Social learning and sustainable development


Research-for-development institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, CGIAR and their partners are under mounting external pressure from donors to link knowledge to actions that achieve substantive, long-lasting and demonstrable development outcomes1. If research is genuinely to result in beneficial changes in behaviour, policies and institutions, research outputs need to be much better informed by and engaged with the processes through which individuals, communities and societies learn and adapt their behaviour in the face of change2, 3. Social learning approaches may be able to contribute substantially to this aim4. Definitions vary, but in a nutshell social learning approaches facilitate knowledge sharing, joint learning and knowledge co-creation between diverse stakeholders around a shared purpose, taking learning and behavioural change beyond the individual to networks and systems. Through an iterative process of working together — engaged in interactive dialogue, exchange, learning, action, reflection and continuing partnership — new shared ways of gaining knowledge emerge that lead to changes in practice5. As such, social learning builds on well-established traditions from participatory development, but puts learning and collective change at the centre of engagement. Social learning can provide a way to address complex socio-ecological (so-called wicked) problems by integrating diverse knowledge and value systems at many different levels and through different learning cycles.


Kristjanson, P.; Harvey, B.; Van Epp, M.; Thornton, P.K. Social learning and sustainable development. Nature Climate Change (2014) 4 (1) 5-7. [DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2080]

Social learning and sustainable development

Published 1 January 2014