You say you want a revolution? Transforming education and capacity building in response to global change

Karen O'Brien, Jonathan Reams, Anne Caspari, Andrew Dugmore, Maryam Faghihimani, Ioan Fazey, Heide Hackmann, David Manuel-Navarrete, John Marks, Riel Miller, Kari Raivio, Patricia Romero-Lankao, Hassan Virji, Coleen Vogel, Verena Winiwarter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    90 Scopus citations


    This paper considers the changes in education and capacity building that are needed in response to environmental and social challenges of the 21st Century. We argue that such changes will require more than adjustments in current educational systems, research funding strategies, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Instead, it calls for a deeper questioning of the assumptions and beliefs that frame both problems and solutions. We first discuss the challenges of transforming education and capacity building within five key arenas: interdisciplinary research; university education systems; primary and secondary education systems; researchers from the developing world; and the public at large and politicians. Our starting point is that any type of revolution that is proposed in response to global change is likely to reflect the educational perspectives and paradigms of those calling for the revolution. We differentiate between a circular revolution (as in the " plan-do-check-act cycle" often used in change management) versus an axial revolution (moving to a different way of thinking about the issues), arguing that the latter is a more appropriate response to the complex transdisciplinary challenges posed by global environmental change. We present some potential tools to promote an axial revolution, and consider the limits to this approach. We conclude that rather than promoting one large and ideologically homogenous revolution in education and capacity building, there is a need for a revolution in the way that leaders working with education and capacity building look at systems and processes of change. From this perspective, transformative learning may not only be desirable, but critical in responding to the challenges posed by global environmental change.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)48-59
    Number of pages12
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
    StatePublished - Apr 2013


    • Capacity building
    • Education
    • Global environmental change
    • Transformation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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