Building capacity for social learning in environmental management
This thesis focuses on the increasingly recognised problem of how to build capacity for social learning into environmental management initiatives that address complex multistakeholder issues. It examines the proposition that participatory and development (P & D) forms of evaluation, when integrated into environmental management initiatives, can be a useful vehicle for building this capacity. In doing so it addresses three specific challenges. The first concerns the competing definitions and purposes of the concept of social learning in the current academic and practice literature. Social learning has emerged as an important concept in the discourse around addressing complex environmental management issues. However, the multiple venues in which social learning appears have led to divergence in terminology, and difficulties for the theoretical and practical development of the concept. The thesis responds to this with an analysis of literature and a synthesis of ideas into a proposed framework for translating this normative concept into practice. This involves four interlinked areas for focusing awareness and developing practice in complex-problemsolving situations: 1. How to managing group participation and interaction 2. How to work with and improve the social and institutional conditions for complex problem solving 3. How to improve the learning of individuals, groups and organisations 4. How to enable systems thinking and the integration of different information The literature also reveals more has been written about the meaning of social learning, or whether social learning has occurred in any given situation, than about the ‘how to’ of social learning, suggesting the relationship between practice and theory is incoherent. While new approaches in evaluation offer mechanisms by which the ideas of social learning can become a basis for practice, the second challenge addressed in this thesis is an absence of established connection between social learning and evaluation. The thesis responds to this with an examination of the theoretical and practice literature on P & D evaluation and a proposed match with specific social learning capacity development needs of environmental initiatives. This involves four arenas in which (P & D) evaluation approaches and social learning can intersect: 1. Scoping the environmental-management-problem situation 2. Supporting the capacity to enquire and problem solve 3. Supporting the management of programmes or interventions in the problem situation 4. Research and development that facilitates the growth of theoretical and practical knowledge about addressing complex-environmental-management situations The third challenge is the limited availability of case history and practical experience of building capacity for social learning in environmental management contexts, or using P & D evaluation to contribute to improving environmental management initiatives. This thesis examines the practical experience of using P & D evaluation to support social learning through four case stories from the Collaborative Learning for Environmental Management group (CLEM) based at Landcare Research. As these cases were concurrent with this thesis they represented an opportunity to put new ideas about social learning into practice. The cases highlight three factors important to the pragmatic potential of using P & D evaluation to support the social learning capacity of a given situation :(i) the evaluator, their skill, values, and role; (ii) the mandate and location of the evaluation; and (iii) organisational disposition to learning and change. Further guidelines for working with P & D evaluation to support social learning are to (i) find champions who are interested, willing, and able to make change happen within their organisation; (ii) review the social learning challenges of the situation; and (iii) use this contextual analysis to design an appropriate response that can take forward some aspect of the social learning potential of the situation. Skills, understanding and motivation to work in the field of building capacity for social learning remain a limiting factor in the New Zealand environmental management sector. In conclusion I propose a reconsideration of what is currently regarded as core expertise in environmental management, rejecting the primacy of biophysical science, and planning, and rather seeking proficiency in integration, facilitation, systems thinking and knowledge brokerage. Furthermore, social learning is a sophisticated concept of high practical value. However, to be a conscious framework of use to resolving resource use and environmental management dilemmas there must be greater literacy about the core elements of social learning and their relationship to the problem situation and its practical application requires rigorous attention that is responsive to the individual conditions of the situation.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordssocial learning; participatory evaluation; developmental evaluation; environmental problem solving; integrated environmental management; environmental policy; environmental planning; capacity development; evaluation practice
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