Karen  Vella Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Karen Vella

Senior Lecturer
Queensland University of Technology

I am a Senior Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning at Queensland University of Technology. I work closely with state, federal and local governments to understand how to address integrated governance, community resilience and sustainability in complex decision making systems. My publications consider adaptive governance, collaboration and systemic evaluation of planning and policy systems in diverse Australian and international contexts.


I have over 20 years experience in research, teaching, and professional practice in planning for the built and natural environment.  

My research examines complex governance, decision making and outcomes in highly contested contexts.  My research builds on professional knowledge gained through positions held for the Queensland and Australian Governments, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), local government and natural resource management organisations. I am heavily involved in goverance and human dimensions research to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef.  This focuses on addressing impacts of catchment water quality , coastal development, and greenhouse gas emissions and improving governance to address complex climate change problems.  

I embrace trans-disciplinary and diverse cultural approaches to teaching undergraduate and post-graduate students. I am a member of the Planning Institute of Australia and work in partnership with planning industry professionals to deliver quality planning education.

I am a Director of the Board of Reef Check Australia, an environmental charity for citizen science and community engagement in conserving the Great Barrier Reef.  

I am actively involved in the Science in Australia Gender Equity Pilot Project to promote gender equity and gender diversity in science, technology engineering and mathematics and medicine.


    BRTP (Hons 1A,) University of Queensland, Brisbane, 1997
    PhD University of Queensland, Brisbane, 2004

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Areas of research and professional expertise include:

    - Governance research and governance systems evaluation
    Urban planning and urban landscape management to reduce impacts on sensitive marine environments;
    - Protecting the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Great Barrier Reef;
    - Integrated regional planning:
    - Sustainability, climate adaptation, community resilience and disaster recovery;
    - Australian planning, Northern Australian planning;
    - International comparative analysis (Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Italy, Iran);
    - Planning studio pedagogy and its use in contemporary planning curricula.

Personal Interests

    I am a landscape artist and enjoy spending time outdoors.



Featured Title
 Featured Title - HB of Australian Planning SIPE - 1st Edition book cover


Society and Natural Resources

The Practice of Water Policy Governance Networks

Published: Feb 07, 2017 by Society and Natural Resources
Authors: Eberhard, Rachel, Margerum, Richard, Vella, Karen, Mayere, Severine, & Taylor, Bruce
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Governments are increasingly using network governance arrangements to engage stakeholders in tackling complex water policy issues. We draw on governmentality theory to explore the practices and power dynamics of water policy networks in six significant longitudinal case studies in Australia, the United States, and France.

Journal of Environmental Management

Risk analysis of the governance system affecting outcomes in the GBR

Published: Dec 01, 2016 by Journal of Environmental Management
Authors: Dale, Allan P., Vella, Karen, Pressey, Robert L., Brodie, Jon, Gooch, Margaret, Potts, Ruth, & Eberhard, Rachel
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

The state and trend of the Great Barrier Reef’s (GBR’s) ecological health remains problematic, influencing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statements regarding GBR governance. This paper applies Governance Systems Analysis (GSA), a novel analytical framework that identifies the governance themes, domains and subdomains most likely to influence environmental and socio-economic outcomes in complex natural systems.

Environmental Impact Assessment Review

Bridging the divide between theory and guidance in SEA

Published: Sep 16, 2016 by Environmental Impact Assessment Review
Authors: Baresi, Umberto, Vella, Karen J., & Sipe, Neil G
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Clear and effective legislation is a requisite to bring sustainable development from theory into practice. This paper develops a methodology to investigate how Italian regional legislation disciplines the use of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).

Journal of Planning Education and Research

Voluntary Collaboration for Adaptive Governance

Published: Jul 29, 2016 by Journal of Planning Education and Research
Authors: Vella, Karen, Butler, William, Sipe, Neil G., Chapin, Tim, & Murley, Jim
Subjects: Built Environment, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact (SFRCCC) has been highlighted as a regional climate change governance exemplar for land use planning. After six years, we find the compact has given momentum to local climate change planning through the Regional Climate Action Plan and provides a foundation for adaptive governance for climate change adaptation. Efforts are now needed to scale down implementation and scale up governance and planning more systematically.

Society and Natural Resources

Evaluating governance arrangements and decision making

Published: Jun 17, 2016 by Society and Natural Resources
Authors: Potts, Ruth, Vella, Karen, Dale, Allan, & Sipe, Neil G.
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Governance continues to be a challenge in the management and conservation of natural resources. It is difficult to strategically address governance challenges without understanding the dynamics, capacities, and knowledge application of institutions within such governance systems.

Australian Geographer

A study of governance arrangements in Cape York Peninsula

Published: Sep 03, 2015 by Australian Geographer
Authors: Potts, Ruth, Vella, Karen, Dale, Allan, & Sipe, Neil
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Complex intersecting social, economic and environmental dilemmas in Australia's Cape York Peninsula present a number of challenges for planners seeking to develop and implement land use and natural resource management (NRM) plans. The paper finds that decision-making arrangements for land use and NRM planning in the Peninsula are still in their infancy and are inadequate to support effective outcomes.

Geographical Research

Not learning from the past: Adaptive governance challenges for Australian NRM

Published: May 18, 2015 by Geographical Research
Authors: Vella, Karen, Sipe, Neil, Dale, Allan, & Taylor, Bruce
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Australia's governance arrangements for natural resource management (NRM) have evolved considerably over the last 30 years. The impact of changes in governance on NRM planning and delivery requires assessment. We undertake a multi-method programme evaluation using adaptive governance principles as an analytical frame and apply this to Queensland to assess the impacts of governance change on NRM planning and governance outcomes.

Journal of the American Planning Association

Relocating a flood-affected community: good planning or good politics?

Published: Feb 09, 2015 by Journal of the American Planning Association
Authors: Sipe, Neil & Vella, Karen
Subjects: Urban Planning, Urban Studies

roblem, research strategy and findings: On January 10, 2011, the town of Grantham, Queensland (Australia), was inundated with a flash flood in which 12 of the town's 370 residents drowned. We document the process of community relocation, assess the relocation process in Grantham against best practice, examine whether the process of community relocation can be upscaled and if the Grantham relocation is an example of good planning or good politics.

Australasian Journal of Environmental Management

Analysing governance of Australia's system of landscape-based GHG abatement

Published: Dec 16, 2014 by Australasian Journal of Environmental Management
Authors: Dale, Allan P., Vella, Karen, & McKee, James
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Healthy governance systems are key to delivering effective outcomes in any broad domain of natural resource management (NRM). This paper explores key areas of risk within the governance system underpinning this emerging hybrid domain.

Planning Theory

Exploring the usefulness of structural–functional approaches

Published: Oct 09, 2014 by Planning Theory
Authors: Potts, Ruth, Vella, Karen, Dale, Allan, & Sipe, Neil
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Existing planning theories tend to be limited in their analytical scope and often fail to account for the impact of many interactions between the multitudes of stakeholders involved in strategic planning processes. Although many theorists rejected structural–functional approaches from the 1970s, this article argues that many of structural–functional concepts remain relevant and useful to planning practitioners.