About me

Hi, my name is Dr Stephen McGrail. I am a research professional currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Most recently I’ve worked in academia, including as a Research Fellow at Monash University (sociology department) and at Swinburne University (urban social research focused on decarbonisation and climate change adaptation) here in Melbourne. Prior to this, I worked in management consulting and advertising (professional services).

A few years ago I completed my PhD at an applied sustainability research institute called the Institute for Sustainable Futures (part of University of Technology Sydney). I conducted evaluative research on ‘prospective exercises’ convened by CSIRO-based researchers (which they term ‘futures forums’) via a theory-driven small-N comparison of three interventions conducted between 2007 and 2013 (i.e., three futures forums) which probed causal patterns related to their effects/impacts. The focal prospective exercises explored potential and anticipated energy transitions, problems and related shifts and longer-term scenarios centred mostly on decarbonisation and other strategic challenges (e.g. energy costs and security). The evaluative aspect of the study appraised the outcomes of these exercises – partly because the intended outcomes often weren’t achieved, and there were unintended consequences – and, related to this, examined how the exercises were conducted and the social, political and cognitive factors that influenced their effects. My thesis also drew on theory from a range of fields to theorise ‘prospective knowledge practices’.

The study also responded to the rising prominence of projections (and scenarios) of the longer-term future and their roles and functions in socio-technical transition processes.

Related to the above theme, I also considered how actors make decisions in domains like the energy domain and under particular conditions. I drew on an interdisciplinary mix of theory, noting, for example, the influences of the frame(s) through which actors see and interpret information and make their decisions (also see Fligstein et al. 2017, Sovacool et al 2016, and Tidd & Bessant, 2018), and cognitive factors like motivated reasoning (see Mercier & Sperber, 2011). I argue that the case study findings are relevant to other transition contexts. (Also see related work on, for example, innovation adoption and rejection).

The practice lens, and other theoretical lenses, adopted in my PhD research also highlighted the importance of cultural and institutional factors to the use and effects of such practices. This includes how ways of doing things become stabilised and taken-for-granted, and the way hidden rules and norms often maintain stability in social situations.

Since then I have done further research on ‘sustainability transitions’ (with an emphasis on urban water management practices and ‘deinstitutionalisation’ during transitions).

Prior to completing my PhD I completed an MA by research (social studies of science/history and philosophy of science), and MSc (strategic foresight) and BBus (Marketing) degrees.

Associated research/work (often done as part of teams I’ve been grateful to be part of) has been published in a number of academic journals including the Journal of Cleaner Production, Sustainability, Futures, Evaluation Journal of Australasia, International Journal of Foresight and Innovation Policy, On the Horizon, and Journal of Futures Studies. I have also been an invited reviewer for a number of leading journals including Sustainability Science, Geographical Review and Environment, Systems and Decisions, as well as providing reviews as part of journal special issues (e.g. for a special issue that appeared in the journal On the Horizon). For more information on these articles see the publications page.

Blog aims and contact details:

This blog was originally used to reflect on my PhD journey, share emerging insights from this research, and comment on related issues and events that emerge from time to time (most posts between 2013-2018 reflect this original focus). The URL reflects my earlier work as a process facilitation consultant and management consultant. I’ve considered ditching this URL, but it reminds me of where I’ve come from and of the normative orientation of such work. The focus of this blog – including whether I continue to keep it online and/or post new content – will co-evolve with the focus of my future professional career. 

Preferred contact via email: stephen.mcgrail@gmail.com