Summer School River Lives and Living Rivers: Towards a transdisciplinary conceptualization

I feel very privileged to be part of one of the two major International River Research projects led by Wageningen UR colleague Prof. Rutgerd Boelens: Riverhood and RiverCommons. Riverhood and River Commons are both 5-year research projects that focus on enlivening rivers, river co-governance initiatives, and new water justice movements.

Riverhood is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) (Grant Agreement No 101002921) and aims to build groundbreaking transdisciplinary concepts and methodological tools to analyze and support new water justice movements’ institutions, strategies and practices for equitable and sustainable water governance. It does so through comparing initiatives in Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia) and Europe (Netherlands and Spain). The focus will be on movements promoting novel concepts and practices such as Rights of Nature, new water cultures or nature-inclusive hydraulics, to name just a few.

RiverCommons is funded by Wageningen University’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) and unites chair groups from the social and natural sciences, as well as partners worldwide. Its objective is to develop transdisciplinary concepts and methods for research, education, and multi-stakeholder interactions to understand and support river co-governance initiatives and sustainable socio-ecological river systems in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

While each of the projects has its specific objectives, activities, regions, and partners, there is immense potential for synergies and cross-pollination. Riverhood and River Commons will therefore be integrated in multiple ways, to together build a diverse and wide network of river scholars, activists, and institutions that commonly aim to understand and strengthen river co-governance around the world.

Both projects are united by a common framework that illuminates the different facets and complexities of river systems. The framework encompasses four dimensions: River-as-Ecosociety, River-as-Territory, River-as-Subject, and River-as-Movement. You can find more information about it in Concepts.

Another important component of both projects is the development of Environmental Justice Labs (Riverhood) and River Co-governance Labs (River Commons) to be organized in the case study sites to co-create knowledge and mobilize and exchange ideas for change.

One exciting immediate prospect and possibility for PhD’s from around the world is our Summer School “River Lives and Living Rivers: Towards a transdisciplinary conceptualization”

Here is the short introduction to the course:

World’s rivers are fundamental to social and natural well-being but profoundly affected by mega-damming and pollution. In response to top-down and technocratic approaches, in many places riverine communities practice forms of ‘river co-governance’, integrating ecological, cultural, political, economic and technological dimensions. In addition, new water justice movements (NWJMs) have emerged worldwide to creatively transform local ideas for ‘enlivening rivers’ into global action and vice versa. The Summer School aims to provide PhD students who conduct research on these ‘river commons’ and NWJMs with transdisciplinary concepts and approaches for studying their emerging ideas, concepts, proposals and strategies. The training thereby focuses on conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and capacity-building for (understanding and supporting) river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up.

Mobilising capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures: Opening spaces for collaborative action and learning

The TESF Network tesf.netw has just released a background paper on Mobilising Capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. Transforming education for sustainable futures requires coalitions and collaborations which span traditional boundaries – academic, professional, geographical and generational. A key point of departure in the paper is that sustainability is not something which can be discovered by scientists and disseminated through policy and practitioner networks, but rather something which must be created through processes of collective deliberation, questioning, negotiation, and experimentation. This requires opening spaces for examining entrenched unsustainable patterns, habits and routines which have become ‘frozen’, and engaging in collective action which includes experimenting, making and learning from errors, and celebrating progress towards more sustainable alternatives.

The key elements of mobilising capacities for achieving more dialogical, deliberative and co-creative forms of sustainability in and through education, can be summarised as follows:

Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures requires mobilising capacities in the form of knowledge, skills, agency, relationships and other valuable resources which are distributed across communities, organisations, professions and other stakeholder groups.

From a holistic or ecological perspective, capacities are relational, emerging through social interactions and relationships-in-action, rather than being individual properties or attributes.

Mobilising capacities which are distributed, and fostering capacities which are relational, requires reaching out and bringing together diverse groups to pursue shared goals within a wider coalition or network.

This requires creating, or opening up, spaces for dialogue, deliberation, experimentation, decision-making, developing relationships, and collaborative inquiry, action and learning.

Across these spaces, intentional structures and processes can support the learning of individuals and groups within the network, and facilitate learning by the network.

You can find the full paper here!

Towards a Framework for Designing and Assessing Game-Based Approaches for Sustainable Water Governance – New paper (open-access)


Together with Alice Aubert and Wietske Medema I co-authored a review paper on the designng and assessing of game-based approaches for sustainable water governance. In the paper we try to map these approaches using a heuristic that is derived from work Bob Jickling and I did well over 10 years ago on the positioning of sustainability-oriented education and learning. The resulting paper you can find below. Here is the abstratc. Disclosure: The paper appears in the journal Water which is part of MDPI whose publishing model I critiqued in an earlier blog post.


Most of the literature on serious games and gamification calls for a shift from evaluating practices to using theories to assess them. While the former is necessary to justify using game-based approaches, the latter enables understanding “why” game-based approaches are beneficial (or not). Based on earlier review papers and the papers in this special issue of Water entitled “Understanding game-based approaches for improving sustainable water governance: the potential of serious games to solve water problems”, we show that game-based approaches in a water governance context are relatively diverse. In particular, the expected aims, targeted audience, and spatial and temporal scales are factors that differentiate game-based approaches. These factors also strongly influence the design of game-based approaches and the research developed to assess them. We developed a framework to guide and reflect on the design and assessment of game-based approaches, and we suggest opportunities for future research. In particular, we highlight the lack of game-based approaches that can support “society-driven” sustainable water governance.
Here is the link to the full paper which is freely downloadable.