Developing education approaches based on community reality and perceptions
In order to create change, people from outside a community will invariably arrive with new ideas, often coming from a different culture, with different sets of values, beliefs and perceptions. However, it is important to remember that many communities do not perceive poverty or sustainable development in the same way we do.
There are many perceptions of environmental problems, their causes and solutions, and that the perception held by Live & Learn, both philosophically and practically, may not necessarily be in agreement with that of the community. Live & Learn seeks to understand the perceptions of the community, and to start the development of educational interventions from where the community is at, rather than from our own perspective. Live & Learn encourages communities and individuals to explore and share experiences, ideas and opinions, and to question and clarify environmental problems, their root causes and their links to wellbeing.
Taking an integrated approach while being focused
Social and economic processes affect environmental sustainability. Therefore, to have a meaningful impact, environmental education should be delivered through a human paradigm. Through this paradigm, biology and environmental science take second place to the human issues of governance, human rights, health, livelihoods, gender and participatory processes.
The process of integrating environmental, social and economic issues through practice is complex. It is easy to lose focus, and the interest of the community, as people have urgent needs to pursue. To demonstrate integration at community level it is critical to have strong entry issues that communities can relate to. These issues are often brought back to three key areas of environmental education: society, environment and economic opportunity, with culture as an underlying dimension.
Often, developing countries face unique challenges in sustainability development. Specifically; safeguarding water resources, accessing sanitation and hygiene, sustaining tourism and fishing benefits, dealing with illegal logging, decentralising governance, strengthening health services in remote areas, strengthening community organisation, waste reduction, climate change adaptation, and so on. Only by taking an integrated approach in meeting these challenges can we shape meaningful strategies and solutions.
Issues of participation and partnerships
The wellbeing of communities must be at the centre of all policies and strategies. Environmental management has an immense capacity to both limit and advance human development and this effect is influenced by social and economic processes, which in turn are guided by governance and decision-making. Governance is often perceived to be government, but governance starts at the community level. In the context of environmental management in developing countries, opportunities to develop sustainable, innovative and community-driven environmental management solutions, are greatest if managed and governed by those closest to the environmental source. Community ownership and participation in developing these solutions are key to sustaining impact. For this to be achieved, a community’s capacity and structure need to be established. How communities are engaged and are participating is important.
Everyone is a stakeholder in environmental education. All of us will feel the impact of its relative success or failure and all of us affect the impact of it by our behaviour, be it supportive or undermining. This generalisation does not, however, help to identify targeted strategies of cooperation, communication or action. Particular roles and responsibilities devolve to a number of bodies and groups at different levels: local (sub-national), national, regional and international. At each level, stakeholders may be part of government (or intergovernmental at regional and international levels), civil society, non-governmental organisations, or in the private sector. The functions and roles of these categories, at each level, are complementary.
Special mention must be made of indigenous peoples, because of their particular and long-term links to specific biophysical environments and because of threats to their livelihoods, present and future. They represent a fund of knowledge in balancing the use and preservation of natural environments. The intimate knowledge and sustained use of their environment gives indigenous people a role in informing the wider debate and offering detailed insights into practices of the “management” of human survival.
Making evaluation meaningful to communities
The purpose of evaluation is multi-faceted. In part, it is used by the implementing organisation and funding agency to assess the benefits and impact of the work carried out. However, the evaluation should also benefit the communities in which the work is being carried out. Too often communities never see such data and therefore have no opportunity to use the data to further improve practice and capacity. People from outside the community, who do not “live” the many challenges experienced by the people within the communities themselves, often impact evaluations. With some guidance, communities are well placed to evaluate impact, as they experience any changes first-hand. Leading community participation is key to meaningful evaluation. One effective method used by Live & Learn is the Most Significant Change (MSC) technique. It is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation in which stories of change are collected from the community. The process involves the collection of significant change stories from the field or classroom and the systematic selection of the most significant stories by project stakeholders and partners. Project stakeholders then discuss the value of the stories; how successes can be replicated, and how to identify limitations and opportunities.