In search of healthy policy ecologies for education in relation to sustainability: Beyond evidence-based policy and post-truth politics

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A new paper just came out in ‘Policy Futures in Education’ that I co-authored with Robert Stratford critiquing evidence-based approaches to policy making in the context of (re)orienting education towards sustainability in times of post-truth and alternative facts. In the aper we pose that there is a rational assumption built into some research projects that policy contexts are influenced by the quality of the evidence. This is, at best, only somewhat true some of the time. Through policy ethnographies, two education researchers working in the context of sustainability discuss their experiences with evidence-based policy. Central to both accounts is how critical messages about such issues as race, wellbeing and sustainability can become diluted and even lost. In the existing ‘politics of unsustainability’, and at a time of ‘post-truth’ politics, these accounts also show the limits of evidence-based policy.

We argue that those working with ‘the evidence’ need to be open about how evidence-based approaches can end up supporting the ‘status quo’. Moreover, while approaches such as knowledge mobilisation emphasise the relational qualities of policy contexts, and the importance of simple compelling narratives for decision-makers, they, like many other practices, do not sufficiently theorise the power structures surrounding knowledge and the policy context. In addition to the careful use of evidence, we argue that there needs to be greater emphasis on building healthy policy ecologies – including far more emphasis on building critical and creative policy alternatives, especially in areas like sustainability and education.

The paper can be found/downloaded here: Healthy Policy Ecologies Paper

 

Short Intro Video – Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF)

Wageningen UR is one of the partners in the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network. TESF is a GCRF funded Network Plus, co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol, working with partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The network undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures.

TESF just released a short video outlining the mission and way of working of the network. The coming months the four hub countries will launch their innovation grant scheme which will allow local partners to apply for funding to engage in educational reform towards sustainable development at different levels of education.  Please go to the TESF-website for more information.

TESF_LOGO

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Overcoming socio-ecological vulnerability through community-based social learning

LocEnvironment

A new paper was published in the journal Local Environment this month led by one of my recently graduated PhD-students, Daniele Souza. The paper investigates community-based initiatives and collective learning practices in sustainability transition processes. This paper presents the results of a participatory study that investigated a local initiative in the community of Lomba do Pinheiro in south Brazil to examine social learning processes in the context of socio-ecological vulnerability. In this community, a group composed of local residents and members representing the public sector and local educational institutions has promoted several learning-oriented actions aimed at restoring a degraded local watershed and improving residents’ livelihoods.

The study used social learning as a lens through which the initiative enacted by this group may be understood, and analysed how local conditions, determined by a context of vulnerability, have influenced local processes. We applied a multi-dimensional analytical framework that included individual, collective, and territorial dimensions. The analysis focused on the leading group, the individuals who comprise it, and their actions in the territory, while considering local constraints. Our findings highlight the importance of (1) shared values, mutual trust, and affective bonds for group cohesion as well as concerted action, equalisation of diverse languages within the group, knowledge integration, and initiative persistence; (2) a practical-reflexive approach based on a sequence of actions that catalyses group learning and facilitates advancement within the wider community; and (3) the role of inter-sectoral articulations and the establishment of partnerships to support actions.

This paper raises questions about the limits of an exclusively bottom-up approach to solve complex problems in the context of extremely precarious conditions.

The full reference is: Souza Tubino, D., Wals, A.E.J., Jacobi, P. (2019) Learning-based transformations towards sustainability: a relational approach based on Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire, Environmental Education Research, 25 (x), 1-15.

A link to the journal here!

Entering the Transition Twenties – 10 critical years left for deep change and transformation

Transitions

This morning I received a heart-wrenching email from an Australian colleague of mine who lives and works in Sweden but went home for the holidays to spend time with her family.

I write this letter with a very heavy heart to briefly outline the terrible bushfire crisis that continues in my homeland of Australia. I have (thankfully and gratefully) been on leave for a couple of weeks, but I fear when I return to work I will have trouble talking about this when, and if, people ask. So this note is to let you all know what I can tell you-without choking up/bursting in to tears.

She then went on describing the unfolding tragedy of the run-away wild-fires and the completely inapt, near criminal response from the government and dysfunctional culture that has been created over the years to make sure that ‘business-as-usual’ is not at risk.

Clearly, ‘business-as-usual’ is not an option; even conventional economists will agree that there are no jobs on a dead Planet. What is now desperately needed is a deep and meaningful repsonse that can unite people, rather than polarize them. Sadly, the latter continues to be happen and, even though I tend to ignore conspiracy theories, seems to be even cultivated to maintain current power and wealth distribution.

As we are entering a new decade, the twenties, I was reminded of the last twenties: the Roaring Twenties.

The Roaring Twenties – as a break in the normalized and a turn to something else

It is now 100 years when many people in the, granted, Western world, experienced the so-called Roaring Twenties. The following description is a synopsis Wikipedia.

The Roaring Twenties refers to the decade of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture that marked a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe. In France, the decade was known as the “années folles” (‘crazy years’), emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for British and American women and Art Deco peaked.

In many major democratic states, women won the right to vote. The right to vote had a huge impact on society.

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, brought “modernity” to a large part of the population.

Arguably, the Roaring Twenties also planted the seeds of unsustainability as (again borrowing from Wikipedia):

this period saw the large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, movies, radio, and electrical appliances being installed in the lives of thousands of Westerners. Aviation soon became a business. Nations saw rapid industrial and economic growth, accelerated consumer demand, and introduced significantly new changes in lifestyle and culture. The media, funded by the new industry of mass-market advertising driving consumer demand, focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars, as cities rooted for their home teams and filled the new palatial cinemas and gigantic sports stadiums.

The Roaring Twenties represented a significant rupture or discontinuity that triggered a whole new way of living (and, yes, we must acknowledge, not for everyone, everywhere, and yes, as we know now, at the expense of the carrying capacity of the Earth) and shows that radical shifts at a large scale can happen in a relatively short period of time.

Entering the Transition Twenties…?

As the world is burning and not just metaphorically, as exemplified by runaway climate change, extreme loss of biodiversity, collapse of fragile ecosystems and the ever more tangible consequences of all this in our daily lives (in terms of stress, fear, anxiety for those still having the possibility to sit down behind a computer and ponder this over and blog about it, but in very real terms for those who need to flee, run, abandon, resort to poverty, etc.,  as is the case for (hundreds of) millions of people elsewhere in the world), we need another rupture to overcome systemic global dysfunction.

Now that 2020 has begun, we have 10 years towards 2030, the year in which the  17 SDGs need to be realized, the year that runaway climate change needs to be ‘under control,’ to turn the tide.  The very resilient practices of ‘business-as-usual’ that normalise growth thinking, individualism, inequality, anthropocentrism, exclusion, and even catastrophes (there are so many catastrophes going on everywhere in one way or another, that it leads to a kind of acceptance and a kind of psyching numbing – which is not going to help dealing with them).

So let us start looking for, contribute to and build on all these niches, networks and innovations are fortunately also all around us, that seek to disrupt these normalized practices by not only questioning them but by providing alternative ones with (all) People and (the whole) Earth in mind. See as an example the figure below from Mark Beam’s ‘The World We Want Project’. For me, a key question is: how can education in all forms connect with these niches, networks and innovations? How can people learn from them, how can they contribute to them? How can we create sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning that can pave the way for a systemic transformation of the way ‘we’  (and ‘we’ is not all of us, I must say, either by force or by choice) we live on this Earth? Feel free to enter your response below!

WorldWeWant

Just before posting this I searched for ‘Transition Twenties’  on the Web and found that several others are talking about this as well! One blog post from a fellow 4TU-Colleague at Delft University blogged about this about this one week ago. See his blog here: Aldert Kamp’s Blog-Post on Entering the Transition Twenties in relation to Engineering Education but, for the Dutch readers, there is also a nice article available in the Volkskrant from December 27th by Wilma de Rek: De transition twenties breken aan – minder zal meer zijn

More ideas please via Twitter using #transitiontwenties