Some readers of my blog of might call me a hypocrite – and I cannot really blame you – but despite strong reservations I continue to co-author work that is submitted to Sustainability – the journal, and mainly its publisher’s (MDPI’s) business model, I have critiqued in the past for mass and fast-publishing (find my critique here as well as the response of Paul Vazquez, CEO of MDPI) which can be found here). Sometimes the people I work with do need a quick-turn around time for their manuscripts and still wish to have work published in a recognized journal that has high impact and is open access (when paying the fee… which for the paper I am sharing here was discounted at 50% to acknowledge that lack of means of some of the contributing institutions, here in Brazil). As I stated in my critique, some work is of high quality and has been properly reviewed by two or more people which is the case in the paper I am sharing here which was just published.
Led by former PhD-student Daniele Tubino Sousa, this paper focuses on learning in the context of territorial problems such as the socio-ecological degradation of urban rivers represent a great challenge to achieving sustainability in cities. This issue demands collaborative efforts and the crossing of boundaries determined by actors that act from diverse spheres of knowledge and systems of practice. Based on an integrative territory notion and the boundary approach, the goal of this paper is to comprehend the boundary crossings that take place in multi-actor initiatives towards the resolution of this problem and what type of territorial transformation is produced as an outcome. Our analysis is built on participatory research on the Taquara Stream case, a degraded watercourse in a socio-ecologically vulnerable area, in southern Brazil. Our data analysis applied a visual chronological narrative and an interdisciplinary theoretical framework of analysis that combined concepts related to the territory (geography) and the boundary approach (education). We verified that local territorial issues functioned as boundary objects, fostering and facilitating dialogical interaction among involved actors, knowledge co-production, and collaborative practical actions that led to changes in the territory in terms of practices, comprehensions, and physical concrete transformations. We framed this study as one of territory-based learning meant to advance the understanding of territorial intervention processes towards urban sustainability.
Thanks to the wonderful work mainly of Steven Jean and Wietske Medema I am glad to be part of the above paper that appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Management (Jean et al., 2018, JEMA, 223, 1010-1022). You can have a look here: Serious Gaming, Boundary Crossing and Water Governance
Novel methods for enhancing collaboration and interactions are required to ensure that stakeholders and governments are able to develop a shared vision that supports sustainable watershed governance. Particular attention must be placed on integrating stakeholders who would otherwise have limited decision-making power. By crossing professional, ideological and jurisdictional boundaries, stakeholders’ perspectives are more likely to change than when staying within those boundaries. This process, known as boundary crossing, requires boundary objects; either artifacts, people, or institutions that play a bridging role between different boundary spaces. For this study, serious games powered by scientific models are identified as potentially effective boundary objects. A serious game simulation called Aqua Republica was used to organize game simulation events allowing stakeholders to connect in an in-person, informal and novel setting. This exploratory research aims to study the role and impact of serious games as boundary objects to enhancing collaboration and knowledge co-creation. The following research questions are addressed: (1) Do interactions increase over the course of a game simulation event? (2) Does the quality of interactions change over the course of a game simulation event? (3) Are the quantity and quality of interactions affected by pre-existing relationships? And if so, how? (4) How does the relationship between participants change over the course of a game simulation event? As part of this study, four game simulation events were organized that included students, professionals and diverse stakeholder groups working in watershed management contexts across Eastern Canada with 40 participants in total. Participants were divided into teams of 3–5 members and were surveyed and their interactions recorded. An interaction and social network analysis of the audiovisual recordings of each game simulation event indicates that interactions between participants increase in both quantity and quality as the game progresses. The analysis shows that serious game simulations provide an intervention platform not only to facilitate cross-boundary interactions, but also to strengthen relationships between diverse stakeholders, as expressed by an increase in mutual trust and empathy, as well as an improved understanding among the participants of the watershed system and the complex issues at stake.
New Course: Education for sustainable development – an introduction
There is only one Earth. With global challenges such as climate change, mass extinction of species, rising inequity and a growing world population, the prospects for a quality life for all, forever seem rather bleak. Central in this new course is the question: What is the role and responsibility of education in not only responding to sustainability problems but also in preventing them and in creating more sustainable futures? But also what might such education look like? The course will take advantage of some of the materials and lessons learnt from the recently finished Global Environmental Education Course Gothenburg University supported – along with other universities and the US EPA- which was lead by Cornell University in association with the NAAEE’s EECapacity Program.
In this 15 credit Master’s course you will critically and actively explore central concepts and perspectives in the field of education for sustainable development. The course content will be related to the participants’ own backgrounds, specific interests and prior experiences. Master students with different study backgrounds (e.g. environmental sciences, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities) can enrol in this course as long as you have an interest in both sustainable development and education.
The course is offered by Gothenburg University online at half time during the second half of autumn 2016 (Start: November 1 – Finish: March 22, 2017). The main course language is English. There are four blocks: 1) Understanding Sustainable Development, 2) Understanding Education in relation to SD, 3) Understanding learning environments, processes and outcomes conducive to SD and 4) Education in relation to your own SD-challenge (personal project). Each block is divided up in course weeks, each with short introductory videos, background literature, discussion questions and online discussion. Periodically there will be assignments that will be used in providing feedback and assessing the quality of your contributions. The new Global Education Monitor Report on Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All will be one of the texts used in the course.
For the pilot course we are admitting a maximum of 50 students. You will need to formally register for the course through Gothenburg University via this link to the GU course web-page.
More information about course logistics and registration can be found via the link to the course’s webpage (hyperlink).
Note: eligible students from European Union can participate without paying tuition to Gothenburg University. Students from outside the European Union will have to pay a tuition fee. It is assumed that participants have a bachelor degree or equivalent and have a proficient mastery of the English language (evidence of this may need to be provided).
Australian colleagues Ralphe Horne, John Fien, Beau Beza and Anitra Nelson edited a fascinating book on ‘sustainability citizenship’ to which I was priviledged to contribute a chapter together with Frans Lenglet. Urban sustainability citizenship situates citizens as social change agents with an ethical and self-interested stake in living sustainably with the rest of Earth. Such citizens not only engage in sustainable household practices but respect the importance of awareness raising, discussion and debates on sustainability policies for the common good and maintenance of Earth’s ecosystems.
The publisher’s website describes the book as follows:
Sustainability Citizenship in Cities seeks to explain how sustainability citizenship can manifest in urban built environments as both responsibilities and rights. Contributors elaborate on the concept of urban sustainability citizenship as a participatory work-in-progress with the aim of setting its practice firmly on the agenda. This collection will prompt practitioners and researchers to rethink contemporary mobilisations of urban citizens challenged by various environmental crises, such as climate change, in various socio-economic settings.
This book is a valuable resource for students, academics and professionals working in various disciplines and across a range of interdisciplinary fields, such as: urban environment and planning, citizenship as practice, environmental sociology, contemporary politics and governance, environmental philosophy, media and communications, and human geography.
The chapter Frans Lenglet and I wrote is titled: “Sustainability citizens: collaborative and disruptive social learning” and emphasizes the role of learning and cultivating diversity and generative conflict in co-determining what it means to be sustainable within the everyday realities people find themselves. It is argued that in order to brake with stubborn unstustainabel routines – that are heavily promoted and strenghtened in a market, growth and consumption-oriented society, citizens will also need to develop disruptive capacity and engage in transgressive learning (see my earlier post about transgressive learning and the work within the ICSS project on T-learning led by Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka from Rhodes Univerity in South Africa). If you want to have a look at our chapter you can find it here: SustainabilityCitizenshipWalsLenglet2016 (for personal use). The full reference is:
Wals, A.E.J. & F. Lenglet (2016). Sustainability citizens: collaborative and disruptive social learning. In: R. Horne, J. Fien, B.B. Beza & A. Nelson (Eds.) Sustainability Citizenship in Cities: Theory and Practice. London: Earthscan, p. 52-66.
….to help create the wisdom we – all 7+ billion of us – will need to transition towards a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.
We live in turbulent times. Changes occur at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when we try to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, homogenization of culture, and so on. They are all examples of the poignant sustainability impact of our increasingly consumption-oriented lifestyles marinated in a globalizing economy. We are facing problems and challenges for which there are no ready-made solutions that can be confidently prescribed and universally distributed. Some scholars argue we are already living in “post-normal times”: times loaded with uncertainty, contested (scientific) knowledge and high levels of complexity. In such times conventional routines and systems no longer seem to work, not in business, governance, resource management, science, communication, education nor in any other domain or field. A rethinking of these routines and systems and a creative co-creation of alternative ones appears essential in moving towards a more sustainable world.
Was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a major ecological and economic disaster? Or are the ecosystems rapidly self-healing and is the economy getting back on its feet again? How bad is the tsunami-induced nuclear disaster in Japan? For whom? Will increases in palm oil production and biofuel accelerate the loss of rainforests and biodiversity? Can organic food production feed the world? Can genetically modified crops feed the world (safely)? Is there such a thing as a climate neutral building? Paper or plastic? How sustainable is solar energy when the resources needed to make photovoltaic panels are finite? These are just a few questions for which there are no simple answers or single truths. This book attributes a key role to learning in responding to sustainability challenges in post-normal times. It explores the implications of living in times of accelerating change for learning and how new forms of learning can help people in re-orienting society towards sustainability. How do citizens handle “sustainability confusion” about who is right or who is wrong, who to believe and who not to believe, about how bad or good things are and what to do or what not to do in a particular place or situation? And, more importantly perhaps, how do we deal with contradictions and the rhetoric oftentimes used to advance a particular interest or perspective? A key premise here is that living in times of uncertainty, complexity, contestation, but also in times of technologically mediated hyper-connectivity and information overload, inevitably has consequences for learning in formal, non-formal and informal settings. But what are these consequences? And what kinds of competences and qualities need to be developed in learners to handle them? How can they be developed?
Secondly, this book explores the possibilities and dilemmas of designing, strengthening and facilitating “learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability.” Contributors introduce and discuss (re)emerging forms of learning that not only assist in breaking down unsustainable behaviors, forms of governance, production and consumption, but also can help create more sustainable lifestyles. Examples of such learning are: learning by doing, social learning, transformative learning, cross-boundary learning, service learning, learning from nature (biomimickry), etc.
Finally, the book also explores questions like: What role do uncertainty and complexity-related emotions such as stress, anxiety and fear play in this context? What kind of capacities, qualities and competencies do we need to strengthen in people to be able to live well within the carrying capacity of the earth?
“Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change” is located at the interface of science and society. It explores niches and edges navigated by reflective practitioners and grounded scholars who share a concern for the well-being of the planet. The editors encourage the formation of so-called “hybrid author teams” – people energetically working together from obvious or not so obvious complementary perspectives. We are interested in chapters that invite a response on the part of the reader. Authors are encouraged to use powerful narratives, stories, metaphors, contradictions and questions that do not tell readers what to think and what to do, but rather provide a mirror that helps them rethink, re-frame and, indeed, transform their own practices in both professional and personal contexts.
Chapters come from a range of (inter)disciplinary fields including: conservation biology, eco-justice, education, ethics, innovation, communication, science-technology-society studies, development studies, chaos and complexity studies, systems thinking, natural resource management and governance, social marketing and business studies. A range of divergent perspectives on living and learning in times of change is provided. These differing perspectives have different disciplinary orientations (such as philosophy, ethics, learning psychology, conservation biology, ecology, cybernetics, risk communication, and environmental science), a sector background (for instance corporate social responsibility, governance and policy-making, transport and mobility, energy production, and bio-based economies) or represent a particular vantage point (for example, technologically-meditated learning and social networking, social and environmental justice, disaster management, citizen science and food-security).
The book was the third in Wageningen Academic Publishers’ Education and Sustainable Development Series. The first successful volumes were: Social learning: Towards a sustainable world (2007) edited by Arjen Wals and Young people, education, and sustainable development: Exploring principles, perspectives, and praxis (2009) edited by Peter Blaze Corcoran and Philip Osano. All chapters will be peer reviewed. The book was published in April 2012 and wwas first presented at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012. The publication of the book was supported by Agentschap.NL. Agentschap.NL is responsible for the implementation of the Dutch Learning for Sustainable Development Policy.
Arjen Wals, Wageningen University, The Netherlands & Peter Blaze Corcoran, Florida Gulf Coast University,USA
Rebekah L. Tauritz,Wageningen University, The Netherlands; Joseph Paul Weakland,Florida Gulf Coast University,USA; Brandon P. Hollingshead,Florida Gulf Coast University,USA
* opening quote comes from: Wilson, E.O. (1998). Consilience: the unity of knowledge. New York: Vintage Books
Although technological advances, new policies, laws and legislation are essential in moving towards sustainability, it is not enough! Ultimately, sustainability needs to emerge in the everyday fabric of life – in the minds of people, organizations and communities, and in the values they live by. Such emergence depends on how and what people learn, both individually and collectively. A central question in my work is how to create conditions that support new forms of learning that take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness which is all around us, but so far remains largely untapped in our search for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect. This question was also the focus of a two day seminar organized in The Netherlands a while back with Rietje van Dam-Mieras (a UNESCO Chair in Education for Sustainable Development and ICTs) and the able assistance of Rebekah Tauritz.
Fortunately the persistent call for a more sustainable world continues to influence policy-making, governance, public debate, business decisions and lifestyles. Nonetheless we are still searching for adequate responses to manifestations of unsustainability which are manifold (e.g. the depletion of natural resources, the rise of unnatural disasters, human-induced climate change, marine toxicity, and rising inequity). This search is marinated in complexity, uncertainty and controversy. After all, governing, consuming, producing and living inevitably takes place in rich social contexts with actors representing innumerable vantage points, interests, values, power positions, beliefs and needs.
‘Learning in one form or another is increasingly seen as a key in transitioning towards a more sustainable world. Learning-based change, anticipatory learning, collaborative learning, community problem-solving, and social learning represent just a few of the many ideas and concepts that are connected to the quest for sustainability. It is through various form of learning that a more reflexive society can emerge, one in which creativity, flexibility and diversity are released and used to deal with the challenges posed by sustainability, one that has the capacity to challenge existing routines, norms and values and one that has both the desire and the ability to correct itself.
Universities, colleges, schools and institutes of vocational education have a key role to play fostering these types of learning and need to figure out the possible consequences for the way they structure their curricula, for the kind of research that is needed, for the kinds competencies they need and wish to develop in staff members and students, and for the way they interface with the community. The latter is crucial in times that demand increased permeability between disciplines, cultures, institutions and sectors.
Key questions we need to address include:
How can schools, colleges and universities participate meaningfully in trans-boundary learning projects that are rooted in (local) sustainability issues?
How can we utilize the change potential of diversity in co-creating new visions and more sustainable ways of living and working?
How (and to what degree) can such learning be designed, supported and facilitated?