The frustration of the public at the inaction of political leaders and corporations on the climate crisis has become clear. What more do we need to do if climate activists such as Greta Thunberg are serious about ” dismantling the system“?
Read more: Teaching young people what really matters for the sake of our collective life on Earth.
Rather, we need strategies for harnessing our collective wisdom and learning together across settings and disciplines. Collaboration between the private sector, members of the wider public, and researchers is imperative.
Sadly, many of our organizations are still hierarchical, siloed, and ill-equipped to collaborate and be flexible in order to bring about collective change. What can we do? Recent research and experiments have shown us two paths to take.
Students from the Cedar Street Elementary School in Beloeil (a suburb of Montreal) planted seeds together with the goal of growing food to share with the community. (Shutterstock)
Bright spots are the focus.
The size of large systems like climate change can be compared to an iceberg. They are both intimidating and hard to assess. We can develop the relationships, working methods, and insights we need to tackle larger challenges by focusing on smaller, more tangible problems or “bright spots.”
School gardens can be a great way to engage students in learning through experience about their environment, food production, and global environmental changes. Teachers, just like students, want to incorporate climate change and sustainability topics and tools into their classrooms. They are limited by the lack of administrative and financial support, lack of training for teaching sustainability and climate change issues, and lack of clarity about how their efforts fit in with highly standardized curriculum requirements.
These efforts are often reduced to optional or extracurricular activities, led by a few educators who do it because they believe in the cause.
School-Community Garden Institute
We co-host The School-Community Garden Institute in partnership with LEARN Quebec. The School-Community Garden Institute is a series of gatherings that bring together educators, educational support workers, and researchers from Montreal.
The School-Community Garden Institute participants meet to exchange knowledge. (Blane Harvey), Author provided
Participants were interested in improving and expanding their gardens as well as their partnerships and deepening their knowledge about using gardens for teaching and learning. They wanted to meet others who shared similar interests.
Meetings foster learning and collaboration. Participants explore the various dimensions of school-community gardens that need to be in harmony to achieve success: fundraising and community engagement, planting, maintaining and caring for the garden, lesson planning, curriculum development, and much more.
Peer-to-peer problem solving
We discuss success stories. In peer-to-peer sessions, participants from different backgrounds bring their collective expertise to bear on actual challenges. These events are hosted at McGill University, using a faculty community garden to create a space for innovation and knowledge exchange.
These collaborations have led to a much deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those who bring gardens to life. The partnerships have also led to a commitment shared by all parties to continue the conversation.
Together, we have tackled strategic issues such as funding, engaging with other teachers and partners in the community, as well as practical challenges like building raised garden beds. The participants’ roles change from being seasoned experts to becoming curious learners.
Universities as innovators
The case of the Garden Institute shows that Canadian universities have the infrastructure, networks, trust in the public, and convening power to facilitate knowledge exchange and to scale up collective actions.
Mitchell McLarnon is a PhD student and the project leader of McGill’s Community Garden. He guides participants on how to plant garlic cloves in preparation for winter. (Blane Harvey), Author provided
Our work aims to promote a community-based model in which universities act as meeting places for diverse sources of expertise and knowledge to catalyze collaborative action — as ” Innovation Brokers.”
Innovation brokers influence and create contexts that facilitate mutual learning and innovative thinking. They aim to bring together like-minded people, encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and promote mutual understanding and knowledge sharing among those who would not have otherwise had the chance to work with each other.
Rethinking the way universities work
To become significant innovation brokers, universities must change the way they work. The universities will have to shift from being the primary architects of innovation to becoming brokers of diverse knowledge.
Researchers, policy-makers, and administrators will have to address the barriers and disincentives that are currently in place to encourage more diverse, interdisciplinary, and engaged research. These barriers are embedded in the way universities recruit, promote, and fund people. Many universities, for example, still discount the importance of participating in projects led by partners from the community. Some fields give more weight to publications that are solely authored than those written in collaboration.
This will require, among other things, that future scholars be taught new thinking on the role of the university and science in society.
Small projects can provide a glimpse of the future, but it is still necessary to transform the relationships, values, and incentives that determine academic success. It will take a lot of work for universities, schools, and communities to come together in order to create a sustainable future.