Online Masters Course on Education in the context of Sustainable Development at Gothenburg University – starting November 1st

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.

sutainabilitypie

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 content contact me at: Arjen.wals@gu.se

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).

Sustainability Citizenship in Cities: Theory and Practice – now available!

sustainability-citizenship-in-cities-theory-and-practice-by-ralph-horne-1317391071

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.

If you want to get a hold of the entire book visit: https://www.routledge.com/Sustainability-Citizenship-in-Cities-Theory-and-practice/Horne-Fien-Beza-Nelson/p/book/9781138933637

 

 

The relevance of Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom to urban socio-ecology

jane+in+news+slideshowJane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom were both giants in their impact on how we think about communities, cities, and common resources such as space and nature. But we don’t often put them together to recognize the common threads in their ideas.

Jacobs is rightly famous for her books, including The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and for her belief that people, vibrant spaces and small-scale interactions make great cities—that cities are “living beings” and function like ecosystems.

Ostrom won a Nobel Prize for her work in economic governance, especially as it relates to the Commons. She was an early developer of a social-ecological framework for the governance of natural resources and ecosystems.ostrombook

These streams of ideas clearly resonate together in how they bind people, economies, places and nature into a single ecosystem-driven framework of thought and planning, themes that deeply motivate The Nature of Cities. In this roundtable we ask sixteen people to talk about some key ideas that motivate their work, and how these ideas have roots in the ideas of either Jacobs or Ostrom, or both.

The natureofcities.com is a wonderful resource and platform for people interested in re-designing urban spaces to make them more liveable and sustainable. Every two months the site organises a Global Round Table that starts with input from scholars and practitioners from around the world. I was asked to provide an short input piece as well which can be found in the online discussion forum. In the past these roundtables  have been getting about 12,000+ readers, from 1000+ cities and 70+ countries and I encourage anyone to have go to visit and contribute at this roundtable by clicking on the link below.

Common threads: connections among the ideas of Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom, and their relevance to urban socio-ecology

For more of their ideas, directly from them, good places to start are:

Jacobs, J. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, New York, USA.

Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, USA

Transformative Learning for Sustainability: Special Issue

Ariane König and Nancy Budwig have edited a cutting edge Special Issue for the Journal Current Opinions of Environmental Sustainability on Transformative Learning for Sustainability and more specifically on ‘New requisites to universities in the 21st century’.

elseviercover_large

This Special Issue focuses on how universities engage in sustainability issues by staging transformative learning opportunities. The special issue features ten case papers from five continents illustrating the changing relationship of learning, research and practice in such programmes. The issue includes a paper on the Luxembourg Certificate in Sustainability and Social Innovation and an introductory overview by Dr König.to which I will contribute in May with a talk on “Sustainability transitions in society: changing science/citizen relations with citizen science for social learning“. The University of Luxembourg has made the entire special issue open access which means that anyone can download all the papers for free, including the one I co-authored with Heila Lotz-Sisitka, David Kronlid and Dylan McGary on Transgressive Learning which you can also download the paper here: transgressiveSocialLearning Transgressive Social Learning

Highlights from the paper are:

  • Pedagogies are required that are not constrained by current use of limited concepts, or by disciplinary decadence.
  • Concepts such as resilience are problematic if they hold unsustainable systems and patterns in place.
  • Disruptive capacity building and transgressive pedagogies are needed for a more sustainable world.
  • Transformative, transgressive forms of learning requires co-learning in multi-voiced and multi-actor formations.
  • Higher education should provide possibilities for engaged, lived experience of transformative praxis for students.

“Beyond unreasonable doubt – learning for socio-ecological sustainability…”

InauguralInvitationcomplete

As my ‘special professorship’ has been converted into a ‘personal professorship,’ (I know this is confusing to academics from around the world but I don’t want to use up valuable blog-space to explain it) I was invited to give a second inaugural address titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene in the Aula of the Wageningen University on December 17th 

The special day happened to be the warmest December 17th on record… quite fitting for the talk and the cover of the accompanying booklet (with people sitting on an terrace a cold Fall evening in Gothenburg under so-called ‘space heaters’).

A short introduction to the new Chair has been placed on youtube:

Transformative Learning for Socio-ecological Sustainability in less than 3 minutes

Here’s the back flap text of the booklet is now available:

‘For the first time in history one single species has succeeded in living in a way on planet Earth that disrupts major natural systems and forces in such a way that our survival is at stake. A transition is needed to break with resilient unsustainable systems and practices. Such a transition requires active civic engagement in sustainability. New forms of education and learning, including ‘disruptive capacity building’ and ‘transgressive’ pedagogies are urgently needed to foster such engagement.’

 

If you want to receive the booklet containing the accompanying text to the lecture then send an email to office.ecs@wur.nl with unreasonable doubt in the ‘subject’ and put your name and address in the body of the message and we will post you one.
 If you wish you can still attend, sort of,  the event by going to:
Here you can see the entire ceremony which starts at minute 9 with an introduction by our Vice-Chancellor (Rector Magnificus) Arthur Mol and with me starting the speech (battling the flu but hanging in there – I think/hope) at minute 15. Sometimes the animations I used do not fly-in on WURTV for some reason but fortunately they did in the auditorium). But it’s of good quality and you can advance the timer if you wish to.

 

Focus of the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability

In short the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability explores three important questions: 1) What sustain’abilities’ and responsibilities we need to develop in learners? 2) What learning spaces or ecologies of learning are most suitable in developing those abilities? and 3) How can the cultivation of these abilities, responsibilities and spaces be designed and supported? In other words, the main focus of the chair lies on understanding, designing and supporting learning processes that can help citizens understand complex socio-ecological issues through meaningful engagement and interactions with and within the social, physical and virtual realities of which people are part and the development of the capacities they need to contribute to their resolution.

The addition of ‘socio-ecological’ to sustainability is intentional, as much work done on sustainability nowadays tends to focus on economic sustainability, often without people and planet in mind. In a way sustainability has lost its transformative edge ‘sustainability’ during the last decade as the much of the private sector embraced it as a marketing opportunity. Adrian Parr (2009) even suggests that sustainability has been hijacked and neutered. While economics inevitably is part of the sustainability puzzle, the need to (re)turn to the ecological boundaries in which we have to learn to live together, as well as to the well-being and meaning of life issues for all, has prompted me to make the social-ecological more prominent in the description of this Chair. Therefore, I am particularly interested in understanding and supporting forms of learning that can lead to the engagement of seemingly unrelated actors and organizations in making new knowledge and in taking the actions necessary to address socio-ecological challenges.
Note 1: The booklet containing the inaugural address will be posted to you for free (as long as supplies last) when you email office.ecs@wur.nl with “Unreasonable doubt” in the subject area and your name and postal address in the body of the text).
Note 2: The inaugural address can be followed live via WURTV where it will also be archived: https://wurtv.wur.nl/P2G/cataloguepage.aspx

 

NJAS Special Issue: Social learning towards sustainability: problematic, perspectives and promise

‘Social learning towards sustainability: problematic, perspectives and promise’ is the title of a special issue of NJAS which I co-edited with my (former) colleagues Romina Rodela and PJ Beers. The abstract of the introductory paper with the same title reads as follows:

A common thread throughout this special issue is that sustainability is not a destiny one can eventually reach, but rather a continuous learning path towards transformation that should be profound (e.g. affecting moral standards and value systems), transversal (e.g. requiring the involvement of individuals, groups and collectives) and counter-hegemonic (e.g. requiring the exposure and questioning of stubborn routines). From such a vantage point debates about sustainability likely require transdisciplinary to transcend a singular disciplinary view-point and to allow for the consideration of different perspectives and types of knowledge. The aim of this special issue is to assess the added-value of a social learning perspective on research and action from at least three different ‘disciplinary’ perspectives: systems innovation, natural resource management, and environmental education. Each of these offers a particular perspective on learning, on change processes and evolving understandings of sustainable practices.

The proofs of this introductory paper with the following citation: Wals, A.E.J. and R. Rodela (2014). Social learning towards sustainability: Problematic, perspectives and promise. NJAS. 69, June, pp. 1-3 can be found here: WalsRodelaIntroNJAS.

NJAS cover Special Issue

The table of contents of the Special Issue can be seen below:

Table of Contents NJAS Special Issue

Table of Contents NJAS Special Issue

Greening in the Red Zone… Disaster, Resilience and Community Greening – now available!

Cover Greening in the Red Zone

Cover Greening the Red Zone

Ok – it has taken some time to appear but finally this much anticipated volume is available. My former colleague Marlon van der Waal and I have a chapter in it titled: “Sustainability-Oriented Social Learning in Multi-cultural Urban Areas: The Case of the Rotterdam Environmental Centre” which explores the utilization of social cohesion and diversity in creating more sustainable multi-cultural communities. Community greening is seen as a catalyst for sustainability-oriented social learning. Greening here is not the same as literally adding green to a community (trees, parks, gardens) – although that certainly can be a part of it – but rather as a metaphor for improving quality of life and a stepping stone towards sustainability. Social learning is introduced as a process that builds social cohesion and relationships in order to be able to utilize the different perspectives, values and interests people bring to a sustainability challenge. Although there are many perspectives and definitions of social learning it is defined here as: a collaborative, emergent learning process that hinges on the simultaneous cultivation of difference and social cohesion in order to create joint ownership, and to unleash creativity and energy needed to break with existing patterns, routines or systems. The author proofs – for a sneak preview – can be found here: GreeningintheRedZoneWalsWaal

The full reference of our chapter is: Wals, A.E.J. & van der Waal, M.E. (2014) Sustainability-Oriented Social Learning in Multi-cultural Urban Areas: The Case of the Rotterdam Environmental Centre. In: Tidball, K. & Krasny, M. (Eds.) Greening in the Red Zone. Frankfurt a.m.: Springer, p379-396.

Greening in the Red Zone as a whole makes a first foray into the intriguing and potentially important field of “greening” by painting a comprehensive picture of how greening might be useful after major disasters. The book brings together renowned experts and practitioners from around the world. On the publisher’s website we can read:

“Creation and access to green spaces promotes individual human health, especially in therapeutic contexts among those suffering traumatic events. But what of the role of access to green space and the act of creating and caring for such places in promoting social health and well-being? Greening in the Red Zone asserts that creation and access to green spaces confers resilience and recovery in systems disrupted by violent conflict or disaster. This edited volume provides evidence for this assertion through cases and examples. The contributors to this volume use a variety of research and policy frameworks to explore how creation and access to green spaces in extreme situations might contribute to resistance, recovery, and resilience of social-ecological systems.”

Some advance praise:

This book takes important steps in advancing understanding of what makes communi­ties bounce back from disaster or violent conflict. The authors’ findings that creating and caring for green space contributes positively to recovery and resilience add to the toolkit of those working in disaster and conflict zones. W. C. Banks, Director, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Syracuse University

Greening in the Red Zone is a highly relevant book. At a time when society is more separated than ever from the natural world, it offers additional reasons why our ongoing experience of nature is essential for the human body, mind and spirit. This book is both instructive and inspiring. S. R. Kellert, Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus, Senior Research Scholar, Yale University

This is a fascinating book that greatly elevates our understanding of how the perspective of humans as an integrated part of nature may contribute to the resilience discourse. I warmly recommend this book to anyone interested in how we may prepare ourselves for an increasingly uncertain future. T. Elmqvist, Department of Systems Ecology and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Greening in the Red Zone is an important contribution to science and security policy and practice. This edited volume provides unique and novel approaches from a participatory, transparent, ecosystem-based perspective that puts those affected by disasters and conflict into positions of empowerment rather than weakness and dependency. This book is an interesting and timely contribution. C. Ferguson, President, Federation of American Scientists

Keywords »Community-based natural resource management – Greening – Post-conflict – Post-disaster – Resilience

If your interested in ordering this book you can go directly to the book’s website:

Just out: (Re)views of Social Learning Literature – A Monograph for Social Learning Researchers in Natural Resource Management & Environmental Education

Recently a monograph containing (Re)views of Social Learning Literature in the context of Natural Resource Management & Environmental Education was published by the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) in conjuntion with WESSA, Rhodes University, Wageningen University and the Environmental Learning Centre. On the cover page it states: “This monograph provides four different reviews on social learning literature. Rather than seeking to be comprehensive, the reviews provide views on the social learning literature, from different perspectives. The papers scope aspects of the social learning literature, providing access to a wide body of literature(s) on social learning. This monograph should be useful for researchers interested in social learning in the fields of environmental education and natural resources management.”

The monograph was edited by Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka of Rhodes University and the result of collaboration between Wageningen University and Rhodes with support of SANPAD (the South Africa – Netherlands Partnership for Development funded by the Dutch government) and the UNESCO Chair on Social Learning and Sustainable Development. The full report can be downloaded here: Reviews on Social Learning Literature

The excerpt below comes from the foreword I was asked to write.

How can learning not be social? Isn’t all learning social? These are often the kinds of questions I get when I share my fascination with social learning. Arguably all meaningful learning is inter-relational (with others, including other species, with place and, indeed with oneself) and requires some level of reflexivity by mirroring the significance of one’s encounters with the inner sediments (frames, values, perspectives and worldviews) of prior experiences. The result tends to be a process of further solidification (freezing) or a loosening (unfreezing) or a modification (re-framing) or even the parallel occurrence of all three. So yes, the ‘social’  as inter-relational is crucial in most, perhaps all learning, that we engage in, but even though this is emphasised in social learning, this is not what sets it apart from related learning concepts such as collaborative learning, participatory learning, group learning, and so on.

It appears that in the context of working on inevitably ill-defined and ill-structured issues and situations (e.g. natural resource management issues or sustainability issues) there is an increased awareness that there is no one single perspective that can resolve or even improve such issues. Much social learning literature therefore refers to the importance of bringing together multiple perspectives, values and interests, including marginal and marginalised ones in order to be able to creatively and energetically break with stubborn routines that led to unsustainability in the first place. Despite the range of views on social learning that currently exist, the utilisation of pluralism and/or diversity in multi-stakeholder settings is often referred to as a key component of social learning. Now it would be naïve to think that just by putting people with different backgrounds, perspectives, values and so on together, this creative and energising process would automatically start. This is where another form of ‘social’ comes in: social cohesion, sometimes referred to as social capital. In order to be able to create a constructive dynamic that allows diversity to play its generative role in finding routine-breaking solutions to sustainability challenges, there needs to be sufficient social cohesion between the participating actors, even between those who don’t seem to care much about each other.  In much of the social learning literature stress is placed on things like: investing in relationships, deformalising communication, co-creation of future scenarios and joint fact-finding. The idea is that when people who don’t think alike, or even disagree, engage in a common task in a pleasant and safe environment, they will find their common humanity (which is considered a first step in developing the empathy for the other) needed to open up and engage with the other’s perspective. Creating such an environment is an art in itself and requires careful facilitation – another key topic area in social learning literature.

In the open-access publication acoustics-digital acoustics-digital(which appeared at the launch of the Wageningen University UNESCO Chair on Social Learning and Sustainable Development (Wals et al., 2009) we used the metaphor of an improvising jazz ensemble to capture the essence of social learning.

“Chaos frequently emerges in an (improvising) jazz ensemble, but structure rules. Everyone makes up part of the whole and that whole is, if it sounds good, more than the sum of the parts. Every musician has his/her own experiences and competencies, but also intuition and empathy. The ensemble doesn’t know how
things will sound ahead of time, but its members instinctively know when things sound good. They have faith in one another and in a good outcome. Leadership is sometimes essential and therefore provided by one of the musicians or a director, or it sometimes shifts and rotates. The music is sometimes written down, though this is often not the case, and everyone simply improvises. If it sounds good, then the audience will respond appreciatively, that is to say, those who enjoy jazz music (and not everyone does…). People from the audience sometimes join in, changing the composition of the ensemble. The acoustics of the hall in which the music is played is important as well: not all halls sound alike and some have more character. A concert may also be recorded to serve as inspiration elsewhere, though this does not happen often…” (Wals et al., 2009, p.3).

Indeed social learning processes remind one of an improvising jazz ensemble. They too are intangible in a certain sense, and are therefore not easily controlled. Success often depends on the people concerned and on the manner in which they became involved. There are ideas regarding which direction the participants want to go and there are even recurring patterns, but the ultimate result comes about little by little. Sometimes, but certainly not all the time, the conditions are quite optimal and the process brings out the unique qualities and perspectives of everyone and results in surprisingly novel solutions and actions. Indeed, in social learning too the whole is more than the sum of its parts.This monograph, consistent with some key ideas underpinning social learning, brings together and confronts different views on social learning, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the potential and the limitations of social learning in the context of natural resource management, environmental management and sustainability.  The monograph represents one of the fruits of a collaborative effort between Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Rhodes University in South Africa. It represents a wonderful entry point into social learning for (young) academics not only in The Netherlands and South Africa, but all around the world, as some of the literature reviewed and the issues raised clearly transcend these two countries.

The full report can be downloaded here: Reviews on Social Learning Literature

Reference

Wals, A.E.J., van der Hoeven, N. & Blanken, H. (2009). The Acoustics of Social Learning: Designing learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. Wageningen/Utrecht: Wageningen Academic Publishers/SenterNovem.

Action Research & Community Problem Solving and The Acoustics of Social Learning

Recently I re-visited The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where I once was a PhD-student with the late Bill Stapp, considered the founding father of Environmental Education, as my mentor. During those years (1987-1992) we worked in inner-city Detroit schools to help make education more relevant and meaningful to students growing up under harsh conditions. Many of the neighborhoods surrounding the two schools that we worked with have changed in some ways (the crack houses have been demolished mostly, some abandoned lots have been converted into what is referred to as “Detroit Agriculture” and the kids we worked with have grown-up when gotten the chance or, more likely, have moved or passed away (the life expectancy of many of the youngsters in these ‘hoods’ was not all that high in the 1980-ties). Of course some things haven’t changed, for instance, there is still poverty and most education is probably still not all that relevant and meaningful (something that holds true for kids growing up in more affluent communities as well).

Driving past 8 mile road reminded me of the time we spent with teachers and students in re-designing the curriculum to allow for the kids to link their education to the issues that mattered most to them and for the teachers to link those issues to the curriculum they were expected to teach. In the end we came up with “action research and community problem solving” (ARCPS) – a cyclical learning process consisting of problem identification and analysis, generating ideas for action and change, selecting and design concrete action plans, actual implementation and evaluation of those plans – with action and reflection throughout the process.

As we talk about sustainability, transition towns, community greening, social learning, transformation and so on a lot these days, I realize that some of the work done back then is very relevant today – there’s one difference though: much of what was considered radical and out of the main stream back then is getting much more traction today which is why I am offering a key paper from that time here: Action Research & Community Problem Solving (full reference: Wals, A.E.J. (1994). Action Research and Community Problem Solving: environmental education in an inner-city. Educational Action Research, 2 (2), 163-183) and along with what in some ways is a modern version of ARCPS: The Acoustics of Social Learning. The latter publication is more recent (an available as open access) and center’s more on community-based and multi-stakeholder social learning in the context of sustainability but has similar premises and a similar cyclical reflexive learning process. This publication can be found here: Wals, A.E.J., van der Hoeven, N. & Blanken, H. (2009). The Acoustics of Social Learning: Designing learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. Wageningen/Utrecht: Wageningen Academic Publishers/SenterNovem.

Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability

Some people have asked me for a copy of a ‘think piece’ I wrote a few years ago as input for a World Congress on Environmental Education held in South Africa a few years ago. The paper – Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability – was published in the Southern Africa Journal of Environmental Education which is an important resources in the field of EE and one of the oldest journals in this field. Unfortunately the journal’s electronic distribution is somewhat limited still. Therefore I am making it available here as a pdf.

One key message – which is important just a few weeks for the Rio +20 meeting – is that Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development have a high familiy resemblance when taking the 1975 Belgrade charter on EE and the 1977 UNESCO-UNEP conference on EE held in Tiblisi as foundational to the field of EE.

The other key message is that the nature of sustainability challenges seems to be such that a routine problem-solving approach falls short. Transitions towards a more sustainable world require more than attempts to reduce the world around us into manageable and solvable problems but instead require a more systemic and reflexive way of thinking and acting with the realisation that our world is one of continuous change and ever-present uncertainty. This alternative kind of thinking suggests that we cannot think about sustainability in terms of problems that are out there to be solved or in terms of ‘inconvenient truths’ that need to be addressed, but we need to think in terms of challenges to be taken on in the full realisation that as soon as we appear to have met the challenge, things will have changed and the horizon will have shifted once again.

The paper therefore calls for reflexivity (Reflexively fumbling towards sustainability) and offers social learning as a form of learning that is particularly suitable for promoting reflexivity in diverse groups of learners.

The pdf is linked to the full citation of the paper below:

ReflexivelyFumblingSAJEE2007

The full citation for the paper is:

Wals, A.E.J. (2007). Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education. 24 (1), 35-45.

Transitioning towards a better world: fostering organizational sustainability through dialogic interaction

The journal ‘The Learning Organization’ has just published a special issue on  “The importance of educational learning for organizational sustainability” edited by Peter Smith. The special issue has a paper I co-authored with a very talented graduate student of Wageningen University – Lisa Schwarzin. It blends the wonderful research experience of Lisa in India, where she spent some time investigating a “sustainable community”  in Auroville, with some research we did in a Dutch “sustainable community” in the town of Culemborg, near Utrecht.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction (citation – Arjen E.J. Wals, Lisa Schwarzin, (2012) “Fostering organizational sustainability through dialogical interaction”, Learning Organization, The, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.11 – 27):

In this contribution organizational sustainability has a normative underpinning that considers an organization or a community sustainable when it contributes to a more sustainable world as can be understood with our current knowledge and understanding of what sustainability might entail. In other words, a sustainable organization does not refer to an organization that succeeds itself in keeping on going by maintaining, for instance, profitability, but rather to one that, given what we know today, successfully balances people, prosperity and planet by searching for a dynamic equilibrium between these 3Ps. Ultimately such a balancing act may require a shift altogether from the maximisation of profit to something completely different such as the maximisation of meaning. This is a different vantage point from so-called green economist perspectives that tend to argue that there is little wrong with the principles of (neo)capitalism,  but that businesses and industries need to adopt production methods that are more efficient (World Bank, 2000). This call for increased efficiency and environmental mindfulness tends to be coupled with the belief that technological advancement can put off the exceeding of the Earth’s carrying capacity. Furthermore, green economists also tend to see the ‘tremendous potential for growth’ that the greening of production and consumption offers (green as a growth industry) (Makower and Pike, 2008).

While the green economy appears to be booming these days, there is a modest but growing undercurrent that suggests that ultimately a transition towards sustainability will not be the result so much of ‘doing things better’ by optimizing our current hegemonic systems but rather demands that we ‘do better things’. The latter requires more fundamental changes in the manner in which we  live, work and spend our leisure time, et cetera,  and on the kinds of values that we pursue. In other words, sustainable developments concern system  innovations that require an integrated redesign of products, lifestyles, processes and structures. This paradigmatic “whole system redesign” perspective (Sterling, 2004) is increasingly supported by economists (McKibben, 2007) as well and by emerging strands within economic sciences such as industrial ecology and ecological economics. In this article we are particularly occupied with the question of how to engage people, organizations and communities in these more fundamental transitions, while recognizing that there is still much to gain from doing things better.

 Below is the abstract as can be found in the journal:

Purpose – This paper aims to introduce and investigate dialogic interaction as a key element of achieving a transition towards sustainability in people, organizations and society as a whole. Furthermore “sustainability competence” as a potential outcome of such interaction is to be introduced, referring to the capacities and qualities that people, and the organizations and communities of which they are part, need in order to address (un)sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach – The argument of the paper is grounded conceptually in emergent thinking among scholars preoccupied with learning-based change and sustainability in organizations and communities. Empirically, the paper uses two case studies carried out by the authors to ground the argument in real efforts by communities to create a (more) sustainable way of living.

Findings – The main results include: a post-normal understanding of sustainability highlighting uncertainty, complexity, normativity, controversy and indeterminacy; a framework facilitating dialogic interaction; and a number of key competences that appear conducive to both dialogic interaction and a transition to sustainability.

Research limitations/implications – Although the two case studies are quite extensive and rigorous, the conceptual nature of the paper and the word limitation did not allow for a more detailed discussion of the methodology used in the case studies and the contexts in which the two case studies are located.

Originality/value – The paper adopts a post-normal perspective of organizational transitions towards sustainability and focuses on dialogue and dialogic interaction as a key learning-based mechanism for facilitating such a transition. Furthermore the framework for dialogic interaction allows for a more holistic approach toward such a transition and the development of competences needed to accelerate its realization.

Plastic heroes, plant bottles and other sustainability myths – message-in-a-bottle revisited

Nice to be invited last night (November 24th, 2011) by the environmental science student club of Wageningen University to talk about “plastics”. (For a description of the symposium + a link to the slides used go to:http://www.kennisnetwerkmilieu.nl/#16.html

The talk gave me an opportunity to re-connect with my “message-in-a-bottle” inaugural address of two years ago where I started out referring back to the 1960-ties classic “The Graduate” (“One word Ben, just one word: PLASTICS – there’s a great future in plastics you know. Think about it!”). Indeed the world of today is unimaginable without plastics. In the words of the American ChemicalCouncil: “In today’s world, life without plastics is incomprehensible. Every day, plastics contribute to our health, safety and peace of mind (Source: American Chemistry Council 2010. www.americanchemistry.com/s_plastics/doc.asp?CID=1102&DID=4665)

Last night I added something to this by questioning some of the responses by companies,whose profits depend on the use of plastics, to more and more people expressing a deep concern about the rapid growth of plastics, including microscopic nano plastics, in the environment. A giant bottling company now introduces “plant bottles” with “up to 30% organic plant material” (what does that mean any way: up to 30%? 0.5%?), waste management companies now claim to have hyper-modern “clean” or “green” incinerators that generate energy out of garbage (which really is not garbage anymore but fuel, they are telling us… which, they suggest, is quite handy in times where we will be running out of oil and natural gas…).

On the Dutch news a couple of weeks ago it was stated that the clean Dutch incinerators were not running at full speed because the Dutch did not produce enough garbage anymore. Fortunately the waste management companies (which now refer to themselves as “energy companies” were able to sign a deal with the city of Napoli in Italy that would have garbage from the Napoli region travel by ship to The Netherlands where it would help feed the incinerators and provide Dutch citizens with energy… a ” win-win” situation… Why bother with separating waste or, worse even, reducing waste.

No wonder people are confused about sustainability matters: garbage = fuel, waste = good, plastic bottles are now plant bottles… It’s a bit like George Orwell’s 1984 with Big Brother (= Big Business) playing a language game (War = Peace) and confusing citizens with “double speak”. So part of my talk last night was about dealing with sustainability confusion, green washing and finding learning-based pathways towards critical thinking and a genuine transition towards sustainability that breaks with some of these inherently unsustainable systems and practices. Anyway – you may be interested in the original message-in-a-bottle talk and the groundswell international summary of it below.

Message in a bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability

“Message in a Bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability”
“Message in a bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability” is the title of the provocative inaugural lecture given by Professor Arjen E. J. Wals upon taking up the posts of Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development, and UNESCO Chair at Wageningen University on May 27, 2010. Professor Wals describes the fundamental shift in education required to save the planet.

The lecture’s focus on sustainability seems particularly relevant in mid-December, as Americans and much of the rest of the world engage in their most rampant consumption, and perhaps begin to reflect on what the next year will bring and what they can do to better themselves, their families and their communities. Professor Wals’ lecture carries a warning and shows us a way forward. It is also worth the read for Groundswell supporters because some of the learning concepts he discusses are implicit in our people-centered approach.

I encourage you to read the whole lecture, but recognize that many people may not have the time to do so during the holiday season, so below I have included a number of excerpts in an effort to give you a sense of the greater lecture.

Is there a way out? Can the tide be turned? When the market fails and there are no invisible hands reaching out, where or who do we turn to? When over 600 billion dollar is spent annually on advertising, and over 100 million trees are cut annually for junk mail pushing products in the USA alone? When more than two million PET bottles are ‘consumed’ every five minutes everyday in the United States alone? When the drive to consume appears infinitely greater than the drive to sustain? When individualism and materialism rapidly become the global norm? When it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a world without continuous economic growth?”

“As pointed out already, environmental educators and environmental psychologists have long known that raising awareness about the seriousness of the state of the Planet is no assurance for a change in behavior or a change in values. In fact it has been shown that just raising knowledge and awareness without providing energizing visions and concrete practices that show that there are more sustainable alternatives, will lead to feelings of apathy and powerlessness. The nature of the sustainability crisis – characterized among other things by high levels of complexity and uncertainty – suggests that people will need to develop capacities and qualities that will allow them to contribute to alternative behaviors, lifestyles and systems both individually and collectively….

In addition to much needed suitable forms of governance, legislation and regulation, we need to turn to alternative forms of education and learning that can help develop such the capacities and qualities individual, groups and communities need to meet the challenge of sustainability. There is a whole range of forms of learning emerging that all have promise in doing so:  transdisciplinary learning, transformative learning, anticipatory learning, collaborative learning and, indeed, social learning are just a few of those. These forms of learning show a high family resemblance in that they:

  • consider learning as more than merely knowledge-based,
  • maintain that the quality of interaction with others and of the environment in which learning takes place as crucial,
  • focus on existentially relevant or ‘real’ issues essential for engaging learners,
  • view learning as inevitably transdisciplinary and even ‘transperspectival’ in that it cannot be captured by a single discipline or by any single perspective,
  • regard indeterminacy a central feature of the learning process in that it is not and cannot be known exactly what will be learnt ahead of time and that learning goals are likely to shift as learning progresses,
  • consider such learning as cross-boundary in nature in that it cannot be confined to the dominant structures and spaces that have shaped education for centuries.

The above characteristics make clear that the search for sustainability cannot be limited to classrooms, the corporate boardroom, a local environmental education center, a regional government authority, etc. Instead, learning in the context of sustainability requires ‘hybridity’ and synergy between multiple actors in society and the blurring of formal, non-formal and informal education. Opportunities for this type of learning expand with an increased permeability between units, disciplines, generations, cultures, institutions, sectors and so on.

Currently we are witnessing an avalanche of interactive methods and new forms of knowledge co-creation involving a wide range of societal actors with different interests, perspectives and values but with similar challenges. Although these differences are viewed as problematic by some, they are seen as crucial by others.

Educational psychologists for long have argued and shown that learning requires some form of (internal) conflict or dissonance. Exposure to alternative ways of seeing, framing and interpreting, can be a powerful way of creating such dissonance. However, for some this may lead to too much dissonance and a defensive response which leads to tighter hold on his or her prior way of seeing things, while for others it might lead to a re-considering of ones views and the adoption or co-creation of a new one. Dissonance can, when introduced carefully, lead to, to borrow a key concept from Marten Scheffer, a tipping point in ones thinking. Such tipping points appear necessary in order to generate new thinking that can unfreeze minds and break with existing routines and systems….”

Find the complete pdf of the talk at:

www.groundswellinternational.org/sustainable-development/natural-resources-management/message-in-a-bottle-learning-our-way-out-of-unsustainability/

 

“We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom” (E.O. Wilson)* – A new book “Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change” is currently in the making…

 

….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.

Focus

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 will explore the possibilities and dilemmas of designing, strengthening and facilitating “learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability.” Contributors will 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.

Submissions have been sought 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 sought. 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).

Currently over 40 potential chapters have been identified based on just under 100 submitted abstracts from all over the world.

Publisher

The book will be 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 will be published in April 2012 and will be presented at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012. The publication of the book is supported by Agentschap.NL. Agentschap.NL is responsible for the implementation of the Dutch Learning for Sustainable Development Policy.

Editors

Arjen Wals, Wageningen University, The Netherlands &  Peter Blaze Corcoran, Florida Gulf Coast University,USA

Editorial assistants

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

Blurring Boundaries and Expanding Horizons – Re-thinking education and learning in an era of (un)sustainability

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?

“message-in-a-bottle”