srinivasan – a NIWA principal scientist and co-leader of Our Land ...
Principles of success for co-innovation, Boyce et al, 2016

Aug 1 2019

Five Principles of Co-innovation

What is co-innovation and how can it be applied in practice in a research project? ...

Sep 30 2017

Can Pōwhiri Help Us Collaborate?

Adversarial processes have dominated natural resource decisions in New Zealand, which can lead to stalemate, ...

In the Media

Council community collaboration over water management lacking

LG magazine (page 37), September 2020

“Collaborative processes typically have involved getting 20 to 30 people in a room for discussion. Our research tells us this way of thinking about collaboration is too narrow.”

Five Principles of Co-innovation

Integration and Implementation Insights, 16 July 2019

Helen Percy offers her insight into what co-innovation is, and how it can be applied in practice in a research project.

Unintended consequences of honouring what communities value and aspire to

Integration and Implementation Insights, 26 January 2017

A lesson learnt for boundary setting was that starting with what the community wants leads to a much broader array of desirable outcomes and exposes the limitations of what can be predicted.

Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand

Integration and Implementation Insights, 8 December 2016

Bringing people together around an issue such as water through a powhiri process can mean mana is recognised. Not only is the mana of the participants considered, but the mana of water and the mana of the issues related to water are considered too.


Community Involvement

  • The Collaboration Lab was itself a collaborative project, which connected with about 150 people through its research.
  • The research was guided by the problems and questions facing 37 New Zealanders using collaboration practices in their work. Of these, 16 participated in a collaborative group (2017–2018). You can explore their connections and read and watch conversations about their collaborative practises at the Starmap. Read about how this was developed in Making Practice Visible (PDF, draft). The Collaboration Lab practitioners group continues to build one another’s collaboration capabilities at the Koaro website.
  • A dissemination symposium was held for Southland, in collaboration with Environment Southland and Department of Conservation (DoC).
  • A Collaboration Counterfactual symposium asking when not to use collaboration was held with 20 individuals with experience in collaboration, from AgResearch, Department of Conservation, Deer Industry New Zealand, Manaaki Whenua, Environment Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Ravensdown, DairyNZ, ESR and Australia National University.
  • Collaboration Lab researchers developed a useful tool for transdisciplinary research called the Outcome Spaces Framework. An Outcome Spaces Framework workshop to test the tool was held for the four environmental National Science Challenges: Our Land and Water, Biological Heritage, Deep South and Resilience to Nature's Challenges.
  • The Collaboration Lab convened a New Zealand co-conference of the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2017 in Leuphana, Germany. View the presentations from the conference here.
  • Public lecture to University of Third Age on collaboration and social licence to farm in New Zealand.
  • Public workshop on collaborative practice.

Team Snapshot

Research Outputs


Outcome spaces framework

Mitchell C, Fam D
td-net toolbox profile (9), Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences: td-net toolbox for co-producing knowledge,

A practical framework to plan for preferred outcomes in transdisciplinary projects. The outcome is a map that compiles the project outcomes expected by the collective of project participants. The participants are project team members. The moderator needs to prepare the map of the outcome spaces to be displayed on a paperboard, table or the like, cards to stick or pin on the map and pens.

Enabling Collaborative Practice: Key Variables for Design, Evaluation or Trouble Shooting Collaborative Practice

Graeme Nicholas
Visual Summary for Practitioners (A3 PDF)

This 2-page PDF is suitable for practitioners and decision-makers to print and use. It describes the conditions, capabilities and capacities that influence the success of collaborative processes. The PDF is formated to print as a double-sided A3.

Think ‘Outside the Room’ When Collaborating with Community

Marc Tadaki, Jim Sinner
Our Land and Water Research Summary for Regional Councils


Co-innovation and Integration and Implementation Sciences: Measuring their research impact - examination of five New Zealand primary sector case studies

Bruce Small, Melissa Robson-Williams, Penny Payne, James A. Turner, Roger Robson-Williams & Akiko Horita
NJAS: Impact in Agricultural and Life Sciences, September 2021

The Primary Innovation programme investigated co-innovation to solve complex agricultural problems in five New Zealand primary sector projects. The projects engaged diverse stakeholders using a collaborative, integrative process to co-define problems, and co-create and implement solutions. Each project included a Reflexive Monitor, who facilitated group relationship and integration of multiple disciplinary and stakeholder knowledges. This paper seeks to address the following research question: Is co-innovation an effective research approach for achieving societal impact from innovations? Results indicated that the five behavioural principles of co-innovation and the presence or absence of elements defined in the Integration and Implementation Sciences Framework (i2S) for enhancing research impact were positively related to the three success measures. This suggests validity of these measurement tools, and of using a co-innovation approach and/or systematic attention to the elements of the i2S framework to enhance the processes, outcomes and impacts of projects tackling complex real-world problems.

Enabling collaborative practice: a practical model

Graeme Nicholas, Maria Hepi, Wayne Duncan
Enabling collaborative practices (book published by Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited, April 2022)

What conditions, capabilities and capacities influence the success of collaborative processes? This paper summarises the methodology and findings of research to discover key factors affecting collaborative processes by looking through the eyes of those practicing what they recognise as collaborative practice. The paper treats practitioners as co-creating, with the researchers, knowledge on collaborative practice to guide contested land and water decisions. Collaboration is viewed as an emergent social practice rather than as a method or technology, and draws on three sources of information to develop a model of critical variables for constructive collaborative practice: immersion in collaborative practice, in-depth interviews and a sense-making workshop with practitioners. The resulting model follows logic used by Ostrom’s modelling of attributes and variables of diverse social-ecological systems. We augment the social practice theory of Shove, Pantzar and Watson to model critical variables for collaborative practice under four headings: materiality, competence, meaning and history. Finally, the paper discusses implications and relevance of the model.

Where to for collaboration in land and water policy development in Aotearoa New Zealand? Guidance for authorising agencies

Nicholas Kirk, Melissa Robson-Williams, Gabriele Bammer, Jeff Foote, Lian Butcher, Neil Deans, Garth Harmsworth, Maria Hepi, Linda Lilburne, Barbara Nicholas, Bruce Small, James A. Turner & Justine Young
Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, August 2021

For the past decade, collaboration has been the preferred method of devising land and water policy in Aotearoa NZ to achieve agreed outcomes. However, the use of collaboration in policymaking is at a crossroads, as some argue it is unrealistic to expect stakeholders and tangata whenua with competing interests to work in partnership on contentious policy issues. To help clarify the future direction of collaboration, this paper provides policy agencies with prompts to reflect ex ante on the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing collaboration. We identify situations that are potentially less suited to collaboration owing to factors that are challenging to overcome through process design. Four issues that affect the success of collaborations are identified: the nature of the policy problem, the personal and collective qualities of those involved, power relationships, and the collaborative process.

Transferring the impacts of pilot-scale studies to other scales: Understanding the role of non-biophysical factors using field-based irrigation studies

Graeme Nicholas, MS Srinivasan, Sam Beechener, Jeff Foote, Melissa Robson-Williams, Stephen FitzHerbert
Agricultural Water Management, April 2020

Researchers are challenged to design research that can generate credible claims regarding cross-scale impact and adoption. However, the context in which new knowledge or innovation is developed and tested may differ from that for the uptake and use of those findings. This paper reports insight into the problem of designing impactful research and proposes a model to assist bio-physical researchers in accounting for non-biophysical context when moving between scales or settings. The use of the model is illustrated by application in two New Zealand-based irrigation water use efficiency (WUE) field studies. We developed a social dynamics model (Composite Context Model, CCM) from existing social systems frameworks. By demonstrating the use of our CCM for documenting key non-biophysical variables, we aim to equip researchers with a practical tool to assist in the interpretation of findings across contexts, that include both biophysical and non-biophysical factors.

Interpreting practice: Producing practical wisdom from qualitative study of practitioner experience

Graeme Nicholas, Jeff Foote
International Journal of Social Research Methodology, July 2020

This paper discusses methodological challenges in researching practice. The primary challenge arises from the view that practice is inextricable from its performance, and that performance is embedded in social relations, material infrastructures and historical context. The paper argues for an approach that works with practitioners, which would support practical wisdom in decision-making. A further methodological challenge is that of defining the object of practice. The paper argues for avoiding tight definitions in favour of discovering from the lived experience of informants a recognisable ‘family likeness’ in relation to the object of practice. The paper shows how one research team responded to the challenges by its choices of stance, lenses through which to attend to information, selection of sources, and how to discern and present emergent insights.

Assessing research impact potential: using the transdisciplinary Outcome Spaces Framework with New Zealand’s National Science Challenges

Ronlyn Duncan, Melissa Robson-Williams & Dena Fam
Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, January 2020

Calls for science to have impact as well as excellence have been loud and clear from research funders, policymakers and research institutions for some time. Transdisciplinary research (TDR) is expected to deliver impact by connecting scientists with stakeholders and end users to co-produce knowledge to respond to complex issues. While New Zealand’s science system is geared to deliver excellence, its capability to also deliver impact beyond academic institutions is less clear. This paper firstly presents findings from testing innovations to the TDR Outcome Spaces Framework (OSF+) with four National Science Challenges (NSCs). We conclude that OSF+ is a useful tool for planning for multiple outcomes and assessing the potential for impact. Secondly, it presents findings of how using OSF+ to assess research impact potential revealed a range of implicit theories of change (i.e. catalyst, deficit, engagement and collaboration) across the NSCs.

Forging future organizational leaders for sustainability science

J. Gordon, K. Bawa, G. Bammer, C. Boone, J. Dunne, D. Hart, J. Hellmann, A. Miller, M. New, J. Ometto, S. Pickett, G. Wendorf, A. Agrawal, P. Bertsch, C. D. Campbell, P. Dodd, A. Janetos, H. Mallee, K. Taylor
Nature Sustainability, July 2019

Our Land and Water director Ken Taylor contributed to this paper in Nature Sustainability, with thinking influenced by the work of the Collaboration Lab. Leaders of sustainability research organizations need to provide an environment where interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science flourish. Developing the necessary leadership skills and attributes requires new, targeted training programmes.

The changing role of science and scientists in supporting community-centered land and water policy processes in Canterbury, New Zealand

Robson-Williams, M., Norton, N., Davie, T., Taylor, K., Kirk, N.
Case Studies in the Environment, October 2018

In this case study, we examine the role of science and scientists in community-led collaborative policy processes. We outline the shift from science-led linear policy processes to community-led science-informed policy processes. From this experience, a set of principles for scientists working in these environments was created. 

Transformation is ‘Experienced, Not Delivered’: Insights from grounding the discourse in practice to inform policy and theory

Duncan, R., Robson-Williams, M., Nicholas, G., Turner, J., Smith, R., Diprose, D.
Sustainability, 2018

Drawing on perspectives of practitioners involved in working with communities to bring about change in how land and water are managed, the research provides insights on where transformation takes place, what the first step of transformation might look like, and what might be deemed transformational. The paper also builds on social practice theory to produce an explanatory model of transformational capacity.

How to improve water governance in multifunctional irrigation systems? Balancing stakeholder engagement in hydrosocial territories

Ricart, S., Rico, A., Kirk, N., Bülow, F., Ribas-Palom, A., Pavón, D.
International Journal of Water Resources Development, 2018

An evidence-based analysis of stakeholder engagement in decision-making processes affecting multifunctional irrigation systems. The case studies show how stakeholder engagement in irrigation systems shapes hydrosocial territories.

Collaborative Planning in Response to Policy Failure: The Case of Freshwater Management in Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand

Kirk, N.
Case Studies in the Environment, January 2017

This article identifies the factors behind a shift to collaborative planning in regional freshwater management. The case study explores the Canterbury Regional Council’s failure to create authoritative policy, and subsequent pursuit of collaborative planning mechanisms for freshwater management in the region.


Evolving Public Perceptions of Freshwater Management in Three New Zealand Regions

Pamela Booth, Pike Brown, Jim Sinner
Manaaki Whenua report, June 2017

Community Perceptions of Collaborative Freshwater Planning: A survey in three New Zealand region

Jim Sinner, Mark Newton, Pike Brown
Cawthron Institute, Report No 2844. April 2016


Collaborative expert judgement analysis of uncertainty associated with catchment-scale nitrogen load modelling with OVERSEER®

Zeb Etheridge, L Fietje, A Metherell, L Lilburne, O Mojsilovich, M Robson, K Steele and M Hanson
Farm environmental planning – Science, policy and practice. Occasional Report No. 31. Fertilizer and Lime Research Centre, Massey University. 2018

The widespread view that use of OVERSEER®-derived N loss estimates to set catchment-scale nutrient limits is an inappropriate use of this tool needs to be addressed to maximise stakeholder acceptance of these limits. Accounting for uncertainty is the best way to deal with this issue. This paper shows how a formal expert judgement elicitation framework was used to approximately quantify uncertainty around catchment-scale modelled N loss rates.

The Collaboration Lab: The transformative role of collaboration in managing our land and water

Robson, M., Bammer, G., Barker, P., Foote, J., Greenhalgh, S., Haremate, G., Lauder, G., Nicholas, G., Small, B., Smith, R., Williams, R., von Pein, T.
Science and policy: Nutrient management challenges for the next generation. Occasional Report No. 30. Fertilizer and Lime Research Centre, Massey University. 2017

The Collaboration Lab has four aims: three research aims and a capacity-building aim. The research aims are: to understand how collaborative practice contributes to multiple outcomes; to build evidence of whether collaboration is successful in delivering multiple outcomes; to enhance understanding of critical factors that affect the impact of research in land and water. The capacity-building aim is to build collaborative practice and capacity in New Zealand for both collaboration practitioners and researchers.


The Collaboration Lab

Melissa Robson-Williams
Our Land and Water Symposium, 12 August 2019


Enabling collaborative practice: a practical model

Graeme Nicholas
Our Land and Water Symposium 2019, 12 August 2019


Ecologies of Expertise: Re-Evaluating Brokering in Knowledge Co-Production

Duncan, R., Robson, M., Edwards, S.
Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), September 2018

Sink or swim: A radical overhaul to water policy-making approach in New Zealand. A case study of lake Te Waihora

Robson-Williams, M
4th International water resources and wetlands conference, Tulcea, September 2018

Examining co-production and the role of brokers within New Zealand’s ‘science advisory ecosystem’

Duncan, R., Robson, M., Edwards, S.
A crisis in expertise: Legitimacy and the challenge of policymaking conference, Melbourne. February 2018

Towards an improved understanding and management of uncertainty in science investigations of environment policy options

Lilburne, L., Robson-Williams, M., Norton, N., Etheridge, Z.
9th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software, 2018

Practice that reveals the essential gestures of collaboration, through emergence, and propagates intercultural capacity

Lauder, G., Barker, P. P
New Zealand co-conference to International Transdisciplinarity Conference, Germany. September 2017


Collaboration as an emergent property

Jeff Foote, Graeme Nicholas
New Zealand co-conference to International Transdisciplinarity Conference, Germany. September 2017


Visions of collaboration: An Integration and Implementation Framework (I2S) analysis of 3 primary sector co-innovation projects

Small, B., Payne, P., Robson, M., Bammer, G.
New Zealand co-conference to International Transdisciplinarity Conference, Germany. September 2017


Road testing the I2S framework for delivering more fit for purpose science for policy

Robson, M., Small, B., Williams, R., Haremate, G., Smith R., Bammer, G.
New Zealand co-conference to International Transdisciplinarity Conference, Germany. September 2017


Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand

Rawiri Smith
New Zealand co-conference to International Transdisciplinarity Conference, Germany. September 2017



Outcome spaces framework

Mitchell C, Fam D
td-net toolbox profile (9), Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences: td-net toolbox for co-producing knowledge,

A practical framework to plan for preferred outcomes in transdisciplinary projects. The outcome is a map that compiles the project outcomes expected by the collective of project participants. The participants are project team members. The moderator needs to prepare the map of the outcome spaces to be displayed on a paperboard, table or the like, cards to stick or pin on the map and pens.

Enabling Collaborative Practice: Key Variables for Design, Evaluation or Trouble Shooting Collaborative Practice

Graeme Nicholas
Visual Summary for Practitioners (A3 PDF)

This 2-page PDF is suitable for practitioners and decision-makers to print and use. It describes the conditions, capabilities and capacities that influence the success of collaborative processes. The PDF is formated to print as a double-sided A3.

Powhiri as a tool for Collaboration

Whatahoro Cribb-Fox with Matariki Cribb-Fox
Short film, 20 June 2019

Insight into how all New Zealanders can use the elements of Powhiri as a guide for collaborations, creatively told through film.

Cultivating Citizenship, Collaboration, Contribution (Part 2)

Glen Lauder
Blog, 29 June 2019

The leading edge of innovation in collaboration is found on the ground, in new patterns of practice rather than in theory and the Collaboration Lab will bring together leading collaboration practitioners from across multiple fields to exchange across their experiences in collaboration practices, to test and develop their and our understanding of more effective methods in collaboration processes. The Collaboration Laboratory is inspired in part by the concept and evidence of social laboratories.

Cultivating Citizenship, Collaboration & Contribution (Part 1)

Glen Lauder and Phill Barker
Blog, 29 June 2019

A subjectively held practice model is one of the key tools (in what Peter Westerby calls Implicate Method). We came to witness the power of developing an individual subjective practice model through our work with collaborative groups, especially through our work with the Practitioner Fellowship, which had a developmental as well as a critical purpose, and with citizens — everywhere. This is some of the reflective work we’ve been engaging in. Plenty far to go!

Uncommon Ground

Glen Lauder
Blog, 26 June 2019

This post (Uncommon Ground) unfold four of eight touch stones and its pair (Common Ground), another four. These are proposed as touch stones of practice inside a framework and practice of implicate citizenship. Uncommon Ground applies a reconstructive lens to four touchstones of citizenship as practice.

Common Ground

Glen Lauder
Blog, 30 June 2019

This post (CommonGround) and its pair (UncommonGround), unfold eight touch stones of practice inside a framework and practice of implicate citizenship — or citizens as active members of community and practitioners of citizenship. In CommonGround we take a developmental lens on four touchstones of citizenship as practice.

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