About arjenwals

Arjen Wals is a Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development. He also is a UNESCO Chair in the same field. Wals has worked at Wageningen University since 1992 in various departments. He is a guest professor at IDPP at Gothenburg University since 2014. His research focuses on learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. A central question in his work is how to create conditions that support new forms of learning that take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness that 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. Wals has been involved in a number of projects in Africa that seek to make curricula more responsive to current societal and labour market needs and challenges posed by (un)sustainability. Popular books include: 'Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability (Kluwer Academic, 2004) and Social Learning towards a Sustainable World (Wageningen Academic, 2007).

Groundbreaking Network ENSI hands over the baton with a great collection to accelerate sustainability in schools

ENSIBook

Last week a wonderful collection of contributions recognizing the work of the Environment and School Initiatives network (ENSI) became available as a free online open-access pdf. In 32 chapters people who have played a role in the network reflect on history, trends and prospects of education engaging with sustainable development in a meaningful way. Below a part of the introduction by one of the editors and driver of ENSI Christine Affolter. Here you find the link to the book.ENSI Final Book

ENSI – 30 Yearof Engagement for Educatioand School Development

by Christine Affolter

ENSI has been an independent, self-managed network of experts drawn from the fields of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and financed by member countries and individual members. During the life time of the organisation ENSI often anticipated upcoming themes and new demands and through analyses, reflection, and participative debates drew up an annual working programme to meet these needs.

Often ENSI was the forerunner of themes and developments and as a result its work had a significant impact on schools in Europe, Asia and Australia through curriculum development, teacher education, and quality indicators. But having the favourable status of a self-managed network also involved a permanent challenge to find appropriate financing and over three decades ENSI had to find a balance between the professional quality of its work and the available funding resources.

Thanks to the commitment of the ENSI experts the network gained a high international reputation. Initially ENSI was founded by OECD/CERI in 1986 and aimed to respond to two related triggers (Elliott, 2018):

The increasing pressure from ‘grassroot-groups’ concerned about the impact of economically driven developments on the environment that were asking for school programmes to support students and teachers in the development of new competences such as critical thinking, dealing with complexity, and reflectivity.

Governments and schools that had to deal with the educational implications of the increasing social complexity resulting from rapid economic and social change. Schools needed to find answers in their local environment realising that centralized curricula couldn’t completely fulfil the needs of the local communities.


The chapter I wrote (see below) can be found here: Wals_Lessons_from_the_ENSI_Network-split-merge (1).

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Socio-Psychological Perspectives on the Potential for Serious Games to Promote Transcendental Values in IWRM Decision-Making – new review paper

Water2018

water-10-01097-g001

I was fortunate to be part of a comprehensive review paper identifying design principles for serious games that seek to move participants beyond improving their understanding of complex water management issues to also include discussions on values and ethics which are often forgotten or, worse, ignored in such games. Much applies also to the use and design of serious gaming in other sustainability related challenges. Special thanks to Diana Marini and Wietske Medema for initiating this paper and doing the bulk of the hard work to realise it. The article is part of a Special Issue in Water called Understanding Game-based Approaches for Improving Sustainable Water Governance: The Potential of Serious Games to Solve Water Problems which I am co-editing with some of the authors of this paper (led by Wietske Medema). Here is a link to that emerging SI: Gaming and Water Governance

Keywords: serious games (SGs); water management; value change; transcendental values; social equity; sustainability; Schwartz’s Value Survey (SVS); Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM); psychosocial perspectives; decision-making processes

Abstract: Modern day challenges of water resource management involve difficult decision-making in the face of increasing complexity and uncertainty. However, even if all decision-makers possessed perfect knowledge, water management decisions ultimately involve competing values, which will only get more prominent with increasing scarcity and competition over resources. Therefore, an important normative goal for water management is long-term cooperation between stakeholders.

According to the principles of integrated water resource management (IWRM), this necessitates that managerial decisions support social equity and intergenerational equity (social equity that spans generations). The purpose of this discussion is to formulate preliminary recommendations for the design of serious games (SGs), a potential learning tool that may give rise to shared values and engage stakeholders with conflicting interests to cooperate towards a common goal. Specifically, this discussion explores whether SGs could promote values that transcend self-interest (transcendental values), based on the contributions of social psychology.

The discussion is organized in the following way. First, an introduction is provided as to why understanding values from psychological perspectives is both important for water management and a potential avenue for learning in SGs. Second, a review of the description of values and mechanisms of value change from the field of social psychology is presented.

This review highlights key psychological constraints to learning or applying values. Based on this review, recommendations are made for SGs designers to consider when developing games for water management, in order to promote transcendental values.

Overall, the main conclusions from exploring the potential of value change for IWRM through SGs design are as follows: 1-SGs design needs to consider how all values change systematically; 2-SGs design should incorporate the many value conflicts that are faced in real life water management, 3-SGs could potentially promote learning by having players reflect on the reasoning behind value priorities across water management situations, and 4-value change ought to be tested in an iterative SGs design process using the Schwartz’s Value Survey (SVS) (or something akin to it). Keywords: serious games (SGs); water management; value change; transcendental values; social equity; sustainability; Schwartz’s Value Survey (SVS); Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM); psychosocial perspectives; decision-making processes

You can find a copy of the paper here for your own use: Personal PDF but you can of course also get the paper at MDPI’s website for the journal WATER here: Link to the paper on MDPI’s Water Website

Open on-line course – Civic Ecology: Reclaiming Broken Places – Registration now open

CivicEcology2018

In September the Cornell Open On-line Course “Civic Ecology: Reclaiming Broken Places” will run again. Participants of this online course explore the people, places, and practices that restore nature and revitalize neighborhoods. Colleague and environmental educator Marianne Krasny and her team at Cornell University have been running this course successfully for a few years now and the topic is more timely then ever. The content connects with a some excellent publications which Krasny and her team have put together recently and published with Cornell University Press. Including – just out – Grassroots to Global: the broader impact of civic ecology More info and Urban Environmental Education Review (edited by Krasny and Russ). More info!

Course Dates: Sept 18 – Nov 5, 2018
Register: Registration Form

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Just out: Serious games as a catalyst for boundary crossing, collaboration and knowledge co-creation in a watershed governance context

GamingBoundaryCrossing

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

ABSTRACT

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.

“Sustainability” in higher education: from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning

Orwel

In times of systemic global dysfunction, post-truth, alternative facts, cultivated doubt and the erosion of meaning, I found it useful to turn back, once again, to George Orwell’s infamous “1984”.  Well over 10 years ago, in 2004, I co-authored a paper on the danger of ‘doublespeak’ and ‘Newspeak’ in relation to the integration of sustainability in higher education. Back then this was an emerging trend, nowadays, it sometimes signifies a transition in education but more often little more than rethoric and green gloss. For me this is a good reason to re-introduce this paper here with Orwell’s cautionary tale but also with some ideas about how to move forward responsibly. Below an excerpt from the paper which you can find here in its totality:  Jickling and Wals Orwell’s Cautionary Tale

Wals, A.E.J. & Jickling, B. (2002). “Sustainability” in Higher Education from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. Higher Education Policy, vol. 15, 121-131.  SustinHEOrwellsCautionaryTale

“Sustainability talk can, when used by advocates with radically different ideas about what should be sustained, mask central issues under the false pretense of a shared understanding, set of values and common vision of the future.

However, critical thought depends on transcendent elements in ordinary language, the words and ideas that reveal assumptions and worldviews, and the tools to mediate
differences between contesting value systems. And worse still, sustainability talk can
lead us in the direction of Orwell’s (1989) famously satirical notion of “doublethink”
whereby ordinary citizens can increasingly hold in their minds contradictory meanings
for the same term and accept them both (Orwell, 1989, p. 223).

The power of universal discourse in reducing meaning to a minimum is such that, as in “1984”, antagonistic concepts can be conjoined in a single phrase (“war is peace”, “peace is war”) or concept (i.e. “sustainable growth”) (Jickling, 2001). Big Brother’s “Newspeak” was designated not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was
indirectly assisted by cutting down the choice of words to a minimum (Orwell, 1989,
p. 313).

In Newspeak concepts capable of opposing, contradicting or transcending
the status quo were liquidated. As a result of this devaluation of language the people
in “1984” found themselves in a state of linguistic dysfunction which was exactly
what Big Brother wanted (Jickling, 2001).

Seen this way sustainability tends to blur the very distinctions required to evaluate an issue thoughtfully. When comparing the sustaining of ecological processes with the sustaining of consumerism we immediately see inconsistencies and incompatibilities of values, yet many people, conditioned to think that sustainability is inherently good, will promote both at the same time.”

Reflexively Stumbling towards Sustainability – understanding social learning in regional governance networks

JifkeProefschrift

This afternoon of June 8th, one of my PhD students, co-supervised with Dr. PJ Beers of DRIFT in Rotterdam and Prof Peter Feindt of the Humbolt University in Berlin, successfully here beautiful dissertation in the Aula of Wageningen University. You can download the dissertation and the 4 published papers that are a part of the work via the Wageningen University Library shortly. You can also watch the defense still via WUR-TV Getting to the defense and the thesis

Using a social learning configuration to increase Vietnamese smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity to respond to climate change

LocEnvPaper

Link to the T&F site for the article

My former PhD-student Le Thi Hong Phuong now has a fourth paper from her dissertation which she only defended a few months ago, accepted in Local Environment a T&F journal on justice and sustainability (one of the oldest journals in this area!). Here is the abstract:
ABSTRACT

Social learning is crucial for local smallholder farmers in developing countries to improve their adaptive capacity and to adapt to the current and projected impacts of climate change. While it is widely acknowledged that social learning is a necessary condition for adaptation, few studies have systematically investigated under which conditions particular forms of social learning are most successful in improving adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable groups. This study aims to design, implement and evaluate a social learning configuration in a coastal community in Vietnam. We make use of various methods during four workshop-based interventions with local smallholder farmers: interviews with key farmers and commune leaders, farmer-to-farmer learning, participatory observations and focus group discussions. The methods for evaluation of social learning configuration include in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and structured survey interviews. Our findings show that the social learning configuration used in this study leads to an increased problem ownership, an enhanced knowledge-base with regard to climate change impacts and production adaptation options, improved ability to see connections and interdependencies and finally, strengthened relationships and social cohesion. The results suggest that increased social learning in the community leads to increase in adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers and improves both their economic and environmental sustainability. We discuss the key lessons for designing learning configurations that can successfully enhance adaptive capacity and smallholder farmers’ agency and responsiveness to the challenges posed by climate change impacts.