Using complex adaptive systems theory to understand cumulative social and economic (including health) effects of onshore gas development

My current research focusses on understanding complexity in the social dimensions of unconventional gas resource development, particularly aligning the social and economic effects of resource development with principles and aspirations for sustainable community development and resilience. Projects include:

Developing an assessment framework for identifying and responding to cumulative social and economic effects of coal seam gas development (rapid change) in Australia. See the UQ Indicators Toolkit

Ongoing monitoring of cumulative social and economic effects of coal seam gas development in Queensland See the Annual Reports on Queensland's Gasfields Communities 2015, 2016.

Designing and implementing a framework for assessing non-chemical stressors and health effects of coal seam gas development.

Identifying mechanisms needed for capturing and institutionalising the lessons about social impacts learned from a) coal seam gas development in Qld and b) shale gas development in North America.

Kathy received the University Medal for Academic Excellence on completion of her Bachelor's degree in Environmental Management at UQ. She worked in the Queensland Government, Department of Natural Resources and Mines before completing her PhD in Environmental Management/Rural Sociology in 2012. She has extensive experience in engaging with rural communities and landholders. She held an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at UQ studying social values within social-ecological systems. Her current work applies complex adaptive systems theory to assessing the cumulative socioeconomic impacts of onshore unconventional gas development. She is co-author of the online resource, UQ Indicators Toolkit, as well as annual online reporting on indicators of social change in Queensland’s gasfields communities. She is co-chair of the International Association for Impact Assessment's Social Impacts Section Committee, and a member of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) and the US NSF funded, Energy Impacts Researchers Network.


In her role as researcher, Kathy has experience engaging with the onshore gas industry, with case studies in Queensland and Pennsylvania, US. She has engaged with industry peak bodies, individual companies and regulators (government agencies) facilitating their participation in development of the UQ Indicators Toolkit for cumulative social impacts assessment. The focus of engagement has been around social performance (investment), social impacts and adaptive strategies. Kathy also has experience working with agricultural peak bodies and a range of primary producers.


The assessment of cumulative social impacts in resource development involves collaboration with a number of different organisations including local community groups and business organisations, local and state government as well as gas companies. Kathy leads a collaborative project assessing health effects of CSG with the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS), UQ's Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), Queensland Health, CSIRO and Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA). 
She is co-coordinator of the Gasfields Social Scientist's network in Australia and an inaugural member of the US-based Energy Impacts Researchers Network. International collaborations include a collaborative book chapter comparing the role of property rights and expectations of public participation in Queensland and US unconventional gas development experiences and co-design and delivery of a training workshop for Quebec government staff in assessing energy project approvals with the University of Quebec and the University of Montana. 
As well as internal collaborations within UQ, Kathy collaborates with Professors at the University of Newcastle, and the University of Southern Queensland in relation to regional community development. 

Key Publications

Lechner A., McIntyre, N., Witt, K., Raymond, C., Arnold, S., Rifkin, W., and Scott, M. (2017) ‘Challenges of integrated modelling in mining regions to address social, environmental and economic impacts’, Environmental Modelling and Software, vol. 93, 268–281. 

Jacquet J, Witt K, Rifkin, W, Haggerty, J. (2017) A complex adaptive system or just a tangled mess? Property rights and shale gas governance in Australia and the US, in J. Whitton, M. Cotton and K. Brasier (eds) Governing Shale Gas, Elsevier.

Towler B, Firouzi M, Underschultz J, Rifkin W, Garnett A, Schultz H, Esterle J, Tyson S, and Witt K. (2016), An Overview of the Coal Seam Gas Developments in Queensland. Journal of Natural Gas Science & Engineering vol. 31, 249-271.

Jones, NA, Shaw, S, Ross, H, Witt, K & Pinner, B (2016), 'The study of human values in understanding and managing social-ecological systems', Ecology and Society, vol. 21, no. 1, p. 15.

Witt K, Rifkin W, Everingham J, Uhlmann . (2015). ‘Lessons CSG operators can learn from southern Queensland towns’, GasToday, Autumn, pp.76-79


Cumulative Impacts Research is funded by the UQ Centre for Coal Seam Gas (2015-2018). 
A Legacy of learning project funded by UQ Early Career Researcher Grant 2017.
CSG and health study funded by QAEHS and UQCCSG in collaboration with CSIRO/GISERA
ARC Linkage Grant funded previous ARC postdoctoral fellow position.
APA Scholarship for PhD funding with a CRC Tropical Savannas top-up scholarship for 1 year.