As sea levels rise… research of Wageningen PhD Mahmuda Mutahara featured in Science Magazine


It is not often that the research of one of our PhD students is featured in Science Magazine but in the last issue it was! Mahmuda Mutahara who recently finished her dissertation titled “Turning the Tide? The role of Participation and Learning in Strengthening Tidal River Management in the Bangladesh Delta” was interviewed by Warren Cornwall who wrote an excellent piece about the challenges of tidal river management in times unrest, poor governance and, indeed, climate change.

“To understand why some citizens turn against TRM projects, Mahmuda Mutahara, a Bangladeshi who recently earned her Ph.D., has spent much of the past 5 years traversing the region’s pothole-riddled roads, often on the back of a motorcycle. Questioning residents, government officials, and others, she found government agencies disconnected from locals, spawning distrust and anger that have derailed controlled flooding attempts, sometimes spectacularly.”

It was a honour to be Mahmuda’s promotor/chair along with co-promotors Jeroen Warner (Wageningen UR), Flip Wester (ICIMOD, Nepal) and Shah Alam Khan from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka

You can find the article with wonderful illustrations and photos here: article featuring Mahmuda’s Tidal River Management study


Towards transformative social learning on the path to 1.5 degrees – new paper on learning in times of runaway climate change


This paper provides insights into learning orientations and approaches that encourage change and transformation on the path to achieving the 1.5 degree C target. This literature review of the climate change and education/learning interface positions relevant literature in a heuristic tool, and reveals different learning approaches to addressing climate change. We highlight that although traditional lines of departure for achieving climate targets are usually technocratic in nature, especially if a zero emissions pathway is aimed for, there is an increasing realisation that climate issues are complex, deeply intertwined with unsustainable development and cultural change, and require collective engagement. Through considering the 1.5 degree C target as a metaphor for the fundamental changes needed in society, we argue that a wide range of learning orientations, including more inclusive and transformative social learning approaches, are needed to address the colossal challenges facing society. The review paper is published in: Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2017, 31:80–87 and is part of a Special Issue on Sustainability governance and transformation, edited by Bronwyn Hayward and Linda Sygna

Find the pdf here or download a personal copy here: TLearningClimateChangeCoSuSpaper2018

Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the paper is the distinction made between four types of learning:



Find the pdf here or download a personal copy here: TLearningClimateChangeCoSuSpaper2018

Reflection methods: tools to make learning more meaningful – new open access guide


This guide for trainers, educators and facilitators, compiled/written by Femke Gordijn, Natalia Eernstman, Jan Helder, Herman Brouwer and published by Wageningen UR’s Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), summarises methods that can be used to facilitate the process of reflection on the knowledge and experiences people acquire during a capacity development trajectory or training event. The authors believe that by explicitly integrating reflection in the learning process the learning will become clearer and better articulated and will contribute more strongly to meaningful change. They advise facilitators to deliberately include reflective learning sessions in their process design and implementation. This handbook can inspire you to do so and provides many methods which help to facilitate this. I was asked to write a Preface in which where I suggest that dealing with complex and even ’wicked’ sustainability challenges, above all, calls for learning individuals, learning organisations, learning networks and even a learning society.

“But not just any kind of learning, the kind of learning that is able to make explicit and question our assumptions, values and ways of seeing the world, learning that invites us to continuously reflect on the tensions and contradictions between them, learning that reveals the powers and inequities that tend to keep things the way they are or force us in directions we may not want to go. In other words, learning that questions the taken for granted, the normalised, the hegemonic and the routine. But also learning that enables us to make change and to transform others, and ourselves while learning from trying to do so.” (From the Preface, p6)

The book which can be downloaded here:

Link to the Open Access PDF is accompanied by 7 online videos of reflection methods.

You will find them here: Videos and other resources



Help shape a global action plan for environmental education by providing feedback on the Call for Action from the GEEP


I am fortunate to be one of the advisors to the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP). The GEEP – which has been initiated a few years ago by the Environmental Protection Agency of Taiwan and the USA and coordinated by the NAAEE- is focused on building capacity for environmental education and sustainability around the world and using the power of education to help address global environmental and social problems. Its advisors are made up of researchers, policymakers, education practitioners, and others who represent government and non-governmental sectors from countries and regions around the world.

As environmental educators, we know that environmental education informs, inspires, and enlightens. It builds human capacity, provokes questions, enhances skills and shapes values and attitudes. It galvanizes individuals, families and communities to make informed decisions about the environment that lead to a sustainable society. Even more, it helps people connect deeply with each other, their communities, and the natural world.

Given the unprecedented challenges we face as a global society—from climate change and biodiversity loss to decreasing access to nature and a growing gap between the rich and poor—there has never been a more important time to scale up our environmental education efforts. Global leaders must make better use of education and capacity-building as strategies to improve the environment, along with tools of governance, regulation, economic and community incentives, and technology.

This Call for Action is asking the international environmental education community to take stock of where we are as a field and think ahead to the future. It includes ten draft actions, crafted with input from GEEP leaders from around the world, and is designed to get input from educators working in this field about our key priorities for the next decade.

You can help shape the future agenda by letting us know what you think. Which actions are most important? What’s missing? Visit and cast your vote for your top three priorities and let us know what you think matters most. Your input will help create a global action plan for the next 10 years. Below you find the 10 proposed actions and here is a link to the brief survey where you can provide your input: express your ideas here!





New book – Sustainability Science: Key issues



SustScienceSustainability Science Key Issues Edited by Ariane König (Université du Luxembourg, Luxembourg) and Jerome Ravetz (Oxford University, UK) is a comprehensive textbook for undergraduates and postgraduates from any disciplinary background studying the theory and practice of sustainability science. Each chapter takes a critical and reflective stance on a key issue of sustainability from contributors with diverse disciplinary perspectives such as economics, physics, agronomy and ecology. This is the ideal book for students and researchers engaged in problem and project based learning in sustainability science.

I co-authored Chapter 2 with Michael A Peters titled: Flowers of resistance: Citizen science, ecological democracy and the transgressive education paradigm. Here’s a short intro to our joint effort. “When democracy can be hijacked, power corrupts and capitalism penetrates deeply into society, including into our schools, what prospects still exist for education for a more sustainable world? Democracy is painfully slow and open to manipulation: the question must be asked whether it is up to the task in the new global environment where action is through agreement of interest-based states. And yet in a post-truth world there are important issues that yoke science as empirical truth with democracy that we might christen ecological democracy which provides the warrant and justification for civil action, and demonstrates the new power of citizen science groups that can act autonomously in the interest of their local communities. In this paper we seek comfort, inspiration and support from emerging forms of ecological democracy, civic science and transgressive education.  The latter invites conflict and disruption as mechanisms to break with stubborn, unsustainable routines, that encourage people to leave their comfort zone. The resulting discomfort can be generative when it invites people to explore other options, to build new alliances or to re-think what they always thought to be normal or true. Learning on the edge of one’s comfort zones amidst a plurality of ideas, can help us interrogate and rethink the way we frame – or are made to frame – our experiences, as well as our cultural narratives and associated encultured and embodied ontological pre-dispositions.”

Full reference: Wals, A.E.J. and Peters, M.A. (2017) Flowers of Resistance: Citizen science, ecological democracy and the transgressive education paradigm König, A. & Ravetz, J. (ed.). 2017.  Sustainability Science: Key Issues.  London: Earthscan/Routledge.

Here’s the link to the book: Sustainability Science: Key Issues


(Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: a responsible research and innovation perspective

A new paper coming out of the EnRRich network LivingKnowledge & EnRRich seems ti get a lot of attention considering the number of paper downloads within the first 10 days the paper has appeared online. This is probably because many universities are struggling to find a good way to make education more relevant, responsive, responsible and reflexive in light of global sustainability challenges.


Here is the abstract and a link to Redesigning HE (open access, freely downloadable):

There is an urgent need to address the grand sustainability challenges of our time, and to explore new and more responsible ways of operating, researching, and innovating that enable society to respond to these challenges. The emergent Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) policy agenda can act as a catalyst towards the development of new and more responsible research and innovation efforts. Inevitably, higher education needs to be closely attuned to this need and agenda, by preparing students to engage in RRI efforts. This paper makes a first step towards guiding the embedding of RRI within higher education. It does so by bringing together academic knowledge with phronesis or practical knowledge about what should be done in an ethical, political, and practical sense. It draws on a literature review and on the reflective practices of partners in the European Commission funded project EnRRICH (Enhancing Responsible Research and Innovation through Curricula in Higher Education), as well as on interviews and case studies gathered as part of the project. The paper suggests elements, especially design principles and a competence framework, for (re)designing curricula and pedagogies to equip higher education students to be and to become responsible actors, researchers, and innovators in a complex world, and to address grand sustainability challenges. In addition, this paper proposes that contemporary higher education teaching and learning policies and strategies, especially those promoting neoliberal agendas and marketized practices, need to adopt a more responsible and responsive ethos to foster the renewal of higher education in times of systemic dysfunction.


Higher education Responsible research and innovation Grand sustainability challenges Curricula Competence 



Critical case-studies of non-formal and community learning for sustainable development

Together with UNESCO’s Alexander Leicht and Yoko Mochizuki I co-edited a special issue in the journal International Review of Education on Non-formal and Community Learning for Sustainable Development. Here you find a link to our introductory article.


I am pasting the final two paragraphs of the editorial introduction below:

“If there is any overall conclusion or pattern which might be drawn from all the contributions to this special issue, it is that boundary crossing is becoming a critical element of learning for, within and from sustainable development. This connects well with Vare and Scott’s (2007) notion of ESD 2, but also with the future directions for environmental and sustainability education highlighted in a recent edited volume on this topic by Peter Corcoran et al. (2017). By moving between perspectives, navigating force fields, handling diversity and stepping in and out of one’s comfort zone, new possibilities emerge for rethinking how we work, live, connect and organise our lives. This also implies working on topics and themes in more integrated ways, covering the nexus of, say, water, energy, food, health, equity and climate, rather than trying to zoom in on “just” one of those aspects. Similarly, the SDGs can only be meaningfully addressed when viewed in their relationship with each other. Boundary crossing between forms of learning will be necessary as well, blending formal, non-formal and informal forms of learning on the one hand, and, for instance, experiential, social, place-based and ICT-supported learning on the other. The result might be a learning ecology or an ecology of learning, a concept used by George Siemens (2005) which requires the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories.”

“As the target year for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda with its 17 SDGs is approaching, new forms of governance, education, learning and capacity-building will need to be supported which will enable blended forms of learning in vital partnerships between societal actors seeking to live more lightly and equitably on Earth, using their own context (historically, culturally, economically, socially and ecologically) as a starting point. This also means investing in capacity building for boundary-crossing, brokering relationships and building trust and social cohesion, as these processes and properties seem critical for social learning and transformation within communities. The cases featured in this special issue are only a few of many that exist around the world, but most are not researched, documented and shared very well, and herein lies another challenge: making learning towards sustainability in communities more visible and explicit, and finding better mechanisms for sharing them, not just through special issues in a peer-reviewed journal, but also in ways which can more directly inform, or rather, engage, policy and practice.”