T-learning Case Study Updates: End of Year 2

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T-learning Case Study
T-learning Case Study

T-learning Case Study Updates: End of Year 2

By Heila Lotz-Sisitka


The T-learning research programme being implemented by the ELRC for the International Social Sciences Transformations to Sustainability Research Programme is already in its third year of implementation. This short blog piece shares a brief update from all of the nine country case studies being developed in this research programme. It shows the different case studies in relation to each other, and highlights the process that we have been following across the nine case studies in development. Further details on the T-learning in Times of Climate Change research programme and the case studies can be found on our project website: www.transgressivelearning.org


The T-learning project is focusing on two types of case studies: ‘Level A’ cases, which focus on local expansive learning actions, and ‘Level B’ cases, which focus on expansive learning interactions across local contexts in various networked systems (e.g. learning networks, associations, social movements).


Our emphasis in Year 2 of the research period was on 1) situational analysis (contextual profiling) and finalizing co-defining of matters of concern, 2) identifying the potential ‘germ-cell’ or catalytic focus areas for further expansive learning within collaborating communities of co-researchers, 3) development of situated T-learning methodologies for learning-led change, and 4) starting the reflexive review of these processes of learning with emphasis on observing and commenting on power relations, debates and emerging sustainability outcomes emerging in practice.


The short case study updates below briefly summarises progress made in each of the case study sites in relation to 1, 2, 3 and 4 above.


Level A cases: Local Expansive Learning Actions


  • Ethiopia: In Ethiopia the MELCA team have been focusing on a retrospective (10 year history) and currently engaged analysis (ongoing in the T-learning project) of how communities in Bale are managing to ‘transgress politics’ and revive and protect Sacred Natural Sites (SNS). 1) An historical analysis of the neglect of including SNS formed the basis of the ongoing co-defining of matters of concern in this case study, and 2) the restoration and protection of these SNS were identified as the potential ‘germ cell’ or catalytic activity with potential for expansive learning and engagement, which was, and continues to be engaged via 3) use of participatory mapping and inter-generational ‘transgressive community dialogues’ (situated methodologies for T-learning) amongst local communities as expansive learning methodology being used in the case. 4) The case reflects the way in which political decree’s can limit transgressive dialogue, and also shows how ongoing T-learning praxis can reflexively engage such problems. The case shows significant practical and political transformations emerging which is attributed to the creation of political space for communities to engage around their matters of concern and bio-cultural interests, in this case, the SNS. 


  • Malawi: In Malawi the LEAD team have been focusing on transformative climate change adaptation via informal learning and local farming practices involving women in the Lake Chilwa Basin (Machinga District). 1) Situational analysis indicated that communities in the Lake Chilwa Basin (a Ramsar site) are concerned with problems of highly degraded land and infertile soils, exacerbated by drought spells that affect food security and poor nutrition (matters of concern). 2) Revitalising and expanding indigenous knowledge of local farming practices has been identified as the ‘germ cell’ or potential activity for catalytic expansive learning.  3) The methodology of change laboratories that use scenario modelling and experimental practices developed out of the situational analysis are the T-learning methodologies being used in this site. 4) The case is beginning to reflect on the significance of deep seated cultural historical practices in the mobilization of T-learning and transformative adaptation, where contradictions are also being surfaced for further informal learning engagements amongst the women farmers.      


  • The Netherlands: In the Netherlands, the Wageningen University research team have been focusing on a retrospective and currently engaged analysis of the Lekkernaussuh Project in The Hague which is engaged in transforming local food systems and associated economic exchange mechanisms that operate outside of the ‘norm’. 1) This praxiological programme emerges from concerns surrounding the unsustainability of modern food systems and associated capitalist economic tools used in food systems (matters of concern). 2) Engaging communities in actual transformed food system and co-operative economic exchange system practices are the ‘germ cells’ or catalytic activities that are being expanded in this case study via T-learning processes that use 3) tools and methodologies from Theory-U (i.e. local presencing), community dialogue and participatory action leading to ongoing reflexive praxis and dynamic changes in the food system activities. 4) The case is showing the significance of interconnected systems-change involving market activities, logistics, communication, buying, administration, market preparations and hosting of events as all being significant for transformations in local food systems in T2S. The potential for considering and ‘scaling’ these insights and practices across niche’s has been identified.


  • Sweden:  In Sweden the SWEDESD team are involved in two streams of research theoretical research on t-learning (reported on under Objective 3 below), and case study work focusing on t-learning and t-learning potential in the Swedish Eco-Schools / Green Flag programme.  The Swedish Eco-Schools programme is a retrospective and currently engaged study of how Green Flag schools perceive T-learning and whether it is possible to expand T-learning in Green Flag schools. Situational analysis indicates 1) that participants in the Green Flag initiatives are concerned with t-learning and pluralistic education (matters of concern), 2) and promote action competence as methodology for this as well as partnership building (possible germ-cell activities to expand). 3) From a methodology development perspective the case is showing tensions between consensus-oriented pedagogies and pluralistic pedagogical practice which may hamper the uptake and expansion of t-learning approaches, and 4) the case so far is showing that it is important to understand educators notions of ‘implicit boundaries’ with regards to pluralism in education which would have implications for t-learning as it plays out in practice (e.g. these boundaries might exclude perspectives that might contribute to ideational or moral dissonance or agonism, and perhaps also the questioning of some taken for granted norms).


  • Vietnam: The Vietnam research team are focusing on climate change adaptation in the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, with a specific focus on Can Tho City and the KienGiang Biosphere Reserve which provide two case study sites for the t-learning project. 1) The matters of concern raised in the early stages of the research relate to the fact that the Mekong Delta is considered one of the three delta’s most affected by climate change across the world where agricultural and economic practices are needing to transform to adapt to climate change threats. 2) Several spontaneous and planned sustainable livelihood models are being developed and especially giving attention to community participation in these practices presents ‘germ-cells’ for catalytic expansion through t-learning for example the models of garden and bonsai clubs, and community-based tourism, and the garden-pond-barn-biogas (VACB) model which links farmers and scientists in developing effective household scale economies, as well as strengthening people’s committees and development of mobile dams and new crop rotation systems for agricultural production.  3) Methodologically the team is using systemic and interdisciplinary approaches using participatory rural appraisal, interviews, workshops and focus group engagements with communities, venn-diagram approaches and mobilization of traditional knowledge (amongst others) to analyse and expand t-learning in the two sites. 4) The study is showing the importance of co-operation between farmers and community members and participants (advisors) outside of the communities, as well as the significance of building on existing forms of learning that exist in the communities. Creation of learning networks of T-teachers and T-stakeholders, centering on extending, strengthening and supporting the role of ‘scientist farmers’ groups, and interactions amongst four key actors: state, scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers is emerging as critical, as is structural support for transforming activities in the two sites.


Level B cases:  Expansive learning interactions across local contexts in networked systems


  • Zimbabwe:  The Zimbabwe research team are engaged with expansive learning with eight district organic associations that were established in 2013 in Mashonaland East province to address matters of concern. 1) These were related to food security and organic production and included dealing with issues of water shortages, and limited availability of locally adapted seed and water-conservation irrigation technologies (amongst others); organic marketing, and group development. 2) Responding to contradictions identified, expansion of the object, tools and rules in the farmers’ activity system were identified as areas for catalytic expansion. 3) The study uses change laboratories and formative intervention workshops, as well as cross case site visits (i.e. demonstration modelling) to expand learning, engaging the farmers’ associations in voluntary introspection and critical analysis of their activity, modelling of new solutions and testing these out in practice, evaluating and reflexively changing the activity. 4) The study is showing the importance of ‘trusted strangers’ asking difficult questions, and the value of bringing together multi-actors including content and process scientists who deepen the knowledge base, and expand collective and relational agency, and who also place emphasis on strengthening solidarity. The study is also pointing to the importance of carefully developed and used ‘double stimulation’ tools (i.e. tools that help with activity development) that can transgress mental and practice boundaries in existing activities. Creative solidarity is emerging as an important area for further development of t-learning.


  • Colombia:  The Colombia research team have been focusing on t-learning across a network of four self-organising bio-regional networks who are also part of the wider of the CASA social movement, all of whom are engaged in learning to co-create the good life via re-generative lifestyles. 1) Matters of concern were co-defined using a multi-tiered engagement approach and included ranged from issues of water conservation, sustainable community building, ancestral education and eco-tourism, which were linked via a common commitment to surfacing ‘silent knowledge’ within a context of peace reconstruction in Colombia that open up other ways of connecting with human and more-than-human entities. 2) The commitment to ‘silent knowledge’ opened up ‘germ-cells’ or catalytic avenues for expansive engagements for t-learning within this broader framing focusing on diverse visions such as building community through non-violent communication techniques, or recognizing the sacred nature of water and its connection to territory (amongst others). 3) Methodologies and approaches for developing these trajectories and visions include transgressive action research which involves for example, carrying out mingas (collective work parties), ollas comunes (shared meals), and workshops into non-violent communication and governance systems of sociocracy, and experiential engagements with such stories of transformation which enables a ‘living’ of and with other, more silent worldviews. 4). The case study is showing that there is need for ‘deep scaling’ of these experiences, rather than ‘outscaling’ or ‘upscaling’ and that such deep seated transformations and transgressions require energy, empathy and an openness to radical change that is transformative of us, as much as it is transformative of the world around us.


  • South Africa: The South African research team, all operating out of, or in partnership with the ELRC at Rhodes University are involved in a variety of T-learning cases most of which reflect the same 4 processes outlined in the Level A case studies above and all of which are developing various dynamics of t-learning process practices, methodologies and theory. The case studies – all led by early career researchers working with a range of partner organisations - include:  A case study on t-learning in youth activist movements for change that is working across a range of youth mobilization organisations using decolonization and cartographies of rising cultures as methodological orientation (led by Injairu Kulundu, PhD); A case study on ‘Uncanny Justness’ involving empathy for selves and the more-than-human using empatheatre, social sculpture, arts-based creative practices and queering methodologies (led by Dylan McGarry); A case study on t-learning in grassroots water activist organisations interconnected into a wider social movement – the South African Water Caucus (led by Jane Burt and Taryn Pereira) using changing practice, cognitive justice and feminist methodologies; A case study on t-learning in citizen science programmes which is working with other citizen science projects using ecologies of knowledge methodologies (led by Priya Vallabh); A case study on ‘Water for Food’ expansive learning in multi-actor learning networks which is extending to two other similar provincial learning networks using learning networks, social media, change laboratories and productive demonstration site methodologies (led by Tichaona Pesanayi); A case study on food waste reduction and market transformation using a mobile phone application for T-learning in two provinces (FoodforUs) (led by Sarah Durr); A case study on t-learning in the Cape Town urban water crisis context that is using public media and arts-based creative practice and eco-pedagogies (led by Anna James and Sarah von Borek); A case study in the Johannesburg City climate change adaptation environment using change laboratories (led by Prof Vogel), and case studies on resilience building in the Olifants catchment amongst multi-actors in municipalities, natural resources management projects and common property associations in formation using change laboratories (led by Charles Chikunda, Reuben Thifhulufwelwi and William Mponwana). These site-based projects and the co-defining of matters of concern, methodology development and emerging insights are truncated here, but together, they are developing richly textured reflexive practices and co-learning around the emerging scope of theoretical, methodological and analytical tools for t-learning and t-learning pathways (not unlike those reported on in the other case studies above) in a SA T-learning TKN.


  • India: The India research team at MGIEP are focusing on developing tools and a process for youth-led monitoring of the SDGs. 1) The matter of concern that they are responding to is how to track and report on action and learning around the various sustainability issues that are experienced by communities in India.  2) The methodology that they are using is to develop a mobile phone application that will be used to train youth in community-based organisations to engage with community members to collect data on issues, and to track and monitor any changes related to the issues that may result from community-engaged actions or other forms of intervention and learning. The data generated in this way can also be used by youth and community organisations for engaging local governments in the issues that concern communities. The MGIEP has capacity to aggregate this data from a range of sites and therefore to also use this for policy intervention at higher levels. The MGIEP have developed the technical specifications and the methodology for the mobile application and youth-led monitoring, and are now engaged in a pilot phase where they have been identifying partner organisations to co-define some of the parameters of the potential t-learning which will then inform the design of the mobile application and then be used for wider monitoring using crowd-sourced data. 3) The study is showing the importance of on-the-ground engagement with communities to articulate the parameters of the potential t-learning, and the design of the project has shifted from a top-down application development process to a community-informed application development process.

Note: This article also appears on the project website: www.transgressivelearning.org  Visit the site for more information on the research programme objectives, partners, and case studies.