The Institute, established in 2005, was formed from the merger of CSU's Centre for Rural Social Research and the Johnstone Centre for Natural Resources and Society . Its inaugural director, until mid 2007, was Professor Allan Curtis, Professor of Integrated Environmental Management. Associate Professor Robyn Watts was the Institute's acting director until the Institute's current Director Professor Max Finlayson took on the role in December 2007.
The Institute was initially underpinned by five scholarly communities or discipline groups - Rural Social Research, Ecology & Biodiversity, Human Dimensions of Environmental Management, Economics and Regional Development, and Communication, Arts & Education.
In its first few years, drawing on advice from the Institute's Advisory Board, three long-term integrated research themes were identified to provide a focus for the Institute's inter-disciplinary research. The Integration Themes were: Sustainable Management of Environmental Assets; Demographic Change in Rural Australia; and Vibrant Rural and Regional Communities.
In 2009, the research focus was redeveloped to concentrate on Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) where the Institute had the research expertise, breadth of knowledge and interest to better support the strategic development of research across the University. The SRAs are issue focused, team-based, inter-disciplinary, underpinned by disciplinary
excellence, and are output and outcome orientated.
In 2011 a decision was made to simplify the Institute's structure; to make it more multi-disciplinary in nature rather than based on specific disciplines; and to visibly focus on its strengths in integrated research.