Malleefowl workshop, University of Melbourne

Brendan elicits objectives
Brendan Wintle helps workshop participants extricate their fundamental objectives from their means objectives

After an illuminating weekend observing malleefowl monitoring practices, the University research team reciprocated by inviting around twenty mallee and malleefowl experts to one of our study sites, G26 Botany North. While the surrounds were not quite as picturesque, we did our best to compensate with comfy accommodation and abundant catering.

Our purpose was to develop a picture of malleefowl persistence with help from the people who know them and their environment best. We aimed to identify:

  • Objectives: What do we want for malleefowl? How will we know if we’re succeeding or failing?
  • Threats and Drivers: What processes influence our ability to achieve the objectives we have set?
  • Actions: What could be done to address the threats and drivers that negatively impact malleefowl?

We ran sessions of structured brainstorming in small groups and developed influence diagrams that connected our actions to threats and drivers, and our threats and drivers to our malleefowl objectives. Dynamics are complicated, with different processes operating at different temporal and spatial scales, and our diagrams often looked like spidery messes even as we made progress in ordering our thoughts and theories.

An influence diagram
An influence diagram in its inevitable ‘horrendogram’ phase

Since we’re embarking on an adaptive management project, we aim to embrace uncertainty. We encouraged our experts to disagree and to cast doubt; this will allow us to characterise our uncertainty, carry it through our modelling processes, and develop strategies that are robust to what we don’t know. Our experts filled us in on what data exist where, and for what interactions there is little or conflicting information.

Workshop group
Still stoically smiling after almost two days of modelling

Eliciting and ordering information from experts is hard work for everyone involved. It’s an art (sensing the mood of the room, maintaining morale and focus) and a science (obtaining relevant information in a meaningful format with as few biases as possible), and something that I’m very new to. A number of QAEco and ACERA researchers are expert expert-wranglers and I’m hoping to learn a lot from them as the malleefowl and kangaroo management projects progress.

Luckily for us, this cohort of experts had as much enthusiasm and stamina for the project as they did knowledge and data. The University research team is enormously grateful for their time, and we’re hoping to continue involving them in our work.

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