Blackmore C.. 2007. What kinds of knowledge, knowing and learning are required for addressing resource dilemmas?: a theoretical overview Environmental Science & Policy. 10

What kinds of knowledge, knowing and learning are required for addressing resource dilemmas?: a theoretical overview

TitleWhat kinds of knowledge, knowing and learning are required for addressing resource dilemmas?: a theoretical overview
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsBlackmore C.
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Start Page512-525
Keywordsdiscourse, learning theories, resource dilemmas, social learning, sustainable development, sustainable learning
Full Text


Undertakes a broad overview of learning and learning models and the implications for sustainable resource management dilemmas

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Key Findings: 

This article describes the diverse traditions and theories from which social learning is derived, and the use of this theory as praxis in the implementation of the SLIM project (Social Learning for the Integrated Managing and Sustainable Use of Water at Catchment Scale) (see A broad historical perspective of associated learning theories is presented and discussed, drawing attention to the contested nature of learning and its relationship to the development of knowledge through diverse ways of knowing. A range of assumptions influence learning and ways of knowing and, therefore, the type of knowledge that is created and used. Increasing awareness of these assumptions is recognised as a critical process which, in itself, helps to enhance understanding of what it is that needs to be known to effectively address resource dilemmas. A common theoretical perspective among diverse researchers identified social learning within the SLIM project as: (i) a potential alternative policy instrument; (ii) informed by creative and adaptive processes; (iii) from among multiple users; (iv) focusing on a defined resource or environmental problem; (v) leading to concerted action at the catchment scale. This contribution from SLIM provides insight into the type of knowing, knowledge and learning that may be required to address particular resource dilemmas at specific scales. One important shift in the focus of social learning is the movement away from localised participatory processes, to more system-wide learning approaches. This expands social learning from a single approach to multiple approaches, increasing the range of tools that may be applied according to context. Learning about social learning (learning to learn) and reducing institutional barriers to learning will continue to be an ongoing challenge in addressing resource dilemmas.


Localised participatory social learning processes are receiving increased recognition but also additional critique, with some authors questioning the efficacy of these processes in creating social change (a primary objective of learning for sustainable resource management). Increasing the range of options and tools at a system-wide level is consistent with the concept of a hierarchy of multiple adaptive cycles that is a core element of an adaptive learning approach. This perspective would view localised participatory processes as embedded within a broader hierarchy of adaptive cycles. The lesson for adaptive learning, rather than to dismiss localised processes, would instead search out the links that may connect those processes to adaptive cycles operating at different levels within the broader system. This, in itself, challenges assumptions about learning, knowledge and ways of knowing. This will require the involvement of more than just educators within institutional structures, but will simultaneously involve diverse stakeholders at a range of system levels.