Social Learning & Systems Thinking

Wals et al. (2009) explored how social learning can contribute to enabling a learning society that can engage with developing a more sustainable world. They highlighted how social learning is instrumental in developing a “learning system in which people learn from and with another and, as a result, collectively become more capable of withstanding setbacks, of dealing with insecurity, complexity and risks” (2009: 11). They went on to say that it is within the tolerating and drawing from the differences and tensions within the group that learning is enabled.

Definition: Social learning is a process of socially constructing an issue with actors through which their understanding and practices change, leading to transformation of the situation through collective and concerted action.

(from AWARD’s ‘Our Olifants’ brochure)

The catchment is viewed as a complex coupled social-ecological system. In such systems, social learning is not simply a pre-cursor to action; learning needs to be ongoing. Thus a re-formulation of issues and solutions can also take place to facilitate more strategic action. The relevant issues relate to climate change, biodiversity and water (natural resources), and relevant actions would be those that make the people of the catchment and the ecosystems more resilient to climate change. Systemic social learning enables stakeholders in government and civil society to plan collaboratively for action, to take action, and to learn from reflection on their actions (reflective learning and strategic adaptive management). The development of an innovative and responsive approach to collaborative planning for action that effectively combines evidence-based information with issues identified by stakeholders is fundamental to building resilience is the development of capacity within the region, as well as with the institutions to carry the process of adaptive management and social learning forward.

From award website.

Embracing a systemic approach to solving problems requires a fundamental shift from the reductionist approaches that have dominated Western thought for centuries, towards more holistic and participatory approaches that take into account the dynamic and unpredictable nature of complex systems. These new approaches need to be flexible and responsive to new understanding and change within the system. In recognition of the interconnectedness of problems across different areas of interests (food, water, land, livelihoods, climate and so on) and across space and time, it is useful to adopt a systemic, social learning orientation towards water governance, management and adaptive/transformative action. “Integrated approaches” for collaborative action recognize that so-called ‘social’ and ecological systems cannot be separated but should rather be seen as one, interacting and complex socio-ecological system (or SES). Therefore systemic approaches to solving complex environmental and social problems still need to be “worked out” in practice. Embedded within our practice are the hallmarks of transformative social learning, or learning for transformation. We explicitly design collaborative process that encourage people to confront and de-construct their ways of understanding so as to open up the space for new, collective and transformative understandings. This means thinking beyond one’s own realities and context into broader contexts – an approach that seeks to develop an identity with “the place we live in” (OurOlifants).

General Resources

This section of the website will be expanded by the LBCIN partners and their works.

Catchment Specific Resources

(contact us to add your catchment specific resources)

This section of the website will be expanded by the LBCIN partners and their works.

Tools and Ideas

(fieldwork packs/resources)

This section of the website will be expanded by the LBCIN partners and their works.