An academic understanding of the full extent and nature of socioeconomic benefits and impacts of large-scale CSG development is confounded by multiple levels of complexity and by context-specific and dynamic individual interpretations of what may be seen as a benefit or a burden. In this paper we describe a novel method developed specifically to understand, assess and communicate the complexity of cumulative social and economic effects of large-scale CSG development for small towns. It is a participatory approach that draws from complex adaptive systems theory, social learning and social innovation. The method has been applied to monitor, communicate and respond to the different social and economic changes experienced by eight small towns in the CSG-rich Surat and Bowen Basins of Queensland, Australia. A selection of significant changes is outlined and then broadly compared with the trajectories of change experienced in a similar town in the Surat Basin with no CSG development, and another in the Bowen Basin with predominately coal development. Towns with large-scale CSG development do not resemble traditional mining towns or traditional agricultural towns in their socioeconomic profiles.