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Facing the Gorgon: sustainability assessment and policy learning in Western Australia

Pope, Jennifer (2007) Facing the Gorgon: sustainability assessment and policy learning in Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Sustainability assessment is emerging as a form of impact assessment with the concept of sustainability at its heart. This thesis contributes to the process of theory-building for sustainability assessment through an exploration of the development of this policy tool within the Western Australian context. Through an analysis of the sustainability assessments of the Gorgon gas development on Barrow Island and the South West Yarragadee water supply development, and a process of personal reflection, I explore the potential of sustainability assessment to contribute to a more sustainable society by facilitating learning.

While the focus of traditional forms of impact assessment has typically been 'exterior' forms of knowledge and learning relating to the potential impacts of a proposal, or to process methodologies and governance arrangements, in this thesis I argue that sustainability assessment processes should also facilitate 'interior' forms of learning that excavate and challenge underpinning assumptions about the organisation of society, including shared discourses and storylines, as well as personal views and beliefs.

To achieve this aim, I maintain that sustainability assessment should be a proactive process that is integrated with the proposal development, framed by an open question and guided by a 'sustainability decision-making protocol' that operationalises sustainability for the decision at hand. It should be guided by a structured process framework that assures attention is given to issues that might otherwise be neglected. Each step of the process framework should represent a space for inclusive deliberation, with the concept of sustainability itself acting as a catalyst for learning and reflexivity.
Located within the institutions of modern industrial society, deliberative sustainability assessment processes can contribute to the emergence of an 'integral sustainability' that embraces and reconnects the interior and exterior, collective and individual dimensions of policy-making and of society in general. The influence of sustainability assessment can thus extend beyond the immediate decision at hand to contribute to a momentum for societal change towards a more sustainable future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Supervisor(s): Marinova, Dora
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