Artist, Scientist, Minister – reflections on decision-making

Universal symbols (square, triangle, circle). Sumi ink drawing from workshop hosted by Max Gimblett.

Universal symbols (square, triangle, circle). Sumi ink drawing from workshop hosted by Max Gimblett.

How do talks within the space of a week by a government minister, an outspoken scientist and an internationally respected NZ artist tie together?

Max Gimblett spoke eloquently about his process of creation, highlighting his prolific output. From hundreds of works in ink, only about a third is kept. I had to ask what his process of decision-making was, and this process of deciding what stays and what goes is the link between these three seemingly disparate talks. Decision-making also features in my research. The artist’s process is two-fold: he likened viewing his works to looking at his wife’s face, so well known, yet revealing the unknown even after half a century of togetherness. His works then seem to be simultaneously forgotten and remembered, but something tangible is brought forth in this process of deliberation that signals stay or go. He admitted to getting it wrong at times, with good works being discarded and ‘dogs’ being kept. The other method is simpler and probably a lot quicker: works are laid on the floor and he and his 3 studio assistants take votes!

Mike Joy, who seems to have made large waves in our eutrophic waters, highlighted some of the decisions made by the Ministry for Environment on what information to discard – an entire chapter of the 2007 State of the Environment report showing declines in water quality, and what to smooth over – 20 years of water quality data averaged, averaged and averaged once more resulting in a slightly undulating horizon line of data. As far as monitoring water quality overall, the decisions here are poor ones around how and where to monitor.

As for the Minister? Politicians rarely provide answers. How well will the public be able to input their knowledge, values and beliefs into environmental decision-making?  There seems to be a dual approach where on the one hand community input is desired while on the other it’s purely top down. In proposals 3.3.3 and 3.3.9 in the MfE’s discussion document on the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (1991), provides government Ministers with the power of direct intervention in local decision-making. Forest and Bird in their submission highlight “local decisions by local people foster a sense of ownership in plans”. There’s a ton of literature to back that up.


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