In environmental work the challenge is to bridge the gap between knowledge and action. This course responds to this challenge: it does so by taking as the starting point each participant’s current level of knowledge, their working context (what they do) and their aspirations for improving an aspect of  natural resource management. In other words it draws on relevant knowledge, skills, needs and aspirations.

Relevance is the starting point, but how does the training ensure that what is learned is actually applied in practice? This is done through a combination of strategies all of which hinge on a practical project, called the ‘Change Project’, which participants initiate in consultation with their work colleagues or community. On arrival at the first training session participants must already have done a Pre Course assignment which includes consultating with their colleagues about their core idea for a Change Project.  In this course this change project will link to the work that the anchor organisation is involved in as well as help build one of four case studies that respond to issues identified in the National Water Resource strategy 2.  (The instructions for this assignment are part of a document that all participants receive before coming on the course called ‘Guidelines for Change Project and Instructions for Pre Course Assignment’.)

At each of the four successive training sessions participants are exposed to environmental education that places their core Change Project idea in a broader context and invites active discussion.  In this way the theoretical component of the training is subjected to scrutiny based on people’s on-the-ground experiences. And conversely the participant’s practical experience in applying their Change Project idea is exposed to environmental learning theory. After each training session the participants return to their work and proceed with the next stage in their Change Project.

Another way of describing such an approach is to say that the course uses a reflexive ‘work together’ / ‘work away’ structure which allows for participants to apply what they have learnt in between course sessions. Through this process, participants learn the skills of how to mediate knowledge in response to questions that arise out of the work that they are doing.

This approach leads to changes in people’s thinking (cognitive change) and in their social action.

The course is a space where practitioners working in non governmental organisations, extension services, community based organisations and other organisations can work with the challenges and concerns associated with their work.

Course objective

The primary objective is to develop the competency of practitioners to support the improvement of local natural resource management practices, through social learning.

As such, the training helps participants to work with knowledge in a way that is relevant to the context that they work in. It helps participants understand the complexities of knowledge use in practice.

It aims to improve the educational practice (both mediation skills and social learning) of practitioners in the environmental sector who work directly with groups of people involved in natural resource management practices or in activities that affect the environment.

The course requires all participants to interact with and contribute to the development of their community and work contexts through their chosen Change Project.

Description of the course

The course consists of four contact sessions of three days each and four ‘work away’ assignments that feed into work that the participant is already doing. The course model is outlined in the diagram below.

Workshop sessions allow participants to reflect on their own practice by working with case stories (demonstration cases), also including practice sessions, field trips and peer discussion and review. A range of skills are consciously developed through the workshop interaction, these are: social skills, such as working with diverse groups, listening skills, and observation and facilitation skills. A key question is asked during each module which guides the participant one step further towards understanding the challenges of their case and the potential change they can initiate with the communities they work with. Attention is given throughout the course to issues of equity, tolerance and gender.

Below is a diagram of the four modules and the question that will guide each module.


During work away sessions participants will have two telephonic contact sessions with facilitators of the course and by Module 2 will be able to engage in online discussion groups and mentoring through Facebook.

Course principles

Practice-centred and situated

The focus of the course is to support the mediation of environmental knowledge, using mediation tools based on questions arising from the practice that participants are engaged with. It will situate learning within the context of the natural resource management practice in a way that is relevant to each participant. For this to happen, course participants will audit and review an existing case in their work or community context. They will address questions such as: What is happening here? How is this being done? Who is involved? What issues, questions or problems are people facing? What questions do we have?

Responsive, emergent and expansive

The course is designed to allow participants to respond to questions that arise from a natural resource management practice in social-ecological contexts. The 4-module structure allows participants to investigate questions that emerge out of their case. They then identify relevant knowledge that responds to these questions through the use of knowledge networks which expands their knowledge about their environmental practice. They also consider local questions within the broader national and global political and economic environment.

Change oriented and reflexive

The course encourages participants to reflexively review their own practice as mediators, and to improve this practice through trying out new approaches to the mediation of environmental knowledge in practice. For this to be possible, the course adopts a ‘work together, work away’ model over four sessions so that ideas and learning can be conceptualised, tried out, and reflected on over a period of time.
(adapted from Lotz-Sisitka & Hlengwa, 2012)

Outcomes of the course

On completion of the four modules and assignments, the participants should:

  • Be aware of the importance of context for learning.
  • Understand practice-centred learning and how learning in the context of a practice helps people question, reflect and change practice.
  • Be able to identify and generate questions about a particular local practice, both in terms of local knowledge and specialist knowledge.
  • Be able to identify and build a knowledge network by drawing on local specialists, other resources and up-to-date research.
  • Be able to develop contextually specific mediation tools that create a platform for a dialogue between local knowledge (in the form of local stories of practice) and specialist knowledge; and that mediates discussion, reflection and dialogue by people engaged in a particular local practice.
  • Be able to use mediation tools to facilitate social learning processes that lead to both a reflection on and change in practice.


The course is participatory and is intended to support and strengthen workplace practices. To complete the course, participants are expected to complete all four phases of the Change Project as well as a Pre-Course assignment. They will not be writing an exam, but will be expected to produce a Portfolio of Evidence. This portfolio must provide evidence of completion of all assignments, successful assessments, and evidence of progression in learning and development of the Change Project. It should also show evidence of engagement with the course materials, both the content and the activities. The assessment criteria will be deliberated upon and handed out with each assignment so that the assessment process is transparent and reflexive.


Participants are required to complete a Pre-Course assignment plus a Change Project assignment for each of the four modules covered and to submit a final report and reflections on the implementation of the Change Project. Once all these criteria have been met, participants will receive a Certificate in ‘Changing Practice: Community-Based Social Learning and Natural Resource Management’ from Rhodes University.