PS 1-21 - Applying social innovation and resilience theory to building educational capacity in a national environmental education training project

Monday, August 8, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Marianne E. Krasny, Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

The Expanding Capacity in Environmental Education Project (EECapacity) is a five-year national training program funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which seeks to effect significant changes in environmental education professional networks and practice in response to an increasingly urban population. Our overall strategy to building capacity is to link an emerging cadre of diverse environmental education professionals working in urban environmental stewardship, community, and environmental justice organizations, with more established environmental educators who work at nature preserves and similar settings and who participate in professional networks such as the North American Association for Environmental Education. By recognizing a growing number of urban and minority professionals whose insights and practices can be leveraged to expand environmental education approaches, EECapacity builds on a model for diversity in which established organizations “reach out” to diversify existing organizations (e.g., by inclusion of people of color on their boards). Our more asset-based strategy recognizes, and creates platforms for exchange of ideas and practices among, the two contemporary and parallel environmental education traditions. Further, because urban environmental educators often work in small community-based organizations and may lack opportunities for exchanging ideas and practices more broadly, EECapacity will expand professional networks both among urban environmental educators and between urban and established environmental educators.


In providing platforms to link these two groups of educators, EECapacity is guided by the social innovations and social-ecological systems resilience literatures. Social innovations are characterized by new combinations of existing elements and crossing of organizational and disciplinary boundaries, such as urban and established environmental education practices (The Young Foundation 2006). Similarly, the social-ecological systems resilience literature, with its focus on multiple forms of knowledge, polycentric governance systems, and self-organization, suggests that by creating platforms for bringing together groups across disciplinary, practice, and sectoral boundaries, new and potentially more adaptive practices will emerge. Both literatures emphasize the need for monitoring outcomes of existing experimental practices, and the importance of adapting practices based on such feedback. Further, both literatures suggest that in self-organized and adaptive practices, opportunities arise to create new social connections, which coupled with other changes in the environment as a result of new practices, open up possibilities for further innovations, including at higher levels of organization (e.g., policy). Finally, diffusion of innovations such as new educational practices occurs through professional networks, with the role of government or of a large project like EECapacity being to provide incentives and consultation.

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