A Social Learning event held in June drew together social learning case studies from across the world. Armed with a better understanding of the concept, participants agreed to further strengthen and more thoroughly evaluate the social learning aspects of their work.

Social learning in essence builds on fairly theoretical and abstract ideas. To reduce the risk of social learning remaining a high-flying concept without linkages to reality, we searched the globe for social learning projects in action. These were presented a few weeks back during a Social Learning event, organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), held in the midst of a windy but still surprisingly warm and sunny London.

Some participants had come as far away as China and Brazil, eager to further present their project activities. In two-days we went through 11 climate change projects with social learning approaches embedded in them.

Why a social learning evidence workshop?

Apart from putting the final touches on an upcoming social learning monitoring and evaluation framework, to show how social learning can add value to a climate change project or program, the ambition was also to get buy-in from the case study representatives further expanding our Climate Change anSocia learning conference linked to climate change adaptation held in London, UK 2014 in June. d Social Learning network.

“The workshop was a great opportunity to better understand the social learning concept,” said participant Leandro Lepinh representing the project Promoting forest stewardship in the Bolsa Floresta Programme. “From here I can now evaluate the opportunities to use these approaches to improve the quality of the payment for environmental services program that we run in the Amazon.”  

Social learning can be argued to be “a change in understanding that goes beyond the individual and spreads within communities or groups through social interactions between people.” This definition can be found in the recently released Social Learning for Adaptation handbook (PDF).

Social learning approaches attempts to spread lessons, experiences, and knowledge widely through social networks, or communication channels such as radio, TV, and social media. These approaches seek to change behaviour beyond the individual, through networks and social interactions. "This is what puts the social in social learning," said Liz Carlile from IIED during her “What Social Learning is and isn’t” presentation.

Presenting social learning case studies

Joost Vervoort who works as a Science Officer for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), joined the learning event to showcase his work on Scenarios.

His work is a participatory, stakeholder driven activity where involved delegates together develop future climate scenarios that can support decision-making in countries. Scenarios are in short different “what-if” accounts of the future that can be told in words, numbers, images, maps or interactive learning tools.

Through creating opportunities for participation which includes building needed skills and capacities, empowering people throughout the workshops to feed their expertise into the process, and continuously discussing ways to improve the scenarios, we believe there is a lot to be learned from this work from a social learning perspective. Without a doubt it incorporates several key social learning traits within its structure.    

Learn more about why Scenarios can be seen as a social learning case study:


The Hoima watershed management project, where researchers, students, stakeholders together assess and determine water resources and water uses within Socia learning conference linked to climate change adaptation held in London, UK 2014 in June. the watershed is another social learning case study that was further presented.

This joint action – assessing threats to the watershed, local uses and prioritising the problems and climate-smart solutions – provides opportunities for participation and knowledge sharing among key stakeholders. Solutions include several climate-smart agriculture practices.

A genuine and close stakeholder involvement, with continuous learning and evaluation, creates the basis for behaviour and attitude change, in this case related to watershed management and use.

Learn more about this project and how it approaches social learning: Upstream in a social learning process

Another interesting case study was Prolinnova, represented by Ann Waters from the head office in Netherlands.

Prolinnova, a multi-stakeholder program and key partner of CCAFS, is promoting local innovation in agriculture and natural resource management. The focus is on recognising the dynamics of indigenous knowledge and building on farmers' own capacities, which is done using social learning-type approaches.

A farmer-led Innovation Fair held last year, is one example of the work that Prolinnova does. The fair, led and coordinated by farmers' themselves, creates space for knowledge sharing, learning and engaging with each other beyond immediate network and provides a platform the further evaluate climate adaptation within farming.

Learn more: Celebrating creative and innovative farmers from around East Africa

After the social learning event in London, Ann Waters did point out the need to move from theory to practice when it comes to social learning:

”The danger is that the discussion becomes more and more abstract and removed from the realities on the ground. It is time to stop discussing what social learning is and to what extent it is new or different from similar approaches in trying to bring about change in agricultural research and development. It is time to immerse us in the complex and messy reality of research in development and to see whether one can swim with social learning, learn how to swim better as quickly as possible and start moving forward. Things need to become more concrete!”

Did we make any progress on social learning?

At the end everyone expressed a genuine interest in participating in the Climate Change and Social Learning initiative and keep sharing progress on their projects and social learning activities.

People also agreed to further ponder on how they can either implement additional social learning processes (increase participation, self-reflection, add learning loops, analyze power dynamics better etc) or use the upcoming social learning framework to evaluate and monitor their own work.

Hopefully this will turn into action on the ground while pushing the research on social learning further.

For more information, review the five most important social learning indicators, or read the notes from the meeting, visit our Sandbox.

Socia learning conference linked to climate change adaptation held in London, UK 2014 in June.

Read more: Which factors are key for successful social learning?
All blogs on Climate Change & Social Learning can be found here.
All 11 social learning & climate change-related projects found here.  

*Photos in the story by Cecilia Schubert