How to master a learning process in five (almost) easy steps

By Zuzana Harmackova

Summary: The golden mine of any conference is a session where you learn something relevant for your own work. Can it get any better? Absolutely. Imagine THE session where five presentations provide you with an complete set of Methods for Facilitating Collaborative Processes and Learning for sustainability transformations.

An urban legend says that some of the most popular videos by lifestyle YouTubers are those providing you with a specific number of steps to reach… anything. Good night’s sleep. Perfect make-up. Productive life. Now imagine encountering a professional parallel – a single conference session where you learn about five exciting methodological steps to facilitate your next collaborative learning process.

First, you will need a framing which allows you to identify people’s underpinning values and principles. For that, a useful tool (introduced by Johan Larsson) is the lighthouse parallel, allowing you as well as the participants in your research to focus on four dimensions of what makes a good life:
1) Human needs and well-being,
2) Their social and economic pillars, allowing us to ask how do we want to live together and how can we manage our capital for the future?
3) And the ecological underpinning of the above – how can society’s activities fit within nature’s carrying capacity?


By: Johan Larsson and John Holmberg

Second, it is necessary to ask the right questions. In order to reach that, you will need to learn more about the values and opinions of your potential future participants in advance. For that purpose, Lorenz Hilty introduces an extremely helpful tool currently developed with his team – an interactive interface surfacing people’s values and preferences, comparing them with a “value average” in the group and clustering them in a “landscapes of opinions”, which can help you identify participants for your workshop to cover a wide range of opinions, as well as to formulate questions to build on.


By: Lorenz Hilty and Clemens Mader

Third, you will need to create a safe learning space. Caroline Lumosi clarifies that you will need to focus on multiple details: to get a suitable physical space for learning (a nice, comfortable and friendly environment, not becoming a fog sauna after a whole-day workshop), to create a set of rules guiding the interaction between participants (e.g. to resolve miscommunications) and to ensure the freedom for people to self-organise (to allow initiatives to emerge in response to current needs). Such a learning space improves not only knowledge but also relationships, and allows to create a shared vision for sustainable futures.

Fourth, you might need to move beyond a workshop set-up and dive in learning processes involving the general public. Daniele Brombal reflects on the role of Citizen Science in transformation processes and shows how it can complement science-based, ultra-specialized, mechanistic knowledge of the natural world, and what is more: to strengthen awareness, connect the sphere of knowledge and emotions, reconnect people with their environment and even empower them to challenge and develop existing institutions.

Last but not least, you will need to make the involvement of participants in a learning process easier, help them to gain familiarity with a topic and at the same time allow them to move towards fuller forms of participation. This can be reached through structuring knowledge resources in an accessible and visible way, enabling asking and answering questions and mutual interaction. For that purpose, Stefan Hilser reflects on the design of four existing learning aids – interactive “toolboxes” incorporating overviews of methods, experience reports, tools, approaches, literature, an much more (don’t forget to check the details on his gripping blog!).

When leaving the session, you feel as satisfied as after FINALLY finding the perfect video with eleven easy steps to cook a hard-boiled egg. Your next collaborative learning process is going to be a success.


Zuzana Harmackova

Zuzana is a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of resilience indicators across case studies, future participatory scenarios and social-ecological aspects of ecosystem services provision. She has been involved in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), currently working on an assessment of values in future scenarios within the IPBES Assessment on Diverse Conceptualization of Values.

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