Rebecca joined the Institute for Sustainable Futures as a social scientist with broad research interests including art, data analytics and visualization, climate change including adaptation implementation, extended reality, natural resource governance, the science/community/policy nexus, social network analysis and science communication - including the use of virtual and extended realities.
Prior to working at UTS, Cunningham worked at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) focused in the climate adaptation space (in Australian contexts as well as working in countries within the Indian Ocean Rim). Cunningham also undertook an 12 month post-doc at the University of Manchester, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research wherein the primary piece was an interdisciplinary project exploring public perceptions of carbon capture and storage (CCS). This was followed by six months focus on science communication program called "Manchester Climate Leaders" As Manchester aims for zero carbon in 2050 this project explored how art and culture could inspire a city to act on climate change. This involved collaborating with project partners Manchester Museum and Manchester Climate Change Agency and event partners Manchester Marketing, European City of Science Festival, Bluedot Festival.
At UTS:ISF has been working with the Climate Change Adaptation Team on a range of projects primarily in the Landscapes, Ecosystems, Climate Change Adaptation and Food Systems. Examples include developing decision frameworks, undertaking vulnerability assessments and climate change adaptation plans, exploring the update of adaptation policy and knowledge flows using social network analysis, exploring heuristics for decision making in Australian agriculture, and using various extended reality tools (such as virtual reality, augmented reality and gamification) to communicate climate change messages to policy makers, industry (including utility and infrastructure managers) and the general public.
International Network of Social Network Analysis
Australian Education eXtended Reality XR hub,
Can supervise: YES
art, data analytics and visualization, cascades of cooperation, climate adaptation implementation, climate change communication, natural resource governance, network science, phenomenology, public uptake of policy, soical network analysis and trust
Gough, C, Cunningham, R & Mander, S 2018, 'Understanding key elements in establishing a social license for CCS: An empirical approach', International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, vol. 68, no. January 2018, pp. 16-25.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
This paper presents results of empirical research with the broad aim of exploring societal responses to CO2 storage, framed around the concept of social license to operate (SLO). We describe a mixed method approach incorporating stakeholder interviews and focus groups deployed in two case study locations in the UK. The approach helps us to build up an understanding of the social context in which Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will be introduced, in terms of the specific local conditions and with reference to the influence of local experiences of other technologies (such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), for example). This understanding is then used to guide further empirical research, from which we assess the extent to which an SLO for CCS is emerging. Results show that perceptions of trust and confidence in key institutions to safely manage projects are highly dependent not just on the track record of the organisations but are strongly influenced by past experiences with different technologies. While the indications for achieving an SLO for CCS are currently positive, consolidating and maintaining that support depends on the evolving social, industrial and political landscape.
Cvitanovic, C, Cunningham, R, Dowd, A-M, Howden, SM & van Putten, EI 2017, 'Using Social Network Analysis to Monitor and Assess the Effectiveness of Knowledge Brokers at Connecting Scientists and Decision-Makers: An Australian case study', Environmental Policy and Governance, vol. 27, pp. 256-269.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Despite growing rhetoric regarding the potential benefits of using knowledge brokers in relation to environmental challenges and decision-making processes, the evidence in support of such claims is mostly anecdotal. This is, in part, due to the lack of established methods to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of knowledge brokers. To address this gap we assess the utility of social network analysis (SNA) to evaluate the effectiveness of knowledge brokers in connecting scientists and decision-makers. Specifically, using a case-study approach, we undertake longitudinal SNA over a 12-month period to evaluate the extent to which the knowledge broker developed networks between producers and users of knowledge across different organizations. We also undertook a qualitative survey of scientists (n = 29) who worked in the same organization as the knowledge broker to understand the extent to which the knowledge broker increased the impact of scientific research for decision-making purposes. Results show that the knowledge broker developed an extensive stakeholder network of 192 individuals spanning over 30 organizations. The results of the SNA found that over time this network increased in density and became more cohesive, both key elements underpinning successful knowledge exchange. Furthermore, the qualitative survey found that the knowledge broker also had a positive impact in other ways, including helping researchers understand the operating environments within decision-making agencies and the best approaches for engaging with specific decision-makers. Thus, this study demonstrates the value of SNA for evaluating knowledge brokers and provides empirical support for the use of knowledge brokers in the environmental sector.
Gough, C, Cunningham, R & Mander, S 2017, 'Societal responses to CO2 storage in the UK: media, stakeholder and public perspectives', Energy Procedia, vol. 114, pp. 7310-7316.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Mander, S, Cunningham, R, Lever, L & Cough, C 2017, 'Comparing online and offline knowledge networks of Carbon Capture and Storage', Energy Procedia, vol. 114, pp. 7326-7332.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
This paper examines the complex ecosystem of organisations involved in the proposed role out of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the UK. Through analysis of interview and twitter data, it focuses on the flow of knowledge flows within online and offline networks, highlighting how in this case, CCS retains a niche audience, with communication and information flows concentrated with industry and stakeholder networks at a local and regional scale, as opposed to reaching broader national policy makers, and the wider publics. This brings a unique insight into the construction of networks across intersecting sectors of this critical technology and highlights how for successful implementation CCS, actors may need to reach out beyond their existing network.
Cvitanovic, C, Crimp, S, Fleming, A, Bell, J, Howden, M, Hobday, AJ, Taylor, M & Cunningham, R 2016, 'Linking adaptation science to action to build food secure Pacific Island communities', Climate Risk Management, vol. 11, pp. 53-62.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
© 2016 The Authors. Climate change is a major threat to food security in Pacific Island countries, with declines in food production and increasing variability in food supplies already evident across the region. Such impacts have already led to observed consequences for human health, safety and economic prosperity. Enhancing the adaptive capacity of Pacific Island communities is one way to reduce vulnerability and is underpinned by the extent to which people can access, understand and use new knowledge to inform their decision-making processes. However, effective engagement of Pacific Island communities in climate adaption remains variable and is an ongoing and significant challenge. Here, we use a qualitative research approach to identify the impediments to engaging Pacific Island communities in the adaptations needed to safeguard food security. The main barriers include cultural differences between western science and cultural knowledge, a lack of trust among local communities and external scientists, inappropriate governance structures, and a lack of political and technical support. We identify the importance of adaptation science, local social networks, key actors (i.e., influential and trusted individuals), and relevant forms of knowledge exchange as being critical to overcoming these barriers. We also identify the importance of co-ordination with existing on-ground activities to effectively leverage, as opposed to duplicating, capacity.
Cunningham, R, Cvitanovic, C, Measham, T, Jacobs, B, Dowd, A & Harman, B 2016, 'Engaging communities in climate adaptation: the potential of social networks', Climate Policy, vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 894-906.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
There has been a growing recognition regarding the use of social networks to engage communities in government actions. However, despite increasing awareness of social networks, there is very limited evidence for their application in relation to climate policy. This study fills this gap by assessing the potential of social networks for engaging local communities in climate adaptation policy, drawing on a case study of the Shoalhaven region in Australia. Participants from key representative groups were recruited using a purposive snowball sampling technique (N . 24). By mapping knowledge acquisition and diffusion networks in relation to climate adaption at the local scale, this study identified key nodes within the networks. Findings demonstrate that although climate adaptation information was acquired from a diverse range of sources, the sharing knowledge networks were far more dispersed. Furthermore, although 165 knowledge sources were identified, three nodes had coverage cross the entire network, and as such acted as boundary spanners within the sharing network. This research demonstrates the utility of social network analysis to reveal the underlying knowledge networks and structures that influence community engagement pathways and in doing so outlines key implications in relation to engaging local communities in climate policy and action.
Cunningham, R, Jacobs, B, Cvitanovic, C, Measham, T & Brown, P 2018, 'Networks Shaping Climate Adaptation Policy and Governance', Climate Leaders 2018, Dockside Conference Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney.View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Mukheibir, P, Boronyak, L & Cunningham, R 2018, 'Improving climate adaptation communication and decision-making between government and communities', WASH Futures 2018, Brisbane.View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Goggin, L, Cunningham, R, Summerell, G & Littleboy, M 2015, 'Exploring the networks of government scientists using Social Network Analysis: a scoping study', 21st International Congress on Modelling and Simulation, International Congress on Modelling and Simulation, MODELLING & SIMULATION SOC AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND INC, Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia.View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Scientists working for the New South Wales (NSW) Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH)
provide rigorous evidence and advice to support government priorities which include protecting the natural
environment. They also collaborate with and attract non-government researchers to work on government
In this scoping study, we used Social Network Analysis (SNA) to visualise the ego networks of six government
scientists from OEH who work on biodiversity conservation and landscape management. This allowed us to
explore the potential reach of their advice and information within OEH and beyond; and examine gaps and
redundancy in the stacked ego networks.
Cunningham, R, Adams, M & Goggin, L UTS 2020, NSW Government Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub Social Network Analysis Report, pp. 1-20, UTS.
This project was undertaken in order to understand the New South Wales Government
Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub (Hub) over three time periods. Members of the HUB
were asked to complete a survey of Hub members over three time periods between 2018 –
This document provides an addendum to the previously accepted report from Work
Package 1 “Identifying ‘hot-spots’ for siting CSP: biomass plants in NSW.” This will
incorporate elements from Work Package 2 (WP2) and findings from modules 2.1.1
Literature Review, 2.1.2 Adaptive Capacity Index and 2.1.3 Rural Livelihoods
The document briefly outlines the methods and results from these modules.
The purpose of this case study is to investigate business innovation activity in response to
impacts associated with a changing climate in the Alpine and Highland regions of New South
Wales. Climate change includes temperature changes, changes in the frequency and intensity
of weather events such as heat waves, severe storms and rain events and bushfires.
The Adaptive Communities Node (ACN) evolved over the life of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub 2013 – 2018. This report assembles outputs from ACN projects and from research conducted to support the work program of OEH’s Impacts and Adaptation Team into a cohesive set of insights on the process of adaptation research that is demand-driven and situated at the interface of government policy and operations.
Cunningham, R, Jacobs, B, Measham, T, Harman, MP & Cvitanovic, C Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS 2017, Social network analysis: a primer on engaging communities on climate adaptation in New South Wales, Australia, pp. 1-18, Sydney, Australia.View/Download from: UTS OPUS
A network is a group or system of interconnected people or things. Social networks connect people. Those connections provide advantages to members of the network through access to private information, diverse skills and power, which makes the understanding of networks important for the formulation and communication of policy. The Adaptive Communities Node used a network analysis methodology to understand the formal and informal knowledge channels that communicate climate change adaptation policy throughout regional communities (Harman et al, 2016; Harman et al 2015a; Harman et al 2015b). The results of case studies in these communities (centred on Shoalhaven, Bega and Orange) have been published through the UTS:ISF NSW Adaptation Research Hub (https://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/institute-sus…). This primer serves as a companion document to those reports.
The Hort Innovation Green Cities project “Measuring Australia’s Green Space Asset” (MUGS) undertook a global review of urban green space (UGS) measurement research and engaged with Australian stakeholders to gauge current practice. The overall aim of the project was to foster best-practice UGS planning and management by juxtaposing the scientific state of the art with the contextualised needs expressed by potential Australian end users. The synthesis of findings informed a ‘blueprint’ which sketches the contours of a possible nationally consistent UGS decision-support framework. The framework is illustrated with a worked example from Australia (rapid assessment of urban green space assets using satellite imagery).