Climate Change and Action-oriented Research for Transformations
Action-oriented Research for Transformations (ART) is a social learning process in which participants learn with one another. Moreover, it is a societal learning process in which stakeholders in an issue get to realize that they make up the system and therefore have the power to remake that system together.
Our beautiful Earth is becoming inhospitable to us. How should educators, researchers, and knowledge creators respond to this existential threat? By accepting an unpalatable truth: our mainstream approach to learning, education, and research is actively co-producing the very opposite of what we need at this time of unsustainability. See: A call to Action Research for Transformations: The times demand it
Imagine the implications of this for local experiments in response to climate change – that instead of IPCC reports of climate change piling over 20 years, 50% of the fundings had been given to support communities learning to become climate resilient. Imagine if we gave up the idea that the results of scientific inquiry can just be given to others to implement.
While that model has value in building new technology and deepening our understanding of natural and social systems, it is far too limited for the kind of leap we must now make as a species to move towards a more sustainable world.
Our Action Research special issue on climate change selected five papers that illustrate the value of action research in scaffolding transformative knowledge creation – linking experience with sense making, and reflection to action. Three of the five papers focus on work with young people, providing a real opportunity for reimagining our future with those who stand to lose the most from continued unsustainability.
You are encouraged to read more about these experiments in action oriented research for transformations which we introduce here:
Daniel Morchain and his colleagues use participatory assessments to uncover the root causes of vulnerability and co-create cross-scalar solutions… See: Building Transformative Capacity in Southern Africa: Surfacing Knowledge and Challenging Structures Through Participatory Vulnerability and Risk Assessments
In collaboration with a large development NGO, the authors explore how Oxfam’s Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodologies can contribute to personal and institutional transformations. Drawing on projects in Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia, they conclude that inclusive and representative participatory approaches can help shift narratives that people hold about their lives and work.
By establishing platforms and processes for speaking “truth to power,” participatory processes also allow marginal voices to be heard, which can uncover issues that have been previously unaddressed.
ART research focuses on building relationships and on narrowing power dynamics and differentials to enable the co-creation of solutions that are rooted in social justice. Their work is a powerful example of how to move beyond incremental towards transformational thinking and action, especially in relation to climate change adaptation.
In a sense, children have the most to lose from an unsustainable planet. Yet, because of the passive role that society usually assigns to them, children often have the least control over their environmental future.
Carlie Trott addressed this lack of environmental empowerment among the young through ART research with her PAR collaboration with 10 to 12 year-old children… See: Reshaping Our World: Collaborating with Children for Community-Based Climate Change Action
She used an innovative arts-based, participatory method — photovoice– in an after-school program to help the children make personal and local connections with environmental issues.
This helped the children in planning and implementing informed individual and collaborative projects such as a tree-planting campaign and a community garden club. Carlie’s research shows the critical importance of participatory process and collaborative action in strengthening children’s sense of agency. Her findings support the emerging view of children “not as ‘human becomings’ (i.e., future citizens), but as ‘human beings’ (i.e., citizens of today) who can be critical actors in their communities.”
Developing responses to the disconnect between science and society is the focus of Thomas MacIntyre et al’s transgressive action-based narratives of grassroot resistance to runaway climate change… See: T-Labs and Climate Change Narratives: Co-Researcher Qualities in Transgressive Action-Research
Another article presents Transgressive Action Research (TAR) as an approach addressing “structural hegemonies of power through exploring types of radical learning which have the potential to disrupt ingrained or normalised norms of unsustainability.” Use of the Living Spiral Framework methodology in Colombia to raise distinctive qualities in TAR is described, to illustrate how it can advance transgressive learning that spurs collaborative stakeholder action in response to climate change
Catherine Walker and co-authors from the UK and Brazil share their experiences of how using action-oriented research can open up spaces for young people’s perspectives to be included in transformative responses to the entanglements of climate change, disaster risk reduction and the food-water-energy nexus… See: Promoting Climate Change Transformation with Young People in Brazil: Participatory Action Research Through a Looping Approach
They develop a ‘looping’ methodology through their own collaboration across two projects working with young people in Paraíba do Sul watershed, São Paulo. Through bringing together citizen-science and nexus thinking, Catherine and her co-authors illustrate powerfully how action-oriented, participatory research can enable young people – along with other protagonists – to delve into the emotional, to make sense of, articulate, and make acting upon complex, multi-scalar processes that characterize what it means to live in uncertain social, political and environmental times, a real possibility.
Newly minted PhD., Gioel Gioacchino, writes about a youth-led action research process carried out in Cuba… See: You Defend What You Feel: ‘Presencing’ Nature as ‘Experiential Knowing’
Their Action Research supported a network of youth to champion sustainability in a country that is simultaneously more “sustainable” in an ecological sense than most countries, but with little space for youth to take leadership.
The work brought together ten young people, some from Cuba, some from abroad, as co-researchers. First, they designed a series of learning workshops across three main cities in Cuba, to which they brought their insights from interviews with experts. Distilling what’s useful, Gioel blends two conceptual models that together emphasize aesthetic as well as cognitive learning.
Because of its power, the young people started with attention to their own experiential search for harmony and belongingness with nature. Their felt experience was their catalyst. Following from this, the action research was practical in supporting further experiments in the flourishing of persons, communities, and the wider ecology. The move beyond overly cognitive learning is not as well practiced as it should be. Others doing similar work can build on this experiential emphasis, which helps balance what are often overly cognitive learning efforts that fail to touch people’s hearts and, therefore fail, to involve their hands in making things better.