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Tackling "wicked" problems
• Wicked problems are characterized by:
b) inconsistency of needs, preferences and values;
c) an unclear sense of all consequences and/or
cumulative impact of collective action;
d) fluid, heterogeneous, pluralist participation in
problem definition and solving
Turnpenny et al (2009)
“Not only must science concede some of its
governance to wider society, it must also
concede some ground to other ways of
knowing. (Hulme 2009: 81)
Climate change adaptation is
one such 'wicked’ problem,
and social learning is seen as
an important avenue for
The learning paradox
“Our existing methodological toolbox
is sparsely equipped to facilitate and sustain
[...] adaptive and anticipatory learning in
the face of complex risks and uncertainties.”
Tschakert & Dietrich 2010
We recognise the paramount
importance of learning in addressing
complex environmental challenges....
Social Learning: Toward a definition
Social learning brings together stakeholders
with diverse perspectives to learn together and
form an understanding of a shared challenge.
It involves taking learning and behaviour change
beyond the individual to networks and systems.
Through an iterative process of working and
reflecting together new shared ways of knowing
emerge that lead to changes in practice.
See Reed et al. 2010 “What is Social Learning?”
Social learning - a closer look
– Learning and behavioural psychology (Bandura)
– Collective learning (Argyris and Schon, Wenger)
– Transformative learning (Mezirow)
– Emancipatory learning (Freire)
• As performance? Governance? Collective
action? Many flavours of SL.
Analysis of 29
cases looking at:
• Lessons and
• Tools and
Harvey et al 2013
Reflecting critically on SL
• Power and consensus - strange bedfellows
– Is a change of views always a good thing?
• Recognition of problem w/o power to change
leads to frustration
– Challenge of entrenched marginalisation
• Sustainability of change?
• Scale and institutionalisation major challenges
• Evidence of impact and outcomes?
– How to evaluate them?
See also Muro & Jeffrey 2008
A gut instinct tells us that social learning
inherently makes sense, but making that
leap forward into practicing the
principles of good social learning and
overturning the more top-down models
of knowledge creation and information
delivery needs more concrete evidence.
In a nutshell
It’s social learning on social learning!
Transforming the evidence base
• Hypothesis A: Social learning improves
institutional processes and
performance/effectiveness in the context of
Hypothesis B: Social learning processes lead
to improved development outcomes/results in
the context of climate change.