Think Tanks for ESD

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Rolf Jucker, of Switzerland's new éducation21, posted this on SHED SHARE a few days ago:

Since January 2013 I work in a new foundation here in Switzerland which is called éducation21 and is conceived as a one-stop-shop for ESD in Switzerland (pre-, primary and secondary schooling, teacher training (initial and CPD)).  This is an exciting new development because it might hopefully lead to an integrated systemic ESD understanding and practice.  Up until now partial perspectives such as global education, development education, health or environmental education dominated or even claimed to be the whole picture. In the course of setting up the new organization we decided that we wanted some sort of think tank to advise us, help us, push us along etc.  Within the organization the opinions are divided if we need:

- an advisory body which is essentially a group of ESD professionals who can professionally support and legitimize our work.

- a proper think tank which is composed of people from various backgrounds whose primary role is to think outside the box, to make sure the new organization focuses on the long-term aims and on innovation. This means that we – sorry, no offense intended to ESD professionals :=) – would rather not invite ‘the usual suspects’ (ESD experts who are anyway represented in our networks, etc.), but innovative, creative people from the media, business, youth education, organizational learning, sustainability experts, etc.

My questions to you therefore are:
- which approach do you think is better ? (you of course felt my preference through the biased phrasing above…)
- do you have any positive or negative experience with either form?
- if you know of functioning think tanks which work (they can be from any other field imaginable), how are they composed, how do they work, what makes them successful / effective?

These are questions that get to the heart of the problem of being an "ESD professional".  Here's my response to Rolf (though not yet to SHED SHARE) ...

Putting this as you do, the answer is obviously the "proper" think tank – which, of course, could (should?) have some of the ESD professionals as members.  I say this for 4 main reasons:

  • The need for critique – ESD is about sustainability and learning, viewed broadly, but is still a small and narrow field of activity.   Because of this, the concepts and practices inherent within ESD need to be challenged (critical friend activity) from a broad base; insiders, ie, ESD professionals, are not always good at this self-examination.  Although there are honourable exceptions to this judgement, I find too many ESD professionals default to promotion of their work, rather than being open to critically examining it.  Your Think Tank would hopefully comprise experts in education and sustainability with no particular axe to grind.
  • The need for a broad base – a well constructed Think Tank would likely draw in people from government (sustainability & education policy), from business and the trades unions (workplace learning and training), from community-based activity, from research – indeed, from all those areas of social activity where sustainability and learning interact.  A group of ESD professionals would probably not be able to do this as well.
  • The talking to each other problem – Just having ESD professionals there would limit the conversation, and the self-critique.  A well-constructed Think Tank would do the opposite, which is what you need.
  • Communicating widely – Think Tanks educate their members as well as members providing input, and thus are a good means of getting awareness of ESD out to wider audiences.  A group of ESD professionals could not do that.

Good Luck!


Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • An encouraging development to think (tank-ishly?) of integrating disparate strands of concern for a sustainable future in the ways proposed and commented upon. If think tanks can evolve into Act Tanks that would be even more encouraging. A propos action, here is a quotation from today's Charter for Compassion e-mailing (an action network started by Karen Armstrong, TED prizewinner)

    “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. But I try to work one day at a time. If we just worry about the big picture, we are powerless. So my secret is to start right away doing whatever little work I can do. I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon. That’s enough. When you see you can do that, you continue, and you give two little joys, and you remove two little sufferings, then three, and then four. If you and your friends do not despise the small work, a million people will remove a lot of suffering. That is the secret. Start right now.”

    ~Sister Chân Không (born 1938), Vietnamese pioneer of socially engaged Buddhism

    Compassion is not a particularly prominent concept in ESD-speak but is a strand worth integrating when applied to sentient species and their precious life-sustaining planet..