Fostering Action for Societal Change workshop

Our world faces ecological and social challenges, and many people feel compelled to act. But on an individual level, it is not uncommon to feel disempowered by their magnitude. In addition to informing students about these challenges and possible responses, it is important to empower them with knowledge and equip them with tools so that they themselves can become “change agents” within a wide variety of organizations and settings.


Short video: Workshop introduction by expert Anders Wijkman (Photo: Stefan Zimmerman)


 Workshop summary

Traditionally universities have focused on expanding the body of scientific knowledge, accelerating innovation and developing the intellectual capacities of those willing and able to join the world of higher education (HE). HE has been extremely successful in creating and advancing technologies and economic models that have accelerated the well-being of billions, but certainly not for all. Furthermore, the economic models entertained and many of the technologies used have led to increasing threats to the stability of planet Earth due to the unsustainable use of its resources. Climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity are the most salient examples of the failure to respect the planetary boundaries. Now that we have entered the Anthropocene characterized by global sustainability challenges that are “wicked” and highly systemic in nature, the question is: how can HE become more responsive, more relevant and more responsible in light of these pressing challenges?

In this workshop we will discuss the role of HE in capacity-building for action and transformation towards systemic societal change. One premise that will be put forward and discussed is that a shift towards so-called transboundary forms of teaching, learning and research will be needed. A transboundary approach suggests that we need to rethink a number of binaries that have become normalized over time, including, the binary between teaching and learning, between research and practice, between the social and natural sciences, between science and society, between thinking and acting, and so on. How can HE facilitate and support so-called “learning ecologies”, that allow for blended forms of learning, invite diversity and boundary crossing, lead to systemic societal change, address values and ethics and, finally, engage and empower communities of learners in the co-creation of knowledge and action? In relation to this question the workshop will also explore the kinds of qualities and competences students and staff need to develop in order to contribute in this type of learning, and, ultimately, to contribute to a more sustainable world.

This workshop will combine the expertise of the two experts, Arjen Wals and Anders Wijkman.

Arjen Wals is a Professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. He also holds the UNESCO Chair of Social Learning and Sustainable Development. His teaching and research focus on designing learning processes and learning spaces that enable people to contribute meaningfully sustainability.

Anders Wijkman is a Swedish opinion leader and author. Anders has been a member of the European Parliament, secretary general of the Swedish Red Cross as well as secretary general of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. From 2012 – 2018 he was co-president of the global think tank Club of Rome. In 2017 he was appointed chairman of the Governing Board of Climate-KIC – a major public-private partnership at EU level for the promotion of innovation of a low-carbon society.

Thus, in this workshop, we will build on the combined expertise of Arjen’s knowledge from the higher education perspective, Anders’ knowledge from the policy-making and civil- society perspectives, as well as the knowledge and experience from all workshop participants. How can these perspectives meet, and where, within these larger organizational structures, can the pivotal points be found where individuals can interact fruitfully with organizations, or even co-create new organizations, in order to promote sustainable development?



Then there is the GEM2016 report that is open-access and speaks well to the conference:

A Conversation with…Anne Snick, systems thinker and change enabler.
COPERNICUS Alliance – European Network on Higher Education for Sustainable Development


Introductory Report on the 2nd International Conference on Future Education
Garry Jacobs and Alberto Zucconi


Introduction to CO-RRI
Anne Snick
SAPIRR – Systems Approach of Public Innovation & Responsible Research, Future Forward Summit Brussels. 18 October 2018


Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Trans-Disciplinary Environmental Research.
Scott Peters and Arjen E. J. Wals (2013) in Krasny, M. and Dillon, J. (Eds.) Trading Zones in Environmental Education: Creating Transdisciplinary Dialogue. New York: Peter Lang, p. 79-104.


Preparing for a Confusing Future: Complexity, Warm Data and Education
Nora Bateson, September 2018


Can we meet the sustainability challenges? The role of education and lifelong learning.
Arjen E. J. Wals and Aaron Benavot, 2017


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