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Dr Kevin Collins

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a senior lecturer in Environment & Systems and have a BSc in Geography & Environment and a PhD in Sustainable Development from the University of London (UCL).  My research and teaching focusses on systems concepts and practices and social learning for improving environmental situations, especially water governance.

As well as involvement in a range of international and national research projects, I also lead on undergraduate and postgraduate teaching on environmental management and systems.

Research interests

My research and scholarship explores the dyanmic relationships between society and its environment.  I use theories of social learning and systems ideas and approaches to develop sytemic inquiries into a range of environment issues, particularly managing and the governance of water.  Much of my work is action research, involving policy-makers, stakeholders and practitioners in many different governance contexts and scales from localities and catchments to national and international policy and practice.   

Current and recent projects include:

  • 2023-2030       Climate Smart Advisors for Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) (Horizon Europe)
  • 2023-2024       Chalk Bournes: towards a shared understanding of the hydrological and morphological science of intermittent chalk streams (WINEP)
  • 2023                Drought: A review of the social and behavioural scientific evidence for public messaging (Environment Agency)
  • 2020-2021       Reviewing Approaches for communicating Drought status And Risk (RADAR) (DEFRA/Environment Agency)
  • 2019-2021       Agricultural and Knowledge Innovation Systems (AgriLink) (EU Horizon 2020)
  • 2013-2016       Drought Impacts: vulnerability thresholds in monitoring and early-warning research (DRiVER) (Belmont Forum/NERC)
  • 2012-2015       Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance: Reconciling food security, renewable energy and the provision of multiple ecosystem services (CADWAGO Riksbankens and Volkswagen foundation)
  • 2011-2012       Evaluating the Water Framework Directive Pilots (DEFRA)
  • 2011-2012       Approaches to Secure Sustained Behaviour Changes to Deliver Multiple  Environmental Benefits Though Sustained Agricultural Land Management (DEFRA)
I am interested in supervising PhDs in the following areas:
  • social learning
  • systems thinking and practice
  • environmental and water resource managing
  • natural resource managing and governance.

Teaching interests

My teaching includes contributions and teaching on variety of modules centred on environmental managing and systems approaches.

Undergraduate: I am co-author of T219 Environmental Management 1; T319 Evironmental Management IIT220 Environmental Management: Systems and Sustainability and T330 Environmental Management: Pathways to sustainability (in production)

Postgraduate:  T802 Research Project;  TU812 Managing Systemic Change; T891 Making Environmental Decisions 

I am also a co-author of a Guide to Systems Diagramming and Achieving Wisdom in Online Groups (graphic novel)

I currently chair two modules: T220 Environmental Management: Systems and Sustainability and T802 Research Project

External collaborations

Expert member of the OECD Water Governance Intiative developing and implementing water governance principles in OECD countries.

Visiting Professor, Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Sassari, Sardinia, Italy

Advisory Board member for Italian Inter-university PhD in Sustainable Development and Climate change

Advisory Board member for Sustainable Approaches to Land and water Management in Mediterranean Drylands (SALEM-MED)  (Horizon Europe) 

Associate editor of the Journal of Flood Risk Management


Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Open Systems Research GroupGroupFaculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology


Externally funded projects

A Review of Approaches to Communicating Drought Status and Risk - WT15124 Tender Reference: itt_6641
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead24 Feb 202024 Jan 2021DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs)

Working with CEH to explore drought communication strategies in the UK. Involving national organisations and regional groups. OU will be subcontractor to main applicant CEH advising on design of workshops and co-facilitation of workshops.

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Jun 201730 Nov 2021EC (European Commission): FP (inc. Horizon Europe, H2020, ERC)

H2020 project to stimulate sustainability transitions in European agriculture through better understanding the roles played by farm advice in farmer decision-making. OU participation in monitoring and supporting learning within ‘Living Labs’, including a web engagement strategy and development of some distance learning material


Using systems diagrams to support multi actor collaboration in Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (2023-12)
Lane, Andy and Collins, Kevin
Systemist, 44, Article Paper 3(2) (pp. 78-90)

Characterising water sensitive cities through inquiry-based learning systems (2022-05)
Shelton, M. R.; Bos, J. J.; Collins, K. B; Ison, R. L. and Iaquinto, B. L.
Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 26(2) (pp. 162-174)

Living Labs as an Approach to Strengthen Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (2022-04)
Potters, Jorieke; Collins, Kevin; Schoorlemmer, Herman; Stræte, Egil Petter; Kilis, Emils; Lane, Andrew and Leloup, Heloise
EuroChoices, 21(1) (pp. 23-29)

Designing an inquiry-based learning system: innovating in research praxis to transform science-policy-practice relations for sustainable development (2021)
Ison, R. L.; Collins, K. B. and Iaquinto, B. L.
Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 38(5) (pp. 610-624)

Enhancing drought monitoring and early warning for the UK through stakeholder co-enquiries (2019-01)
Hannaford, Jamie; Collins, Kevin; Haines, Sophie and Barker, Lucy
Weather, Climate, and Society, 11(1) (pp. 49-63)

Revisiting deliberative policy analysis through systemic co-inquiry: some experiences from the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in England (2019)
Foster, Natalie; Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris and Collins, Kevin
Policy Studies, 40 (pp. 510-533)

Global Water Governance and Climate Change: Identifying Innovative Arrangements for Adaptive Transformation (2018-01-31)
Melo Zurita, Maria de Lourdes; Thomsen, Dana C.; Holbrook, Neil J.; Smith, Timothy F.; Lyth, Anna; Munro, Paul G.; de Bruin, Annemarieke; Seddaiu, Giovanna; Roggero, Pier Paolo; Baird, Julia; Plummer, Ryan; Bullock, Ryan; Collins, Kevin and Powell, Neil
Water, 10, Article 29(1)

Stakeholder engagement in water governance as social learning: lessons from practice (2018)
Wehn, Uta; Collins, Kevin; Anema, Kim; Basco-Carrera, Laura and Lerebours, Alix
Water International, 43(1) (pp. 34-59)

Teaching Environmental Management Competencies Online: Towards “Authentic” Collaboration? (2017)
Bell, Simon; Lane, Andy; Collins, Kevin; Berardi, Andrea and Slater, Rachel
European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 20(1) (pp. 22-44)

Learning for Transformation of Water Governance: Reflections on Design from the Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance (CADWAGO) Project (2016-11-04)
Blackmore, Chris; van Bommel, Severine; de Bruin, Annemarieke; de Vries, Jasper; Westberg, Lotten; Powell, Niel; Foster, Natalie; Collins, Kevin; Roggero, Pier Paolo and Seddaiu, Giovanna
Water, 8, Article 510(11)

Stakeholder Co-inquiries on Drought Impacts, Monitoring and Early Warning Systems (2016-11)
Collins, Kevin; Hannaford, Jamie; Svoboda, Mark; Knutson, Cody; Wall, Nicole; Bernadt, Tonya; Crossman, Neville; Overton, Ian; Acreman, Mike; Bachmair, Sophie and Stahl, Kerstin
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 97(11) (ES217-ES220)

Drought indicators revisited: the need for a wider consideration of environment and society (2016-06-16)
Bachmair, Sophie; Stahl, Kerstin; Collins, Kevin; Hannaford, Jamie; Acreman, Mike; Svoboda, Mark; Knutson, Cody; Helm Smith, Kelly; Wall, Nicole; Fuchs, Brian; Crossman, Neville and Overton, Ian C.
WIREs Water, 3(4) (pp. 516-536)

Water Governance in England: Improving Understandings and Practices through Systemic Co-Inquiry (2016)
Foster, Natalie; Collins, Kevin; Ison, Ray and Blackmore, Chris
Water, 5, Article 540

Institutionalising social learning: towards systemic and adaptive governance (2015-11-30)
Ison, Raymond L.; Collins, Kevin B. and Wallis, Philip J
Environmental Science & Policy, 53(Part B) (pp. 105-117)

Reframing water governance praxis: does reflection on metaphors have a role? (2015)
Ison, Raymond; Allan, Catherine and Collins, Kevin
Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy, 33 (pp. 1697-1713)

Insights into operationalizing communities of practice from SSM-based inquiry processes (2014-12)
Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris; Collins, Kevin; Holwell, Sue and Iaquinto, Ben
Systemic Practice and Action Research, 27 (pp. 91-113)

In search of systemic innovation for sustainable development: a design praxis emerging from a decade of social learning inquiry (2014-05-31)
Colvin, John; Blackmore, Chris; Chimbuya, Sam; Collins, Kevin; Dent, Mark; Goss, John; Ison, Ray; Roggero, Pier Paolo and Seddaiu, Giovanna
Research Policy, 43 (pp. 760-771)

Managing complexity in Australian urban water governance: transitioning Sydney to a water sensitive city. (2014)
Floyd, Joshua; Iaquinto, Benjamin L.; Ison, Ray and Collins, Kevin
Futures, 61 (pp. 1-12)

Reframing water governance: a multi-perspective study of an over-engineered catchment in China (2012-04)
Wei, Yongping; Ison, Ray; Colvin, John and Collins, Kevin
Journal of Environmental Planning & Management, 55(3) (pp. 297-318)

Sustainable catchment managing in a climate changing world: new integrative modalities for connecting policy makers, scientists and other stakeholders (2011-12)
Ison, Ray; Collins, Kevin; Colvin, John; Jiggins, Janice; Roggero, Pier Paolo; Seddaiu, Giovanna; Steyaert, Patrick; Toderi, Marco and Zanolla, Chiara
Water Resources Management, 25(15) (pp. 3977-3992)

Trusting emergence: some experiences of learning about integrated catchment science with the Environment Agency of England and Wales (2010)
Collins, Kevin B. and Ison, Ray L.
Water Resources Management, 24(4) (pp. 669-688)

Jumping off Arnstein's Ladder: Social learning as a new policy paradigm for climate change adaptation (2009-11-26)
Collins, Kevin and Ison, Ray
Environmental Policy and Governance, 19(6) (pp. 358-373)

Editorial: Living with environmental change: adaptation as social learning (2009-11)
Collins, Kevin and Ison, Ray
Environmental Policy and Governance, 19(6) (pp. 351-357)

Building learning catchments for integrated catchment managing: Designing learning systems based on experiences in the UK and South Africa (2009)
Collins, Kevin; Colvin, John and Ison, Ray
Water Science & Technology, 59(4) (pp. 687-693)

A systemic approach to managing multiple perspectives and stakeholding in water catchments: some findings from three UK case studies (2007-10)
Collins, Kevin; Blackmore, Chris; Morris, Richard and Watson, Drennan
Environmental Science and Policy, 10(6) (pp. 564-574)

Systemic environmental decision making: designing learning systems (2007)
Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris; Collins, Kevin and Furniss, Pam
Kybernetes, 36(9-10) (pp. 1340-1361)

Experimental discursive spaces: policy processes, public participation and the greater London authority (2004-04-01)
Harrison, C. M.; Munton, R. J. C and Collins, K.
Urban Studies, 41(4) (pp. 903-917)

Deliberation and inclusion: vehicles for increasing trust in UK public governance? (2001-07-01)
Bloomfield, D.; Collins, K.; Fry, C. and Munton, R.
Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 19(4) (pp. 501-513)

M-World, S-World: Achieving wisdom in online groups (2019-02)
Bell, Simon; Collins, Kevin and Cutting, Charles
ISBN : 978-1-4730-2891-3 | Publisher : Open University | Published : Milton Keynes

Understanding and developing communities of practice through diagramming (2017)
Blackmore, Chris; Foster, Natalie; Collins, Kevin and Ison, Ray
In: Oreszczyn, Sue and Lane, Andy eds. Mapping environmental sustainability: reflecting on systemic practices for participatory research (pp. 155-182)
Publisher : Policy Press | Published : London

Designing social learning systems for integrating social sciences into policy processes: Some experiences of water managing. (2014)
Collins, Kevin
In: Manfredo, M. J.; Vaske, J. J.; Rechkemmer, A. and Duke, E. A. eds. Understanding Society and Natural Resources: Forging New Strands of Integration across the Social Sciences (pp. 229-251)
ISBN : 978-94-017-8958-5 | Publisher : Springer | Published : Amsterdam

Towards systemic governance of social-biophysical systems: social learning as collaborative performance (2014)
Ison, Ray; Collins, Kevin; Blackmore, Chris and Lonsdale, Kate
In : Resilience & Development: Mobilising for Transformation (4-8 May 2014, Montpelier, France)

Supporting Water Governance and Climate Change Adaptation Through Systemic Praxis (2013)
Blackmore, Chris; Ison, Ray and Collins, Kevin
In : 12th Biennial Conference on Communication and Environment, Participation Revisited: Openings and Closures for Deliberations on the Commons, (6-11 Jun 2013, Uppsala, Sweden) (pp. 107-117)

Institutionalising social learning: towards systemic and adaptive governance (2012)
Ison, Raymond; Wallis, Phil and Collins, Kevin
In : Sustainable Hyderabad – Albrecht-Daniel-Thaer Kolloquium 2012 on “Crafting or Designing? Intended Institutional Change for Social-Ecological Systems”, (8-9 Jun 2012, Berlin)

Social learning systems for collective action: a critical review of cases from UK, South Africa, China and Australia using social learning systems (2012)
Blackmore, C.; Collins, K.; Ison, R.; Colvin, J. and Wallis, P.
In : Planet Under Pressure 2012 (25-29 Mar 2012, London, UK)

Public policy that does the right thing rather than the wrong thing righter (2008)
Ison, Ray and Collins, Kevin
In : Analysing Collaborative and Deliberative Forms of Governance (14 Nov 2008, The Australia National University, Canberra, Australia)

Dare we jump off Arnstein's ladder? Social learning as a new policy paradigm (2006-06)
Collins, Kevin and Ison, Raymond
In : Proceedings of PATH (Participatory Approaches in Science & Technology) Conference (4-7 Jun 2006, Edinburgh)

Learning to start systemically in environmental decision making (2006)
Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris and Collins, Kevin
In : 7th European IFSA Symposium (7-11 May 2006, Wageningen, The Netherlands)

Partnerships for action in river catchment governance. A case study in the Irwell, UK. (2018)
Foster, Natalie; Ison, Ray; Blackmore, Chris and Collins, Kevin
The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Drought: Understanding and reducing vulnerability through monitoring and early warning systems. Report of the DrIVER workshop, 17 March 2015. (2016-03)
Collins, K.; Hannaford, J.; Haines, S.; Bachmair, S.; Crossman, N.; Stephens, L. and Svoboda, M.
DrIVER project report, Wallingford, UK.

Water governance in the UK and EU: So far, so what and what next? Symposium Report. 16th September 2015, Royal Society, London. (2015-09-16)
Foster, Natalie; Collins, Kevin; Ison, Raymond and Blackmore, Chris
The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Transitioning to Water Sensitive Cities: A summary of the key findings, issues and actions arising from five national capacity building and leadership workshops (2009)
Ison, Ray; Collins, Kevin; Bos, Annette and Iaquinto, Ben
NUWGP/IWC, Monash University, Clayton.

River basin planning project: social learning (Science Report SC050037/SR1) (2005-09-01)
Collins, Kevin; Ison, Ray and Blackmore, Chris
Environment Agency, Bristol, UK.