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Dr Chris Blackmore

Profile summary

Professional biography

In both teaching and research I focus on learning systems, environmental decision making, environmental ethics and responsibility, sustainable development, managing systemic change and communities of practice.

From the mid 90s to the present time I  have been involved in OU courses and research with a range of roles including:

  • Chair of the OU's first postgraduate course in Environmental Decision Making: a Systems Approach (T860 which is now T891 Making Environmental Decisions)
  • Chair and/or team member of ten Open University courses/modules - undergraduate and postgraduate (mainly environmental and systems)
  • Qualification co-lead of the MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice & various contributions to MSc in Environmental Decision Making/Environmental Management
  • Researcher on a succession of international projects concerned with social learning, governance, networks and communities of practice in contexts of water, agriculture and climate adaptation .
  • Author of a wide range of open learning materials, books and papers on environment/sustainable development and systems
  • Head of the Systems Discipline in 2002 and 2003.

I originally joined the Systems Discipline of the Open University in 1986 from an environmental sciences/ environmental education background and after working for several years in Africa. First  I managed the Farm Interpretation Project (25 staff through the Community Programme) and subsequently the self-financing Countryside Interpretation Unit. Between 1990 and 1994 I worked on a cross-Faculty project developing the OU's Environmental Education and Training and contributed to introduction of sustainable development into OU teaching through partnerships with external agencies, both national and international. I took an active role in multi-stakeholder processes around UNCED's Agenda 21 in the 1990s, representing the education community on the Executive of UNED-UK, fore-runner of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future.


Research interests

I am an experienced researcher and have been involved in a range of international EU and private sector funded  research projects that have focused on learning, systems, sustainability, managing and governance in contexts of water and/or farming.  These projects include SLIM (Social Learning for the Integrated Management and sustainable use of water at catchment scale) ,  LEARNing (Learning in Agricultural and Rural Networks: institutions, networks and governance)  and CADWAGO (Climate change adaptation and water governance - reconciling food security, renewable energy and the provision of multiple ecosystem services). Currently I am the OU Lead for the H2020 AgriLink project. (see Research activity for description).

I have supervised several PhD studies through to completion.   I have also examined a range of PhD studies in the UK and further afield.  My own PhD thesis was entitled: 'Learning systems and communities of practice for environmental decision making.'  

Forthcoming conference activity

The 13th European IFSA Symposium 1st - 5th July 2018 at Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (CIHEAM - MAICh), Crete, Greece. Abstract submitted with Profs Nadarajah Sriskandarajah and Ray Ison. Also part of the team running the PhD training course  "Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research" from 29th June to 5th July 2018

Recent  conference activity 

International Systems Sciences Society 2017, Vienna, Austria 10-14 July 2017 - From Science to Systemic Solutions: systems thinking for everyone. Participant.  Also part of the team running the PhD training course  "Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research" from 7-14 July 2017

International Systems Sciences Society 2016, Boulder, Colorado 24-30 July 2016 -- Realizing Sustainable Futures in Socio-Ecological Systems
Paper, with Ray Ison, Transforming to sustainable futures: learning from 45 years of systems thinking in practice pedagogy also part of the team running the PhD training course  "Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research" from 22-30 July 2016

The 12th European IFSA Symposium 12-15 July 2016 at Harper Adams University, UK
Final plenary keynote, theme co-ordinator for enabling governance, policy and institutions workshops also part of the team running the PhD training course  "Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research" from 9-16 July 2016

"Governing the Anthropocene: Cyber-systemic Possibilities" Herrenhausen Palace, Hannover Germany, 30th and 31st July 2015
"Governing the Anthropocene: the greatest challenge for systems thinking in practice?" 
International Systems Sciences Society 2015 Berlin, Germany : August 2 - 7, 2015

Education for Sustainability in Higher Education: Achievements & Prospects Conference 8 January 2015 Plymouth University
Paper presented and published in the proceedings

Teaching interests

Mainly involved in postgraduate teaching, currently Qualification Co-Lead (with Martin Reynolds) for Systems Thinking in Practice

Currently involved in the following Open University modules


Impact and engagement

Through the Systems Thinking in Practice qualifications I have, for several years,worked alongside my colleagues Martin Reynolds and Ray Ison with our Alumni and some of their employers. There is an action research aspect to our work in this area that has impact in that our Alumni group is using what they have learnt to improve a wide range of situations they are involved in ranging from environmental management to health and social care to their organisations to multi-level governance.  Our research projects (see Research and publications section) are in similar modes.

The summer PhD courses that I run with Ray Ison, Nadarajah Sriskandarajah (SLU, Sweden) and Ika Darnhofer (BOKU, Vienna, Austria) also engage with various communities of practice and have impact. 

External collaborations

I collaborate with researchers and businesses in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Poland, Romania, Norway, Latvia, UK, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Italy, through the AgriLink project.

In recent years I have also collaborated with researchers in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia and Canada through the CADWAGO project.  

I collaborate with other academics in Europe and the United States in running summer courses in Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research.

I am currently a part of various networks that are engaged in research, teaching and scholarship concerning Systems Thinking in Practice, Environmental Decision Making and Sustainability. These include:

The International Farming Systems Association

The International Society for the Systems Sciences

I also have ongoing international links through my longstanding work on Communities of Practice and on Environmental and Sustainable Development Education.

Research groups

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


Externally funded projects

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 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