Over the past thirty years the number and variety of environmental organisations in government and community sectors has grown dramatically. These organisations have a key role in addressing global environmental degradation and fostering socially and ecologically sustainable societies. This thesis investigates the psychosocial processes used by environmental organisations to develop relationships with others. These processes help to shape the attitudes, values, decisions and behaviours that influence our will to act on knowledge about environmental issues. Yet, to date, few transdisciplinary studies of these processes have been undertaken.
The thesis utilises a community psychology approach in a transdisciplinary, empirical study of the psychosocial processes used by environmental organisations to achieve their goals. Key principles in community psychology complement the environmental literature on social and ecologically sustainable societies, for example the emphasis on social justice, diversity and engaging in multiple levels of analysis, and interest in addressing intractable social issues. A review of the environmental management and social movement organising literatures identified contrasting perspectives about the psychosocial processes used by environmental organisations, as well as the underdeveloped nature of empirical research on this topic.
To address this gap in the empirical knowledge base, two investigations were undertaken utilising sequential mixed research methods. The first study used grounded theory methodology, involving in-depth interviews with 22 key informants from a range of government and community sector environmental organisations in southeast Queensland, Australia. The study aimed to discover the t3^es of psychosocial processes that contribute to 'successful' outcomes, as well as dilemmas and barriers for organisations. The findings guided the development of a set of propositions about psychosocial processes used by environmental organisations. These were then examined in a quantitative mail survey of 303 government and community sector environmental organisations in the southeast Queensland region (71.3% response rate). The questionnaire respondents had a leadership role and at least two years experience in the organisation.
A framework of psychosocial processes that contribute to organisational outcomes emerged from the findings. Five types of psychosocial processes were particularly important in effective action: problem analysis; influencing decision-making; inter-organisational relationships; community participation and knowledge transfer. However, substantial contrasts were found in the way each of these types of processes was used. The pattern of psychosocial processes utilised by environmental organisations was linked to the types of socio-ecological outcomes they worked to achieve. In particular, organisations oriented towards altering social institutions tended to use a broader range of psychosocial approaches than organisations oriented towards on-ground environmental care. Organisations that embraced both orientations utilised the widest repertoire of psychosocial processes. For example, they were more likely to collaborate with organisations from a broader range of sectors, used both collaborative and confrontative approaches to influence decision-makers, and reported that it was desirable for their organisation to work towards altering both the social institutions and socio-cultural customs that impact on the environment.
The findings highlighted a pattern of interrelationships across different levels of social organisation and geographical locations. This network of relationships has the potential to foster (or impede) innovative problem-solving; allowing shared and diverging interests and concerns, types of knowledge, and opportunities for action to become visible. A gap between the concepts advanced in the academic literatures and real world practices was also evident, in particular the under-developed links between ecological and social well-being. For example, collaboration with organisations beyond the traditional environment sector (e.g. industry, health or Indigenous organisations) was rare, many organisations did not actively seek out the involvement of community members, and the majority of organisation leaders did not believe it was feasible to work towards altering institutional responses to the environment.
A major contribution of the study is the integration of the literatures of community psychology, environmental management and social movement organising, along with the complementary use of qualitative and quantitative research methods. This provided a transdisciplinary framework of psychosocial processes utilised by environmental organisations. The framework has the potential to be developed into an organisational tool to foster socially and ecologically sustainable societies. Organisations could use the framework to point to the psychosocial tasks they need to undertake to pursue their goals. These processes also have implications for workforce development activities and decisions about policy tools. A key challenge for future research is to measure the extent that psychosocial interventions impact on organisation outcomes, and to enhance knowledge about facilitating links between the key interests of different types of organisations.