Collaboration for cleaner communities
For anyone interested in the experiences of communities living in contaminated environments, the current KTP collaboration between the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) and the University of Dundee is one to follow.
Dr Irena Connon, from the University of Dundee, and Associate Professor Jason Prior, Associate Director at ISF, are working on two transdisciplinary projects that analyse the experiences and health outcomes of communities in contaminated areas and urban environments.
The first project, titled: ‘Cleaning up Contaminated Environments Using Effective Social Engagement,’ is a collaborative research project between ISF and UTS Health for the New South Wales Environmental Trust.
“It’s focused on the areas in Australia that have been affected by groundwater contamination, and looking at the remediation processes involved, particularly the human aspects. That’s things like health and disability, and other factors that affect how humans engage with the environment,” said Dr Connon.
The project will equip the remediation industry and governments with a better understanding of the vulnerability experienced by communities in contaminated environments and the stigmas associated with it.
Dr Connon will spend the next two years at UTS as a Research Fellow, working with Associate Professor Prior at ISF on this project and a new inter-university collaborative project. For the NSW Environmental Trust project, she will help to build a remediation toolkit to engage communities in decisions to enhance human-health, maximise land-use, and improve flora, fauna, soil and water in contaminated areas.
“I will consider how this can be translated into a tool which can be used by government and professionals in the industry, to work with communities on their terms, rather than on what experts think the community wants,” said Dr Connon.
Although the toolkit project is predominately centred at ISF, it is a transdisciplinary project, and requires input from the UTS Faculty of Health and Faculty of Law, South Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, City of Sydney Council, Botany Bay City Council, Australian Land and Groundwater Association and local government.
Although the details of the second project have not yet been published, Dr Connon confirms it will be large-scale with a focus on sustainable environments, planetary health, policy translation and urban planning.
“It’s focused on how we can improve urban environments to have better health outcomes for citizens. The approach doesn't just look at the relationship in a one-way sense, but that environmental health and the health of the population are mutually interlinked,” said Dr Connon.
This project will also be centred at ISF but it will include input from the UTS Faculty of Health, UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and several other universities in New South Wales.
“I think the interesting thing about this project, is we've got key skills from several universities all coming together. Rather than the universities doing the normal thing of competing against each other, we're actually working together, and using everyone's experience and knowledge - it'll have a very positive effect,” said Associate Professor Prior.
The collaborations between UTS and Dundee have been facilitated by the UTS Key Technology Partnership (KTP) program. Under this arrangement, academics from UTS and its partner universities have the opportunity to deepen their research links through academic exchange, co-publication and the joint supervision of PhD candidates.
For Dr Connon the KTP program was appealing for the value of meeting face-to-face instead of scheduling meetings over Skype.
“Through coming to UTS I get to see how things work, meet the staff and also meet people on the projects so that we can work better together. You get a feel for what's happening and you learn to explore all the different faculties as well,” said Dr Connon.
Following her visit to UTS for the KTP program Dr Connon will return to Dundee to prepare for her two-year stay at ISF as a Research Fellow in early 2018.