Capacity for Transition

The Collaboration Lab

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

Collaboration in action (stock image)


Challenge funding: $1,500,000

Research duration: November 2016 – June 2019

What Are We Doing?

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 will help address these gaps. The Collaboration Lab will use case studies from the best collaborations occurring throughout New Zealand, to develop tools for developing and implementing pathways towards achieving water quality limits and other community values.

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • Our goal is for citizens and scientists to use our research to be more effective in participating in collaborations. The Collaboration Lab is developing a model to understand what conditions, capabilities and capacities influence the success of collaborative processes. This model has been co-developed with collaboration practitioners across New Zealand. Read a draft description of the model here.
  • 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.
  • The Collaboration Lab has 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 next be tested with other collaboration practitioners. Read more in Powhiri as a Tool for Collaboration (PDF). A video is coming soon.
  • Community participation in freshwater management decisions has been measured in catchments in the Waikato, Northland and Hawkes Bay regions over time. Collaboration Lab researchers found that participation increased 7% between 2015 and 2017. While rates of participation were similar in catchments with collaborative and non-collaborative processes, public perceptions of freshwater management decisions improved in the two catchments using collaborative planning processes (Northland and Waikato), and declined in the region where the collaborative process was not completed (Hawkes Bay). The survey will be repeated in 2019.
  • 16 New Zealanders using collaboration practices in their work 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). This group continues to build one another’s collaboration capabilities at the Koaro website.
  • 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.

In the Media

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 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


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.

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.

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 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.


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


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

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

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

Collaboration as an emergent property

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


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


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


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


Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand

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


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