Learning from experience in sustainability

Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen (2003). Learning from experience in sustainability. In: Proceedings International Sustainable Development Research Conference 2003 (Proceedings of), 24-25 Mar 2003, Nottingham, UK.


This paper explores the apparent contradiction between the 'linearity' of most Sustainability Indicator (SI) projects, with defined outputs achieved in a set period of time, and an implied 'circularity' that goes with most sustainable development (SD) initiatives. Projects usually have clear parameters within which they are implemented, and the inclusion of elements such as the need for accountability, measurable impact and 'value for money' have grown in importance. Whether we like it or not, it could be argued that we live in a 'projectified' world. We suggest that one way of exploring this potential contradiction between 'linearity' and 'circularity' is to frame the project with a Kolb Learning Cycle heuristic. This will facilitate a rationalisation from those implementing the SI project as to why decisions are being made and for whom. If these questions are opened up to the project stakeholders, including beneficiaries, then the Kolb cycle could encourage learning and understanding by all involved. It is suggested that such learning should be a valid output of the SI project, although typically the focus is only upon the final list of SIs and how they feed into policy. Funders need to take a broader perspective by allowing for both within SI projects, even if learning is not a measurable or tangible outcome. These points are explored within the context of the wider literature and SI projects in Malta and Lebanon.

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