Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Wednesday 4 July 2007

Inconvenient questions

WEEC 2007 - 4.Dear participants, can you please all stand up”. We all do as we are told. “Who has more than one car in his or her household – raise your hand. Thank you - You can sit down. Who has come by plane to this conference? Thank you – you also can sit down.” Only two participants in the workshop are still standing. “Congratulations with your sustainable lifestyle, you set an example for us all”, says Douwe Jan Joustra. “In a similar way our prime minister (see picture) introduced the Dutch Interdepartmental Program Learning for Sustainable Development to his civil servants”.

The program has a component focusing on organizational learning within government departments. Civil servants have to learn asking inconvenient questions to each other and to their bosses. Such inconvenient questions can serve as a key to discussing ignorance about sustainability; as a key to finding responsibility and as a key to creating sustainable solutions. Change towards sustainability calls for new competences in governmental institutions: understanding the added value of cultural diversity and plurality; learning to work across the silos of different departments, managing change step by step.

Learning from change was the focus in the presentation of Derick du Toit from the South African Association of Water and Rural Development. He and his colleagues worked to transform rural practices in communal wetlands in Limpopo. An area under pressure from a growing population due to forced settlements from he apartheid era. People are extremely poor and dependent on the natural resources of the wetland. Improving productivity and income while conserving the wetland, is a huge challenge. Especially when conditions are variable and changing: erosion, new laws, population increase, climate change. The project is now three years under way and impacts on harvest due to new techniques (e.g. mulching) are visible. Learning takes place without books or sophisticated methods: the community rejects those approaches. Now it is very much deciding itself on what and how to learn, the Association supports the learning.

Suzana Padua – Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil - provides us in ten minutes with a birds eye view on 20 years of learning for change in one of Brazil poorest areas, that at the same time is one of the richest areas in terms of biodfiversity. “Not only the people in the communities learned, we also learned ourselves. We started out to think that knowledge about nature would lead to change.” Her presentation shows that the black box between knowledge and real change is filled with innovative ways to address systemic complexities, public participation, landscape approach, policy influencing and so on. She also illustrates the value of monitoring and evaluation as a tool for continuous quality improvement and learning. It leads to a clear picture of different stage a participatory learning and change process goes through: identification – reflection – vision or dream – strategizing – partnerships – follow through. Each stage calls for different competences and values.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Cheryl Lynn Ogilvie quotes Albert Schweitzer and illustrates this truth with her work to uplift the Ndumo community and the environment. She works I n Tshwane University of Technology and with her students she tackles the challenges in this community: health (TB, malaria, Aids); poverty (malnutrition, especially among Aids orphans – 75% of all children); education (absence of basic facilities); extra mural issues (weapons, drugs). She started with surveys on various issues, then she and her students started with interventions: training of teachers, indoor and outdoor activities, games, trees and vegetable gardens, nurseries generating extra income, awareness about litter. An improved school environment makes happy children, who the are motivated to act as game wardens for the protected areas close by. Evaluation each year shows the impact in various aspects of the school and community life. A recent nation wide strike was not followed by the teachers in this community: the children come first!

I had started the morning assisting Wazha Tema - regional chair for Southern Africa of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication – and Solly Mosidi, CEC member and WEEC 2007 organizer with a workshop on CEC. Participants came from government, academia, and NGOs and had an explicit demand to learn more about IUCN, CEC and its latest product the CEPA toolkit. Wazha filled in the knowledge gap a bout CEC with a presentation, a brochure and we showed online what you find on the CEC website and how to apply for membership. We surfed through CEPA toolkit website nd had a quick look in some of the blogging by CEC members.

After this workshop I attended a great many paper presentations, a few I have highlighted above. The Tiblisi + 30 committee meeted again and I was shortly present at the launch of some new publications. Kartikeya Sarabhai of the Indian Center for Environmental Education (CEE) launches the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development.You can order through or write to

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