Assoc Prof Will Rifkin is the former chair in Social Performance in the Centre for Coal Seam Gas and held a joint appointment with the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining.  His current focus is a project cultivating the ability in stakeholders to collaborate in identifying salient and credible indicators of cumulative socioeconomic impacts of coal seam gas developments in Queensland’s Western Downs region.   

Rifkin has completed consultancies and research on organisational change processes in the resources industry, including with New Zealand’s Fletcher Challenge Energy (at the time it was bought by Shell Oil), BHP’s Coal and Coke facility in Port Kembla, and Western Australia’s Water Corporation.  He has conducted ethnographic research and experimentation toward improving communication between technical and nontechnical people for the past 25 years.  

He is an engineer-turned-sociologist with degrees from MIT (physics), the University of California-Berkeley (energy and resources), and Stanford University (sociotechnical studies).  His focus is communication among experts and relative non-experts in settings ranging from steel mills and public hearings to doctors’ offices, press conferences, and university classrooms.  He has synthesised insights from fields such as conversation analysis, anthropological study of witchdoctors, organisational change, and adult learning. 

Rifkin served as Director of the Science Communication Program in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales from 2000 to 2010.  This position involved project and program management as well as liaison with a community of numbering more than 70 academics and professionals.  The Program has had an impact on more than 10,000 university students, from undergraduate through to PhD level.  He has fostered development of similar programs around Australia and in Latin America and Japan. 

He has been recognised as one of Australia’s most innovative and effective university instructors on a number of occasions over the past fifteen years, including two Vice-Chancellor’s teaching awards and a national citation.  He serves on national panels assessing applications for teaching awards.  His innovations include pioneering use of Web 2.0 – over 1200 web pages & 1 million hits per year.  Links are on –

He was affiliated with the Xerox PARC spinoff, the Institute for Research on Learning, in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, during their development of insights into ‘communities of practice’.  He also helped to launch a novel, postgraduate department combining organisational behaviour, information technology, and market economics.  Funded by a $2 million grant from an oil baron, the Program on Social and Organizational Learning was based at George Mason University, home to three Nobel laureates in economics.  For the past 16 years, he has served business and government through Twyford Consulting, designing and facilitating workshops on leadership and communication, and he has been affiliated with the St James Ethics Centre.  

Rifkin has written for The Australian newspaper, appeared on radio and television, and published in a range of academic journals, including Technology StudiesHuman RelationsHigher Education, and Business and Professional Ethics.  He has over 100 academic and educational publications, including multi-media.  He has received more than $2 million in grant funding.