Piloting Co-Creation and Transformative Learning in Adult Education for Sustainable Development

How can adult education organisations collaborate with green grassroots initiatives? What are the mutual benefits? This year, Tale project partners have been running pilots of co-creation, cooperation, and transformative learning for green transition in six European countries. The progress update from the Erasmus+ project shares key experiences and insights from this process. 

The main activity of the Tale project is dedicated to creating “innovation groups” consisting of adult learning and education (ALE) institution staff and other stakeholders of the field, as well as citizens active within green grassroots initiatives in the six participating countries: Finland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Switzerland. The intention is to actively experiment and run pilots to explore how such collaboration can be mutually beneficial and apply transformative learning methods, which are based on the idea that the learners define the goals together.

Photo by Sari Phojola of an event organised by the green initiative.

In general the innovation groups are an open, emergent, and collaborative process. Each national cooperation is free to co-design and co-implement what they want in line with the project’s goals to engage learners, provide transformative learning experiences and contribute to sustainability in local communities, neighbourhoods and cities. The specific results and joint activities developed within the innovation groups and for adult learners can be events, workshops, hackathons, study visits, courses, dialogues, nature walks, campaigns etc. The process itself is also an innovation and result.

Guidance for the Co-Creation Process from ECOLISE

ECOLISE’s role in the innovation groups has been to provide consultation, advice and help to partners for leading the innovation group process. For the start, we have shared a co-creation approach and design thinking framework to use as a guide through the emergent and collaborative process of clarifying common goals, co-developing and delivering participatory learning activities that advance the green transition and sustainability together with the green grassroots initiatives.

Graphic of co-design process to inspire and guide the innovation groups.

To foster peer learning we have provided coaching, practical support, feedback, listening, and critical reflections to all 6 national ALE organisations via email and in dedicated 1-to-1 conversations. The exchange of diverse perspectives, developing creative ideas and asking learning questions all contribute to the piloting and experimental nature of the innovation groups. As an essential element of learning, we collectively developed a practical 4-phase reflection framework and quantitative assessment, under the leadership of VHS Vienna, to be used while engaging in the innovation groups.

Forest Protection, Repair and Craftivism in Finland

The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation (Kvs) based in Helsinki has chosen to work with two green initiatives, the Kivikko Forest Protection Network, initiated by local residents working to protect an urban forest as a wild area, and Dodo, an environmental NGO engaging citizens in sustainable urban planning, circular lifestyles, food production and climate campaigns. Both green initiatives facilitate peer learning about environmental topics, and activate citizens to work together for a more sustainable future.

Photo by Sari Phojola of the activity with the forest protection group.

Sari Pohjola from Kvs shares “our common goal was to explore what we can learn from each other, and support in bringing new participants to their activities.” We decided to organise two events. The first was focused on the well-being produced by the urban forest and aimed to engage local people in protecting the forest. The second event with Dodo focused on circular economy, fixing and repairing, so people could experience this “craftivism” and get challenged to reflect their consuming habits, especially in connection with clothes.

Photo by Sari Phojola of the initial workshop with the two green initiatives.

Sustainable, Local Food and Preservation Methods in Austria

Another example from the Tale innovation groups is cooperation between VHS Vienna and MILA, a participatory supermarket that provides organic food as an alternative to mass produced food and economically oriented sales policies. MILA is organised as a cooperative where members share responsibilities in buying, stocking and selling the produce – each member of the cooperative works in the shop for 4 hours every 4 weeks. The pricing is transparent and members select the produce offered. For the cooperation, they jointly decided to organise a workshop “saving vitamins over the winter” to teach traditional food preservation methods and focus on sustainability, to buy seasonal, regional produce available in December in Vienna.

Photo by Dilek Tasdemir of the MILA team.

MILA provided the space and fresh produce. The facilitators from VHS Vienna used a participatory, dialogue-based approach and shared hands-on methods for making kimchi and chutney. “The goal was to raise awareness on preserving vegetables in the winter and go back to traditional methods that might have been lost in modern day urban life.” explains Dilek Tasdemir from VHS Vienna. She concluded “the workshop was a satisfying, fun experience and immersion in stories of how our grandmothers used to preserve food and how people in different contexts like Asia are doing it.” A second workshop is planned for January and a longer-term cooperation is being discussed.

Photo by Dilek Tasdemir of the food preservation workshop at MILA.

Seed Diversity and Collective Urban Gardening in Switzerland

A third example is coming from Zürich, Switzerland, where SVEB is collaborating together with SILVIVA, an adult education institution offering programmes for teachers on environment-related topics, and the Grünhölzli Garden Collective. Marianne Müller from SVEB shared: “We chose the Grünhölzli because collective gardening on a horticultural site in Zurich is a good example of a grassroots initiative. Interested parties can join the community garden on a large site. They not only offer opportunities for gardening, but are also a place of learning, discussion and exchange.”

Inspired by the association’s commitment to biodiversity as well as environmental, soil and landscape protection, they were able to quickly find a clear focus on seed diversity. The different perspectives each group brings to the topic greatly enrich the cooperation. Now, the plan is to offer a joint workshop in February and use transformative learning methods to sensitise participants to the topic of biodiversity also in urban areas, teach practical seed savings methods and encourage them to critically reflect and then adapt their behaviour.

Photo of Grünhölzli Garden Collective seed and education garden in Zurich.

Experimentation and Collective Learning amongst Partners

So far in the innovation group process, we have experienced the power of peer learning – beyond traditional teacher-student roles – and how open dialogues enable active participation, critical reflection, new perspectives, and possible lifestyle changes – and contribute to transformation. ALE institutions are exploring how to better involve adult learners in both planning and the actual experience of courses and events. Collaborators and participants alike felt inspired by new impulses and learned ways for taking sustainable action in their local communities, neighbourhoods and cities.

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