Ms Deborah Cleland

PhD Student



BA/BSc(Hons I)


After a few years working in Environmental Impact Assessment policy at the Federal level, I returned to academia to continue my work in science communication and marine conservation. 

Working closely with Perry Aliño's Community Ecology Lab at the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippine and the Marine Environment Resource Foundation, we implemented a project to demonstrate Ecosystem Based Management tools to governance and community stakeholders throughout the Philippines. 

Other research interests include sustainability science, human ecology, participatory action research, mixed and qualitative methods, aid and development, governance and science studies. 

In my spare time I do aerial acrobatics and blog at 


  • 2010 Endeavour Research Fellowship Award
  • 2010 Modelling and Decision Support Working Group Film Grant
  • 2009 Australian Postgraduate Award
  • 2009 ANU Supplementary Scholarship

Professional Affiliations

  • Australian Science Communicators Society
  • Human Ecology Forum, ANU (co-convenor), blog maintenance and administration see
  • Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management Future Leaders


Research interests

  • Qualitative social research on biodiversity conservation
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Interdisciplinarity and integrative research
  • Protected area management
  • Socio-economic agent based modelling
  • Public participation, action research and participatory modelling
  • Role of fun, hope, games and creativity in sustainability and behaviour change
  • Visual methods

Current Projects

Finding a way out for depleted subsistence fisheries in the Philippines (FindFishSup) (

Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management, Modelling and Decision Support Working Group (


Projectification: success and failure in communicating science for marine conservation in the Philippines 

Thesis description

My research explores and challenges narratives of success and failure in science for conservation projects across scales. The principle case study is an ecosystems-based management tools demonstration project, funded through an American philanthropic organisation, for a grant written by Australians and implemented by an academic marine resources foundation in the Philippines. 

The project showcased a computer-assisted board game ‘ReefGame’, amongst other tools, and its potential to help local area managers and NGOs communicate the need for marine conservation initiatives and alternative livelihoods in areas with depleted fisheries. In previous research (see publications list), pilot workshops using ReefGame demonstrated its potential as both a science communication and research tool. This follow-up project implemented the lessons emerging from initial work and evaluate the ability of ReefGame - and similar tools - to act as a medium two-way communication and learning between researchers and ‘on-the-ground’ stakeholders.

As a result, this thesis asks ‘did the project work?”.  Blending action research with project ethnography, the answers are ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’, as you deliberately place differing boundaries around the project. 

A cross-scale perspective is critical for three reasons. Firstly, it reinforces the lessons emerging from development evaluation and other areas about the importance of cross-scale coherence in social change interventions: without ongoing cultural, material and institutional support rippling outward from the site of intervention projects disappear without trace. Secondly, applying this ‘coherence principal’ to project design we are able to produce a template for project design that is rooted firmly in realities of project practice and incorporates the emergent principles of uncertainty and complexity. Thirdly, pragmatic restructuring of the funding landscape will assist bridge the abyss between ‘program’ support, favoured by government aid streams, and ‘project’ support, favoured by philanthropic and civil society organisations. 

Updated:  17 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director Fenner School/Page Contact:  Webmaster Fenner School