|Title||A critical review of the theory and application of social learning in participatory natural resource management processes|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2008|
|Authors||Muro M., Jeffrey P.|
|Journal||Journal of Environmental Planning and Management|
|Keywords||natural resource management, participation, social learning, sustainable learning|
To review diverse perspectives on social learning and public participation including associated claims and benefits
The broad finding in this article is that, in spite of claims of social learning as a critical aspect of transformative change toward sustainable natural resource management, the concept has conceptual and practical weaknesses. Social learning is widely understood to require interactive communication among diverse participants in a genuinely participatory setting. This is believed to result in the generation of new knowledge, a range of diverse skills and building of relationships which enhance opportunities for common understanding, agreement and collective action toward change within a defined context. While an emerging body of empirical evidence is beginning to be generated demonstrating social learning outcomes in participatory processes, the mixed success in this area draws attention to the limitations and challenges that still exist. A key challenge is the difficulty of qualifying or measuring social learning either as process or outcome. Another important consideration is in determining and defining situations when social learning is an appropriate conceptual model for achieving desired outcomes, and the complementarity of other approaches such as market or regulatory mechanisms.
The theoretical concept and practice of adaptive learning provides great potential within participatory processes designed to engage with complex sustainability issues. However, without strong conceptual consistency, measuring and qualifying either the process or outcome of this learning remains an issue, although attempts are being made to address this. Change in itself can also be difficult to isolate or quantify, further intensifying the challenge of defining and employing indicators or other evaluative tools. While adaptive learning is a natural phenomenon, focusing and enhancing opportunities for this learning within specific contexts requires resources of time and money. Adaptive learning is also only one mechanism for achieving or accelerating change or, if learning is viewed more holistically, adaptive learning is an encompassing conceptual model that includes a diverse range of mechanisms for change. Either way, it is important to consider how these various mechanisms, such as market-based, regulatory and participatory approaches for example, can be balanced to enhance desired learning outcomes.