March 2023 -- Critical pedagogy can enhance training for co-production among sustainability professionals
There's often nothing better than learning by doing. Yet, opportunities are limited for early career sustainability professionals to practice key tools of the trade like co-production of knowledge. In a recent paper published by Urban Transformations, Matt Feagan led a team of collaborators (including me) to figure out how we might address this.
This group came together as a result of the Get SETS symposium series led by the UREx Sustainability Research Network based out of Arizona State. We all participated in a series of 4 symposia, which included homework in between as well as online networking opportunities. The series attempted to synthesize a series of principles for the future of sustainable, just green infrastructure in cities. Many of the results are summarized at the symposium website. At the end of the series, a number of small groups formed with "spin-off" ideas, one of which aimed to investigate the role of online pedagogy in supporting novel training for early career sustainability professionals, especially in the context of co-production.
The outcome of that group is the publication I'm talking through today. I have to say, the collaboration has been one of the most interesting and fruitful I've been a part of - we meandered through many different topics, including evaluations of the series, ideas around interdisciplinarity, and a more specific focus on online platforms before finally settling on the integrated perspective we took to considering education for co-production.
Specifically, we argue that co-production will be required for a more just and sustainable future - and better training is required to make co-production work. To make that happen, universities and other training institutes should consider how to interweave novel and traditional teaching methods to better equip early career professionals for their work. We argue that online tools, when combined with peer-led learning and problem-based learning, can create an environment uniquely conducive to the necessary training. This includes three key advances on traditional teaching methods:
Online collaboration for long-term transformation - Co-production requires trust. Trust requires time. Online collaboration gives time and space to build trust without breaking the bank.
Peer learning as safe-enough space - Co-production requires knowledge sharing that escapes the traditional hierarchies of student-professor, citizen-academic, lay person-expert. Peer learning strategies help to break down these boundaries and create a safe-enough space for collaborators to share different kinds of expertise and different ways of knowing.
Problem-based learning for addressing real-world complexities - Co-production is a reasonably straightforward process on paper. It's all the real-world stuff that makes it messy. Problem-based learning pulls the real-world stuff into the classroom, forcing folks to face down the complexities of real-life scenarios without the risk associated with failed experimentation on-the-job.
By learning to co-produce knowledge in a safe, affordable, but challenging space, early career professionals can better address the wicked sustainability challenges of the coming decades.
Image: Figure 4 from referenced paper - Graphical summary of Symposium session 2 - Produced by Muddy Shlegel, Copyright Urban Transformations journal
Feagan, M., Fork, M., Gray, G., Hamann, M., Hawes, J. K., Hiroyasu, E. H., & Wilkerson, B. (2023). Critical pedagogical designs for SETS knowledge co-production: online peer-and problem-based learning by and for early career green infrastructure experts. Urban Transformations, 5(1), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42854-023-00051-1
Despite a growing understanding of the importance of knowledge co-production for just and sustainable urban transformations, early career green infrastructure experts typically lack opportunities to practice transdisciplinary knowledge co-production approaches within their normal training and professional development. However, using online collaboration technologies combined with peer- and problem-based learning can help address this gap by putting early career green infrastructure experts in charge of organizing their own knowledge co-production activities. Using the case study of an online symposia series focused on social-ecological-technological systems approaches to holistic green infrastructure implementation, we discuss how critical pedagogical designs help create favorable conditions for transdisciplinary knowledge co-production. Our work suggests that the early career position offers a unique standpoint from which to better understand the limitations of current institutional structures of expertise, with a view towards their transformation through collective action.