How Can Education Help To Shape A Steady State Culture? by Susan Brown

In 2012 I was asked, to feedback on a draft report by Steady State Manchester on the role of education in shaping a Steady State Culture. I was asked, at that time, to feedback on that draft report. As someone who is invested in thinking about what constitutes good education in different contexts I was intrigued by the questions of what the educational landscape needs to look like to play a role in shaping a Steady State culture and what that role might be.

Steady State Economics


With the support of Steady State and building on thinking in the initial report, I have written the current discussion paper to explore these questions. The responses I suggest here are a synthesis of the many stimulating conversations I have had with people about how to live in more sustainable ways, not least with Steady State Manchester. I draw on examples of projects which, for me, resonate with these responses.


The more I have thought about potential responses the more I am convinced that a single paper can barely begin to address these questions. The ideas are, therefore, points of departure to be modified, expanded on and critiqued. I hope they will generate more questions and richer responses than are offered here. What I am convinced of is the need to have these conversations.


[The reader will find verbatim excerpts from cited references displayed in grey boxes]


Steady State Manchester (SSM) is concerned with how we transition to a steady state ‘culture’. By a ‘steady state culture’, SSM mean ways of shared living ‘where people thrive without harming the planet’ (SSM, 2012)i. A steady state culture emerges through and develops local economies founded on a ‘viable’ economic model (SSM, 2015), that is to say a model which recognises a dependence on the environment, on the social structures the environment supports and on the well being of the individuals that make up those social structures.


A transition to a Steady State culture requires a shift in underpinning understandings, values, and aspirations, a re-skilling of local populations, one which encompasses all individuals, rather than an elite few, and which spreads across skills sets, from the technical to the vernacular.


‘Education’ has a crucial role to play in helping us make the transition. I use the term loosely here to refer to any communications and/or activity intended to have a formative effect on the way we think, feel and act. In the UK the term tends to be associated with institutional learning at primary, secondary and tertiary level. This document is more broadly encompassing, reflecting my view that a wealth of informal and diverse educational opportunities is fundamental to a transition to a steady state culture.


What then, should that diversified educational landscape look like and what educational communications/activities can help shift understandings and values and develop the skills needed to make the transition to a steady state culture and the economy?


In this document I venture an initial response to these questions. In doing so I draw on what I see as relevant thinking and practical examples of projects aimed at bringing about environmental/economic/social change. I also refer to various educational ideas, concepts and practices, summarising some core notions in educational literature around ‘sustainability’. I hope that the responses given here will help develop the conversations on education which Steady State Manchester has already started and continues to invest energy thinking through.


With these aims in mind, I begin by exploring the role of education as a force for change. I then reflect on what an educational landscape for a steady state culture might look like. I include, in these reflections, a section on the potential nature of skills for a steady state culture. I move on to argue the case for greater diversity in education as a means of developing the skills needed to transition to a Steady State culture.


Following on from this I discuss the need for greater inclusivity in education which I see as fundamental to this transition. I go on to argue the need to foster communication skills and to ‘steward’ information in the information landscape. In subsequent sections I move away from using the pronoun ‘I’, returning to that more personalized voice in my conclusion.


Education and change

Education and Change

Education can be a primary force for change, enhancing the life chances of individuals and the workings of societies. Access to education is ‘seen as particularly central to dignity, equality and opportunity’ with ‘inestimable tolls’ on the ‘social, economic, intellectual and psychological wellbeing of the individual’ (Nussbaum, 2011, p.154) deprived of it.


“Illiteracy is an enduring disability. The inability to read and write will handicap the individual deprived of a basic education each and every day of his life. The inestimable toll of that deprivation on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and the obstacle it poses to individual achievement, make it most difficult to reconcile the cost or the principle of a status-based denial of basic education with the framework of equality embodied in the Equal Protection Clause.”


Nussbaum M. C. (2011). Creating capabilities : the human development approach. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.; page 154


Most would argue that a lack of access to education exerts a significant toll on society and leads ultimately to global insecurity. It is, thus, prioritised to varying degrees by a majority of societies.


Understandings of what makes a good education are shaped by societal norms, values and aspirations. Education tends to support change which accords with the values existing within society rather than striving to change those values. It has been, and generally still is, a tool for shoring up a sense of national identity in many contexts around the World.


In that process it can establish a single, standardized linguistic community and determines what subject areas and topics are worthy of study. While education can reflect and reinforce existing societal values it is also, as Jacobs (2004) puts it: ‘the most sophisticated instrument yet fashioned by society for its own conscious social evolution’ and for the evolution of its citizens. The extent to which education reinforces existing values or changes values, or does both, is dependent on prevailing influences in any given period.


“Education is the most sophisticated instrument yet fashioned by society for its own conscious social evolution. Yet, ironically, evolution of the instrument itself lags far behind the evolution of the society it strives to promote.”


Jacobs, G. (2014). Towards a new paradigm in Education: Role of the world university consortium. Cadmus, 2 (2): 116-125.


Writers have always questioned whether the education offered in a given time and context is fit for purpose. They question the extent to which people have access to education. They question the value of what is taught and the way it is taught. They question whether and how educational agendas are linked to political ones.


They question whether ‘schooled’ societies, i.e. societies which value formalised, indexed and metricised education are simply ingraining hierarchies, inequalities and the inability to think reflectively and critically (Illich, 1971). Particularly, though not exclusively over recent decades, a growing number of writers are questioning the extent to which education shores up economic models based on ‘growth’, as it relates to the neo-liberal ‘free market’ and measurements of Gross Domestic Product.


“Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”


Illich I. (1971). Deschooling society. Marion Boyars. Page 1


They see these models as deeply detrimental to the health of the natural environment and, connectedly, social wellbeing. They take the view, one articulated by Ivan Illich in 1971, that most education ‘celebrate [s] the myth of an earthly paradise of never-ending consumption’ initiating ‘the neophyte [in]to the sacred race of progressive consumption’.


They argue that many of the skills that are taught in education in many parts of the World are skills linked to this paradigm of never-ending consumption and do not prepare people to deal with the significant socio-environmental challenges now confronting us (Orr, 1991; 1992; Sterling, 2004 & 2011). In the face of these perceived failings in educational systems writers interested in ‘sustainability education’ pose questions about what the educational landscape needs to look like in order to address these challenges and what understandings and skills need to be nurtured in educational contexts for that purpose.


“If today is a typical day on planet Earth, we will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, as a result of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 100 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 100. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere and 15 million tons of carbon. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare. The truth is that many things on which your future health and prosperity depend are in dire jeopardy: climate stability, the resilience and productivity of natural systems, the beauty of the natural world, and biological diversity. It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people. It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs.”


Orr, D. (1991). What is education for? Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them. In Context: A quarterly of humane sustainable culture. Retrieved from


“Yet there are better reasons to rethink education that have to do with issues of human survival, which will dominate the world of the twenty-first century. The generation now being educated will have to do what we, the present generation, have been unable or unwilling to do: stabilize a world population that is growing at the rate of a quarter of a million each day; stabilize and then reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, which threaten to change the climate—perhaps disastrously; protect biological diversity, now declining at an estimated rate of one hundred to two hundred species per day; reverse the destruction of rainforests (both tropical and temperate), now being lost at the rate of one hundred and sixteen square miles or more each day; and conserve soils, now being eroded at the rate of sixty-five million tons per day. Those who follow us must learn how to use energy and materials with great efficiency. They must learn how to utilize solar energy in all its forms. They must rebuild the economy in order to eliminate waste and pollution. They must learn how to manage renewable resources for the long term. They must begin the great work of repairing, as much as possible, the damage done to the earth in the past two hundred years of industrialization. And they must do all of this while addressing worsening social and racial inequities. No generation has ever faced a more daunting agenda.”


Orr, D. (October, 1992). Environmental literacy: Education as if the earth mattered. Twelfth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, Great Barrington, Massachusett. Retrieved from


“I suggest the latter journey may be assisted and accelerated through the elaboration, articulation and employment of what I term ‘whole systems thinking’, and in this argument I echo a small but significant group of leading commentators concerned by global conditions of unsustainability, inequity and environmental degradation, who argue that these conditions can only be adequately addressed through a fundamental change towards more relational thinking and an integrative consciousness which is both critical and deeply connective.”


Sterling, S. (2004). Whole systems thinking as a basis for paradigm change in education: Explorations in the context of sustainability. Ph.D. thesis, University of Bath. Retrieved from


“Back in 1974, the economist E.F. Schumacher, whose work was seminal to the rise and development of ecological thought in the UK, wrote, ‘The volume of education has increased and continues to increase, yet so do pollution, exhaustion of resources, and the dangers of ecological catastrophe. If still more education is to save us, it would have to be education of a different kind: an education that takes us into the depth of things’ (Schumacher, written 1974, published 1997). This quote illustrates a fundamental conundrum: how far education, which for some decades has been identified as key to resolving environmental and sustainability issues particularly”


Sterling, S. (2011). Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 5 (11), 17-33.


Responses to these questions are various and include the need for the following:


1. An emphasis on ‘place-based education’:

Situated learning

David Gruenewald and Gregory Smith argue that the ‘process of formal education in schools and universities is often totally isolated from the immediate context of community life’ (2008, p. xiv) and that education needs to move its focus back to the particularities of ‘place’. In place based education the sites of learning are local communities. ’Learners’ set out to gain rich understandings of the communities and their environments (natural and built) and ways of addressing challenges within those communities.


“Just as local communities often suffer the negative impacts of globalization, so do children and adults at all levels of schooling. The process of formal education in schools and universities is often totally isolated from the immediate context of community life. Interaction with the wider community and all the learning opportunities these could afford is overlooked in the push for each student to meet prescribed content area standards through decontextualized classroom instruction. Furthermore, education is explicitly linked in policy and practice to the narrative of economic globalization. Today, the seldom-questioned, underlying assumption about the purpose of schooling is to prepare the next generation to compete and succeed in the global economy (For a recent iteration of this position, see Friedman, 2005). In many respects, public education has become the business of training children and youth to enter the global marketplace as consumers and workers. This is not a new story. Since the inception of mass schooling or “industrial education,” the central purpose of education in the United States has been to promote nationalism while providing big businesses with a compliant and skilled labor force. However, what is new today is a growing skepticism among diverse constituencies within civil society regarding the intentions of powerful corporations and the impacts of their selfserving actions. Around the country and around the world, citizens arc becoming aware of the need to take responsibility for mediating the impacts of globalization on local cultures and ecosystems. ”


Gruenewald D. A. & Smith G. A. (20072008). Place-based education in the global age : local diversity. Erlbaum. p. xiv


The emphasis is on situated learning, i.e. -`learning in ‘authentic’ contexts such as gardens and workshops -community building and participative planning (Menzel & Buchecker, 2013). Place-based learning shares commonalities with other educational approaches emphasising the importance of direct experience and reflection on that experience.


“Despite our rather critical assessment, we found that participatory planning was judged by participants as the only way to realize the projects. Several interviewees said there was no alternative to planning that tried to include different actors’ perspectives through communication and dialog. Thus, in the end, the question on whether the expected social effects emerge does not seem to be the decisive one, at least not for the members involved. Moreover, we found that it was difficult to launch the planning process in a case with some conflict and low levels of trust at the start. This confirms the notion that social capital is an input as well as an output factor of participatory planning (Sabatier et al. 2005). We suggest that successful participatory planning has significant potential to preserve or maintain social and political capital. As participatory planning also requires some level of social and political capital, it might function as a positive feedback process that maintains competences needed to confront future challenges.”


Menzel, S.,& Buchecker, M. (2013). Does participatory planning foster the transformation toward more adaptive social-ecological systems? Ecology and Society 18(1): 13


These educational approaches include problem based learning (learning relating to a particular problem addressed) and action- focused learning (Shallcross & Robinson, 2008). Shallcross and Robinson discusses action focused learning in relation to schools and the need to engage children in ‘authentic’ projects where the whole school commits to making changes that benefit the environment.


“Despite differences in terminology, environmental education and educations that address sustainability share a common aspiration of changing lifestyles. In this chapter we argue that a situated, whole school action-focused learning rather than behaviourist or cognitive/constructivist approaches to learning offers a better, though not the only, prospect for education to contribute to the development of more sustainable lifestyles/actions. ”


Shallcross, T., & Robinson, J. (2008). Sustainability Education, Whole School Approaches, and Communities of Action. In A, Reid., B, Jensen., J, Nikel., & V, Simovska (eds.). Participation and Learning: Perspectives on education and the environment, health and sustainability. Springer. P. 299



2. A focus on ‘interdisciplinarity’:

Interdisciplinarity, writers argue, should be privileged over a ‘discipline-centric curriculum that corresponds modestly with reality’ (Orr, 1991). The largely ‘arbitrary constructs’ of Higher Educational departments where disciplines are studied in isolation one from the other inhibit the interdisciplinary discussion promoting rich thinking around how to address complex socio-environmental challenges. (Crow, 2010, p. 489).


“My second suggestion is to examine resource flows on this campus: food, energy, water, materials, and waste. Faculty and students should together study the wells, mines, farms, feedlots, and forests that supply the campus as well as the dumps where you send your waste. Collectively, begin a process of finding ways to shift the buying power of this institution to support better alternatives that do less environmental damage, lower carbon dioxide emissions, reduce use of toxic substances, promote energy efficiency and the use of solar energy, help to build a sustainable regional economy, cut long-term costs, and provide an example to other institutions. The results of these studies should be woven into the curriculum as interdisplinary courses, seminars, lectures, and research. No student should graduate without understanding how to analyze resource flows and without the opportunity to participate in the creation of real solutions to real problems.”


Orr, D. (1991). What is education for? Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them. In Context: A quarterly of humane sustainable culture. Retrieved from


“More than a dozen new transdisciplinary schools, including the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, complement large-scale initiatives such as GIOS and the Biodesign Institute, focused on innovation in health care, energy and the environment, and national security. In the process, we have eliminated a number of traditional academic departments, including biology, sociology, anthropology, and geology. Transdisciplinarity trumps arbitrary constructs that may once have served certain social or administrative purposes but that are no longer useful.”


Crow, M. (2010). Organizing teaching and research to address the grand challenges of sustainable development. Bioscience, 60 (7), 488-489.Retrieved from


Interdisciplinary learning

3. An ‘open’ mind-set:

Pivotal to interdisciplinary thinking is an understanding of the importance issues from different perspectives and an open, inquiring, empathic mind-set (Jones, Selby & Sterling,2010). Such a mind-set entails an awareness of our own biases, assumptions and values and how they can inhibit open inquiry.


The above responses are encompassed in David Orr’s perception of ‘sustainability’. His view of the model we need for sustainability offers a powerful route into thinking about what the educational landscape for a steady state culture might look like. The below quote from a conference address given by Orr in Bangalore is illustrative:


“It seems to me we need a different model of sustainability. No one knows exactly what that will require of us. My sense is that it will look very different in Bangalore than it does in Oakland Ohio and very different in London than it does, say, in Tokyo. There isn’t one size that fits all. We know some things; it’s got to be powered by efficiency and sunlight but beyond that it will vary a great deal. What we are doing in Oakland fits our situation, what you’ll do here [Bangalore] will fit yours. There’ll be some commonalties. With the commonalities I think we’ll learn to discover a model of prosperity that does not include the growth of stuff” (Orr, 2012).


Orr is interested in contextualized, localised, networked, experiential learning oriented around living sustainably and in the sharing of those experiences across contexts. The role of education in Orr’s view is two-fold. First it needs to facilitate explorations of ‘how to live well in a specific place’. Secondly, education should play a role in distilling commonalities out of the learning experiences in diverse places.


These commonalities will enrich our universal understandings of how to live prosperously without growth. Orr’s conception of the roles of education fit well with Steady State’s aims of developing a local steady state culture in Manchester while at the same time learning from people engaging in similar projects from other parts of the World, particularly the global south. (Steady State, 2012).


The focus, in the rest of this document will be primarily on the first role, given the already broad scope of the discussion. The second role of distilling commonalities out of experiences in diverse places across the globe warrants significant exploration and would make a the basis of future studies.


What might the educational landscape for a steady state culture look like?

1. Skills

Martha Nussbaum (2011,p.155) argues that ‘most modern nations, anxious about national profit and eager to seize or keep a share in the global market, have focused increasingly on a narrow set of marketable skills that are seen as having the potential to generate short-term profits’. These are skills that look convincing on CVs honed for an employment market dominated by large corporations. They are less convincing when viewed through a steady state lens. The range and nature of many skills is likely to shift substantially as a Steady State culture emerges.


Skills related to good governance, planning, logistics, localised banking, health care etc will support and change in response to the emergence of localised economies. The skill sets that figure on many CVs: team work skills; time management skills; problem solving skills etc should remain important in a Steady State culture. However, loosed from an endemic CV culture -with CVs unlikely to remain a central measure of a person’s competencies- these terms and the notions behind them will probably morph into terms more meaningful to emergent localised economies.


The following discussion explores a range of understandings and skills likely to shape a steady state culture.


Systems thinking

1.1 Systems thinking

Systems thinking should underpin all the skill sets needed to move to a steady state culture. The term ‘systems thinking’ is used variously. It can denote understandings of the intrinsic interrelationships between humans and their ‘ecological contexts ’ (Capra, 1996).


Many approaches to gaining knowledge of the world have relied on analysing the parts of a system, rather than understanding the patterns and processes that link those elements to other systems, themselves ‘nested’ within the whole system i.e. planet earth. The well-being of humans is inextricably linked to living systems, the interrelated ecosystems that have evolved to sustain what Capra terms ‘the web of life’.


Human systems are dependent on and therefore need to carefully integrate themselves into that web. To pull this from abstraction to visceral example, the health of our gut is integral to our overall health. Our gut though is not entirely our own. It forms part of a ‘microbiome’, bacteria which live both within and outside of our bodies and with which humans have co-evolved.


Our metabolisms are, in other words,an ‘amalgamation of microbial and human attributes’.(Gill et al, 2006). The health of our gut, it would follow, is contingent on the health of ecological systems. If the nutrients in soils leech away, if the atmosphere is polluted, if we eradicate our wild green spaces we are in effect reducing our capacities for good health.


Such systemic understandings, the understandings of the interrelated systems of which we are a part, can inform the ways in which we constitute our societal systems. In constituting those systems we will need to better understand:

  1. what can be strategically localised (Steady State report, 2014);
  2. how the workings of localised economies interface with broader societal structures;
  3. how localised economies can ensure their own sustainability and do not end up negatively impacting on localised ecological contexts.


The tendency currently is to see a ‘whole’ societal system in terms of a nation state. This is perhaps unsurprising given that nation states are the ultimate arbiters of a nation’s legal and governance systems. However, this view can prevent innovative thinking about organisational structures that could better ensure the health of the natural & social environment at more localised levels and at supranational levels.


Could constellations of networked cities and regions work in favour of the broader socio-environmental challenges we need to address (MacKenzie, 2014)? Would it be better to organise in terms of economic ‘bio-regions’, i.e. regions defined by their potential capacities to yield resources in sustainable ways and that are knitted together in a resilient social and economic fabric? Systems thinking forms a basis for exploring these possibilities.


Understanding complex systems is in many senses beyond the compass of individuals and is a collective undertaking. Systems thinking can be distilled into sets of competencies which a community, however that community is defined, needs to possess. David Orr argues that such skills should and can be developed in all College/University graduates and that this ‘ecological literacy’ should involve at least a basic level comprehension of the concepts below listed.


  • the laws of thermodynamics
  • the basic principles of ecology
  • carrying capacity
  • energetics
  • least-cost, end-use analysis
  • how to live well in a place
  • limits of technology
  • appropriate scale
  • sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • steady-state economics
  • environmental ethics


Evidently in most formal education contexts, this range of knowledge sets is not taught and certainly not in combination. Such combinatory thinking however is important to working out the boundaries within which we need to live and out of which a steady state culture can emerge. For example, the boundaries to economic growth and steady state economics can be understood in terms of thermodynamics. Core to thermodynamics is ‘entropy’. Energy moves from ‘low entropy’ states where it has the capacity to do useful work into transformed ‘high entropy’ states where its capacity to do useful work is diminished (Zencey, 2013).


Oil and coal, by way of example, contain a lot of energy available to humans, energy in a low entropy state. Once it is used and dispersed as carbon dioxide and other gases it is no longer of any use and is therefore energy in a high entropy state. An economy predicated on ever continuing economic growth ‘increases the rate at which it ‘sucks up and processes low entropy’. It supposes an endless supply of energy which, at least in fossil fuel terms, the planet does not possess. As that economy continues to expand through the accumulation of debt (understood here as a bet on the future productivity of economies linked to the continued use of fossil fuels), it inevitably comes up against marginal returns and scarcity.


A ‘viable economy’ (Steady State, 2014) can be achieved only by acknowledging and working within the confines of such thermodynamic realities. As the energy we retrieve in fossil fuel terms is rapidly diminishing we will need to work out how we can reorient our economies so that they conform to these physical realities. Such challenges involve imagination, innovation and a real ability to think systemically, and across disciplinary boundaries.


1.2 Vocational skills and crafts

The industrial-scale production of consumer goods which are cheaper to replace than to mend saps learning opportunities out of society. There is less motivation to explore how things are made in order to repair them and to create localised alternatives. A steady state economy will be inherently ‘circular’ [For more on the circular economy see the Ellen Macarthur Foundation:] that is to say it will privilege the leasing of goods over the making of goods, increase the reuse of materials and, where possible, source goods locally.




It will have to privilege learning opportunities developing such localised skills. While it is not possible to foresee all the competencies that would be needed in a Steady State culture it is clear that a more localised economy will require a resurgence of vocational, craft and manual skills. These will connect to repairing, maintenance, salvaging (Quigley, 2010) and the harvesting of materials, particularly digital materials. They will relate to agroecology, the marriage of agriculture and ecology (see Francis et al, 2003), horticulture, joinery, couture, electronics etc.


Quilley (2010), drawing on the work of O’Brien, provides a comprehensive list of the craft skills which he sees as important to revisit in moves to low carbon localised economies. The list includes woodland crafts, textile crafts and field crafts [For full list see paper below under transition skills]. While there are people with such skills within communities, a lot more people will need to have them to support the needs of local economies.


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1.3 Legal literacy

Many skills seen as complex and the preserve of legal professionals will need to be more broadly acquired. For example, in a Steady State culture where assets and land will be used, owned and shared to a greater extent by communities more people will need a better understanding of the law, particularly of local legislation and the ways in which it promotes or impedes access to the commons.


They will need to have the skills to help shape bylaws in ways which privilege community over corporations. Such skills are generally not taught, to the consternation of groups like Law for Life [See:] who are working to extend ‘public legal education’ so that people have the ‘knowledge, confidence and skills needed to deal with law-related issues’.


1.4 Engagement with technology

The Steady State report, ‘In Place of Growth’, is careful to point out that a Steady State economy will continue to rely on modern/emergent clean and ‘green’ technologies and ‘benefit from discoveries in science’.


The potential of technologies in facilitating an emergent steady state culture are considerable. There is significant potential for the ‘techno-wise’ and situated use of technologies. Engagement with technologies in localising economies will require greater access to and fostering of localised expertise with a greater number of people in possession of the know-how and skills necessary to harness technologies for the good of local communities. E.F Schumacher, a writer whose work in the 1970’s exerts an influence on Steady State economic thinking today, argues that we need technological ‘methods and equipment which are:

  • cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually everyone;
  • suitable for small-scale application; and
  • compatible with man’s need for creativity.


While there is a good argument for technologies to become more situated many of the resources needed for modern technologies will continue to come from different parts of the World. A far deeper awareness of the preciousness of these resources and the positive but often highly detrimental effects the sourcing of them can have in different parts of the World will be vital in Steady State thinking. Such awareness needs to result in understandings of the durability or recyclability of materials, ways of retrofitting existing infrastructure to accommodate new technologies, and an interlocal global communication relationship between sites of use and sites of resource acquisition.


Alternative Energy

In energy terms, provision derives from national and mostly multinational companies, given our significant reliance on ‘big oil and gas’ projects. The continuing evolution in alternative technologies will increasingly create opportunities for localised energy schemes. Recent discoveries and innovations are leading to swift evolutions in such technologies.


Graphene [See:] discovered at the University of Manchester promises to transform aspects of alternative technology, radically improving the efficiency of solar panels (Wan Ho, 2013).


As these technologies evolve, there is significant potential for energy projects to become decentralized and localised, linked to smart grids and produced in co-operatives, as will need to happen. In order to reach that potential, a significant number of informal and formal learning opportunities for developing relevant understandings and skills will be needed.


There should be opportunities to do so on every local high street, college, university, school etc. The fact that there are nowhere near the number of learning opportunities there need to be to grow such localised industries should be a matter of concern. Considerable vested interest, ingrained force of habit and a plain old lack of imagination and vision are impeding this process.


An underestimation of the potential of alternative technologies and the speed at which some of them are evolving has played a role in the continued overinvestment in the vestigial fossil fuel economy in the UK. The development of ‘advanced civilizations’ has been contingent on the existence of fossil fuels and our capacities to extract them (Le Page, 2014). The transition to ‘green technologies’ will rely, in the short term, on the continuing use of fossil fuels (Zencey, 2013). Managing that transition will require widespread commitment to understanding how best to conserve energy and to divert fossil fuel related energy usage to the development of alternative technologies.


Energy conservation is often seen in terms of more efficient technological innovations and technological fixes; retrofitting etc. Energy conservation can also be seen in terms of ‘action through omission’, simply engaging in fewer energy consuming activities or not buying/making machinery or better integrating current systems (Weber, 1997). The Carbon Literacy Project [See:], aiming at substantially reducing carbon emissions in Greater Manchester and more broadly, focuses both on technological efficiencies and energy reduction through active omission.


It ‘builds on and enhances existing good practice’ (online, undated) relating to carbon literacy working with ‘work places, educational institutions and communities’. It encourages people to ‘develop their own responses to lowering their carbon footprint’, responses which are likely, at least in the short term, to relate to action through omission and minor technical fixes.


The Carbon Literacy Project emphasises the importance of people working together to effect change in communities. Whilst individuals can reduce energy consumption through technological fixes, broader scale, higher tech projects are better undertaken at community level. Supporting education within communities is key to more ambitious projects.


Digital technologies are likely to perform a significant role in shaping a steady state culture. They can be used to collect and collate data that can inform ways of developing local, sustainable economies. They can give indications of consumer patterns in locales. They can help generate and co-ordinate local food supplies and other logistical resources. They can help us better understand how to integrate public transport services. They offer a broad range of opportunities for communicating at a local level and for tapping into expertise across the world that will facilitate that process.


The skills needed to benefit from digital technologies are broad ranging. Such skills range from a capacity to effectively harness social media to coding skills. Coding skills are now an integral part of the school curriculum in the UK. They are seen as crucial to thriving in a world ‘dominated by digital platforms’ developing abstract and creative thinking and a ‘more questioning mindset’ (Firth, 2014).


Whilst not reflected in discussion of the importance of coding in the UK curriculum, coding can be exploited for the social good, particularly benefiting locales. Imagine a mobile application that gives people the knowledge they need to reduce their carbon footprints in a given locale for example. The notion of coding for the community is gaining traction. The UK ‘Good for Nothing’ [See:] project and the coding for the community civic hackathon [See: blogs.goucher.educoding-for-community-a-civic-hackathon] in Baltimore, (US) are two such projects.
In these, communities get together with coders and designers to help ‘neighbourhoods survive and thrive’.


These meetings happen over weekends, both promising fun, and in the case of Good for Nothing ‘fast’ ways of addressing local issues. They are useful starting points for finding ways of empowering communities and for shaping a steady state culture. Ultimately coding skills will need to be firmly embedded within communities. They will need to be possessed by people who have long term stakes and relationships with and within these communities – as they work to tackle complex community issues.


The technologies that will prove imperative to the shaping of a steady state culture will generally be (re)constructed out of materials brought from across the globe. This raises a range of ethical issues that people will need to think through. While mobile applications may well be useful in tackling local issues, many of the components of this hardware are sourced from other parts of the globe with detrimental socio-environmental implications.


Richard Hall (2013) points out, by way of example, that Raspberry Pi, a device used preponderantly in the UK context to teach children coding, uses a chip containing ‘conflict minerals’. Conflict minerals are mined in war-torn countries, countries afflicted, at least in part, because of the market value of those minerals. Hall argues that educators, ignorant of the human and environmental costs behind such devices are ‘implicated and enmeshed’ in a global imperial market.


Teach learn

1.5 Teaching and learning

Perhaps the greatest capacities needed in a transition to a steady state culture will be those relating to communicating ideas and know-how and nurturing skills in others. Notions of good teaching and who can be a teacher will reach well beyond the boundaries of formal educational institutions.


Alongside revising notions of who can teach, we will need to become adept at identifying and valuing the extent of existing skills within communities and forging links between people with different but complementary skills sets within communities. Perhaps most importantly of all we will all need to be open to engaging with new ideas and learning new skills regardless of the level of education already received and the skills we already possess.


For anyone who likes learning – and disentangled from the notion that learning takes place only in formal institutions this is just about everyone – transitioning to a steady state culture will provide a wealth of learning opportunities. These opportunities will be contingent on a highly diversified educational landscape, as discussed in the following section.


2. A diversified learning landscape

Expanding the range of skills we will need as we shift towards a Steady State economy will require nothing short of a learning ‘renaissance’, which in turn will require a highly diversified, responsive educational landscape. Many educational systems are increasingly mono-cultural, teaching a constrained range of subjects through highly standardized curricula.


Such a mono-cultural landscape is a result of educational systems responding to the question of ‘how we educate to ensure a workforce able to compete in the global market’. The educational landscape might look very different if the question underpinning educational reform were: ‘How do we educate people to play full roles in developing sustainable local economies’?


2.1 Localized and flexible education?

An obvious answer to that question is that education will need to be responsive to local needs, thus becoming more place-based in its focus and activities. It will involve increasingly flexible notions of what constitutes education and a significant capacity to create the conditions via which it can flourish.


Informal and formal institutions will need to work interdependently forming networks which increase the cross-pollination of ideas and ‘knowledge spill-over’, that is to say the sharing of ideas that generates new learning opportunities. It will require greater investment in education of all types. This does not mean only financial investment, though greater funding from a variety of sources will be needed. It will also means investment in time and energy terms as we form growing learning communities to gain needed skills.


2.3 Grassroots learning

Grassroots ‘learning communities’ forming their own understandings of issues in their local area and how to address these will form an essential part of a Steady State learning landscape. The Transition Towns movement in the UK involves grassroots communities ‘seeking to take charge of their own destinies and to develop relocalisation strategies’ in the face of what they see as increasingly untenable globalized economies.


Transition Towns are primarily concerned with practical issues such as skills/reskilling, food, energy, transport, land use and cultivation and above all community building’ (Barry & Quilley, 2009). Transition Towns are networking with existing communities and creating opportunities for learning via a range of learning projects such as the Totnes Streetwise project [See:].


Incredible Edible
Incredible Edible in Todmorden

Incredible Edible (linked to the Transition Town movement) and Ashton Hayes [See:] provide further examples of a growing number of such grassroots learning communities. Incredible Edible is interested in ‘enriching the World directly around them’, focusing its energies on local community food production to that end.


It sees this as a story ‘of how a few people decided to stop passing the buck and waiting for someone else to save the world’ and ‘of what happens when everyone is prepared to bring their skills to the table and secure a better legacy for their grandchildren’.


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While Incredible Edible has not waited for ‘hand outs’ or the ‘green light’ [See:], it has worked with the ‘local council and the police to enrich the town and ensure its sustainability’.


Ashton Hayes, a village community in Cheshire is aiming to become the first carbon neutral village. This communal effort has afforded a range of learning opportunities with some people ‘becoming specialists in renewable energy’ while others enjoy ‘the technical aspect of carbon footprint calculations. Like Incredible Edible, Ashton Hayes works closely with the local council, local businesses and the University of Chester, to secure funding for its activities.


Such grassroots projects need to negotiate the conditions via which they can thrive. This means engaging with other stakeholders in the community and with public bodies such as the council and the police. Public bodies, in turn, are offered opportunities to facilitate the work of these projects. In this way these bodies shape their own work to the needs of communities thereby increasing their value to those communities. Such negotiations offer significant opportunities for all concerned to learn about and invest in the workings of society.


Grassroots movements like Incredible Edible and Ashton Hayes serve as catalysts for change increasing diversified learning opportunities. In both Incredible Edible’s case and the case of Ashton Hayes learning is not only a by-product of their activities, it is a central element. Incredible Edible, for example, works with local primary, secondary and in adult learning instituting food growing projects, courses in bee keeping and fruit grafting and even influencing the secondary school curriculum in the area with the introduction of a BTEC (vocationally related qualification). Ashton Hayes has involved children in the local primary school in the monitoring of the solar panel installed in the school.


2.4 Formal education as a driver for change

The Incredible Edible and Ashton Hayes examples point to greater permeability of boundaries between formal education and local communities, with formal education being much more responsive to the needs of those communities. As well as responding to community requests for expertise, formal education can also be a driver for change in local communities, itself initiating projects of potential benefit to communities.


A significant example of the latter is the Oberlin project in the US (Ohio), where a local college (Oberlin College) at the instigation of David Orr, has embarked on a project aiming to transform Oberlin into a model sustainable city. It has four aims:

  1. to redevelop downtown Oberlin to high ‘green building’ standards;
  2. to make the city and college carbon neutral;
  3. to create a 1000 acre space where food can be grown so that the city and college can reach greater food self-reliance;
  4. to pull together an educational consortium of college, schools and college students ‘to determine what young people need to know to build careers and lives’.


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Oberlin project

Such close ties with communities are bound to result in the college designing tracts of its curriculum around complex issues within locales. The rich learning opportunities opened up by these ties are not lost on a growing number of FE/HE institutions who are beginning to shape courses around issues at regional/community levels.


Other initiatives spawned in Higher Education institutions are forging links and facilitate learning in local communities. The Fab Lab initiative by way of example. Fab Labs [See:] consist of computer-controlled fabrication equipment such as digital 3D printers. Originating in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), there are now Fab Labs in cities across the globe, including Manchester [See:].


Whilst the initiative is global, with the opportunities for the sharing of expertise that this offers, the idea is that Fab Labs are used to spawn local enterprises and grass-roots/community research etc. In 2011, by way of example, Fab Lab Manchester teamed up with the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network and the North-West Eco Innovation programme to offer the Fab Lab suite and guidance to businesses participating in an Echo Design Challenge. Fab Labs are already being used for the fabrication of solar and wind-powered turbines etc produced to specs appropriate to specific locales and by community members within those locales.


2.5 Local Apprenticeships

Localised apprenticeship schemes may prove a viable means of developing relevant skills. Apprenticeships were once a significant part of the vocational learning landscape and are experiencing a revival in the UK. Apprenticeships have a chequered past in the UK, contributing to the not unfounded notion that apprenticeship can be a form of free or cheap labour, with little real opportunity for learning development.


This is still the case, the result, partially, of low-wage, low-skill sectors dominating the UK economy, with few incentives, from regulatory bodies, to ensure, that apprenticeship schemes offer anything more than ‘minimal and uninspiring’ learning opportunities’ (Dolphin & Lanning, 2011).


Apprenticeship schemes are rolled out nationally in the UK, and tend to be taken up by larger organisations/businesses such as national retail outlets. More localised apprenticeship schemes, supported at the local level through partnerships between, for example, local councils, further education colleges and local enterprises, and interested in fostering the knowledge and skills that will have long term benefits for communities may well become an essential part of the educational landscape.


Grassroots learning movements, collaborations with formal learning institutions, local apprenticeship schemes can all help shape a steady state culture. Other educational movements are likely to emerge from and continue to shape that culture. It is difficult to predict many particularities of the diversified learning landscape that will emerge as a steady state culture evolves.


It is clear, however, that it will involve greater partnerships between various stakeholders in learning. It will create greater opportunities for situated and place-based learning. It is likely to challenge which knowledge sets and skills are valued. It will also need to be inclusive, inclusivity and the value of more inclusive forming the focus in the following section.


3. Involvement and contributions

Steady State Manchester feels it is crucial to tap into a broad range of informing voices in order to build understandings of how to move towards a steady state culture. It argues the need to draw on the work of practitioners and communities in the Manchester area and beyond, and to build the networks that will engender fertile discussions and collaborative actions.


That spirit of inclusivity is fundamental to the development of a steady state culture which in no small part is reliant on the wisdom, motivation, participation and skills of people in communities. As Bernie Ward and Julie Lewis point out (2002) those people best able to create viable local economies are those people living within them.


It is reasonable to argue –though not self-evident that the smaller the community the more the voices and skills of people within those communities will be valued and the more skills will be nurtured. The greater the participation of individuals in communities the more attuned the localised economy would be to the particularities of the place in which it is rooted.


Ashton Hayes
Ashton Hayes

Accounts of communities adopting more sustainable models of living testify to the levels of inclusivity needed to bring about sustainable change. Incredible Edible and Ashton Hayes emphasise that their activities are reliant on the involvement and contributions of community members. Engaging with the ideas of community members and identifying, valuing and nurturing the skills people bring to their endeavours is integral to the sustainability of their activities.


3.1 Ranking and value

Inclusivity then is foundational to educational efforts to move towards a steady state culture. Greater diversity in the learning landscape provides greater opportunities for involvement, with more people drawn back into learning practices via diverse routes. The imperative for inclusivity is less felt in largely mono-cultural educational systems premised on the view that ‘educational competition of winners and losers is in the best interests of public life in a diverse society’ (Gruenewald, 2008: p.308).


The need, real or perceived, for a highly educated elite to secure the ongoing competitiveness of the nation state drives the rhetoric around many higher education institutions. This perspective is encapsulated in the following comment relating to a Society of Research into Higher Education event.


This human capital oriented perspective applies to all levels of education but doctoral education has become of paramount significance in a world where knowledge becomes the new ‘fuel’, the higher the knowledge the more refined the fuel and also the ultimate renewable to supporting robust economic growth. (SRHA, 2014).


This same need can lead to constrained notions of what is educationally valuable. It can lead to ranking of the value of different types of education and qualifications: For example, in the UK A-levels and degrees are more valued than vocational educational options. Quigley (2009) argues that, ‘artisanal and craft skills in manufacturing, in agriculture and even in the service, leisure and domestic sector’ have been consistently downgraded, a downgrading reflected in the educational landscape. It reinforces the notion that vocational understandings and skills and academic understandings are mutually exclusive, rather than intrinsically connected.


It can lead to an overreliance on academic qualifications, particularly degree qualifications as the sole indicator of fitness for the work place, with most job opportunities, requiring such qualifications regardless of their actual relevance to the job. It can, connectedly, and as manifest in the above SRHA quote, lead to the notion that people who have gained a higher degree are better able to contribute to society than those who have not. This devaluing of some aspects of education can lead to the concomitant devaluing of certain educational institutions, projects and initiatives and, consequently the work of the individuals who engage with them.


All of these perspectives are deeply detrimental to the shaping of a steady state culture. They would be bound to be challenged with the emergence of more localized economic activity. Knowledge is very unlikely to be characterized as ‘refined fuel’ held by a few individuals. Possibly it will be viewed as the shared ‘sustenance’ or ‘spirit’ that animates individuals and communities and provides them with the energy or inspiration to move towards more sustainable living.


While it is useful to seek out new metaphors to describe knowledge and its value in shifts towards a steady state culture, one thing is clear: knowledge will need to be broadly shared. It cannot be hoarded, or viewed as the entitlement of a small ‘bright’ elite.


3.2 Access, accreditation and assessment

Alongside a reassessment of what knowledge and whose knowledge is valued in society, the emergence of a steady state culture will necessitate a re-evaluation of the ways in which education is accessed, of models of accreditation and assessment and of current ways of establishing a person’s ‘eligibility’ for education.


The boundaries between academic communities and other communities will need to become substantially more porous with colleges and Universities ensuring that access to the expertise, activities and knowledge they contain is shared with a much broader range of people. This will entail not only FE and HE staff and students ‘going out’ to engage with communities but also individuals and communities ‘coming in’ to universities regardless of background and qualifications. This increased convection between formal learning institutions and communities will need to be geared around mutual learning among all parties, learning to which no one, within reason, should be excluded.


The need for broader access to learning would increasingly determine aspects of FE and HE provision. Programmes will need to become more flexible in order to accommodate the working patterns of a broader mix of people. To that end the length of educational programmes would need re-assessing, with a greater array of tailored part-time, online and blended options required and a greater number of courses oriented around the skills needed within communities.


Modes of accreditation may also be challenged as the demand for the knowledge and skills lodged in institutions rises. Ways of establishing a person’s fitness for a degree course may need to be reconsidered with a far greater range of attributes or achievements determining eligibility. A level grades (in the UK) can no longer be the dominant determiner of eligibility for progression into HE. They assume a linear progression through an education system by academically inclined youths comfortable with institutionalized learning.


Already, given the greater access to learning opportunities available via the internet and the need for life-long learning, selection largely on the basis of A-levels is an anachronism. This would become increasingly the case with the need to develop expanding skills sets among all members of communities. Building a fuel cell and working out the scientific principles underpinning its mechanisms or building an innovative digital app, or putting on successful community events may all become alternative grounds for accreditation. They may necessitate greater workloads for staff in HE, increasing the staff base or increasing the staff base and reducing pay differentials. However, the dividends would be in forging greater links to locales.


Fortunately there are already alternative accreditation models which set precedents for widening participation. The Open College Movement [See:] founded in the 1970s in the North West of the UK, the Manchester Open College Federation founded in 1981 and the Open College Network which emerged from them, all provided (and in the case of the Open College Network still provides) alternative routes into Higher Education.


The Manchester Open College Federation offered a ‘credit accumulation system which enabled adults to achieve credit for a form of learning which had previously carried no formal recognition’ (Calder, 2004,p.172). Such organisations offer a wealth of know-how and ideas that can smooth the route to access.


Selection might be done away with altogether. This may sound revolutionary but there are already Universities that are moving away from selection procedures. The University of Arizona accepts 80% of applicants largely dispensing with most forms of selection. The University is thinking through flexible access to degree tuition in order to ensure greater uptake of University places within the State. It offers, in this endeavour, entirely online degrees with six start dates a year. The lack of a selection procedure is disparaged by some as evident in a reported comment from a student at another US university: “all you need [to gain access to the University of Arizona] is 2.0 and blood pressure” (Marcus, 2015).


However, it is perceived by the University and students at the University as a strength. As the President of the University, Michael Crow puts it, “If you can’t give access to the larger proportion of the people in the area in which a University is located then are you not failing as an institution?”(Crow, 2014).


Morter Board Hat

A major educational challenge in moving towards a steady state culture will be dealing with the obstacles that some people face as a result of a fixation with ‘intelligence’ and an ‘aptitude’ or perceived lack of it, for learning. At best this ‘fetish with intelligence’ (Orr, 1992) highlights the need for an educational meritocracy that challenges the obstacles the ‘bright’ child or adult from deprived contexts faces in accessing further/higher education.


Such obstacles are undoubtedly encountered and need to be properly addressed. However, this preoccupation with ensuring that the bright and best get on whatever their background comes at the expense of discussions about what happens to those children and adults who are perceived to be ‘less academic’.


There is almost a tacit consensus in the UK that if you haven’t demonstrated your academic metal on leaving secondary school, then you’ll have to reconcile yourself to straightened life opportunities. This consensus is founded on the pervasive view that some people have a greater fitness for the learning valuable to society. It is a view that limits career and educational opportunities and potentially also the physical flourishing of individuals as they progress through their lives. Research over recent years indicates a relationship between learning new things and increased resilience to dementia. The act of learning, is one deeply interwoven with well-being. A fetish with intelligence can negatively impact on the health and mental wellbeing of individuals.


This fetish is unhelpful to a Steady State culture on two levels. Notions of intelligence are too narrowly conceived given the breadth of skills, thinking attributes and qualities needed for the Steady State culture to emerge, qualities that go well beyond standard measurements of intelligence in most learning contexts. Moreover, a Steady State culture cannot afford to have people feeling disconnected from learning contexts given the need for a broad shared knowledge base among all members of communities.


Reconnecting people with learning processes and the pleasure of learning is critical to an emergent steady state culture. One model for doing so is the Ragged University [See:]. The Ragged University views everyone as a stakeholder in the process of building knowledge, as ‘capable of participating in the intellectual activity of civic society’ (Dunedin, 2012) and as possessing ‘a unique and distinct body of knowledge, accredited with their own life experience’ (Dunedin, 2013). Ragged events are held in ‘third places’ (Oldenburg, 1989) that is to say spaces such as cafes or pubs, places that naturally lend themselves to the sharing of knowledge and the building of civics.


The use of third spaces reminds us that learning is an integral and valuable part of social activity and therefore at the heart of people’s lives. Anyone can give a talk at Ragged events, reflecting the view that all individuals can make unique contributions to the learning process, communicating their knowledge and accrued wisdoms to others. Organisations such as the Ragged University- which remind people that learning should be valued wherever it takes place and of the pleasure of learning and their capacities to engage with it – will be invaluable in imbuing people with the confidence to contribute to the emergence of a Steady State economy.


Funding and Fees

3.3 Funding and Fees

The imperative to share knowledge as a steady state culture develops will result in a rapid growth in low cost/no cost, unfunded informal learning opportunities, thus further diversifying the learning landscape. ‘Living room’ communities of learning, clubs etc will flourish. Social media will play a significant role in facilitating those opportunities with a burgeoning number of low cost or no cost online learning resources and courses developed by and for local communities.


The recently launched Community Open Online Courses (COOCS) [See:] supported by Blackburn College, UK, is a platform designed to help people/community organisations to ‘share learning and create opportunities for personal development’. It uses open source web infrastructure [See:] which can reduce costs making the development of learning materials possible within communities.


The Free University Network [See:], a movement of disparate educational projects united around the provision of free education may be reflective of the types of learning opportunity that will develop as the impetus to gain new skills and understandings gains pace.


Funding costs however, will still need to rise to facilitate the level of skills development needed. Provisioning that development will require a diverse range of funding sources, both from the public and private sector (e.g. through crowd funding for specific projects). Levels of competition for private/third sector funding will increase, a source of frustration no doubt, but also a litmus test of burgeoning learning opportunities. Tensions are bound to emerge in the public sector between the traditionally funded institutions and new educational projects clamouring for funding.


While short term funding will be needed to kick start projects, the sustainability of funding sources will become increasingly important. Short term funding has its uses but it can lead to short term planning, a no-no for an emerging steady state culture. It can also result in projects scrabbling for funding, with all of the implications for the health of the projects. Whichever way you look at it, society would have to invest in greater funding of education.


Just as funding will need to rise both from the private and public sector, fees in many HE contexts would need to be lowered or scrapped. Costs for many wishing to access HE in the UK are prohibitive [The student loan system in the UK means that theoretically anyone with the right qualifications can go to University, with the payback of loans contingent on a salary of over £16,910 (current 2014 threshold)]. Arguably, the reason why students currently take on debt to gain a degree(s) is that they see long term dividends in career terms. The coveted graduate jobs commanding large salaries would decrease as a steady state culture emerges making the pay up front and profit later motivation significantly less of an incentive.


3.4 Children’s voices

Discussions of intergenerational equity (Unicef, 2009; Caney, 2009) underline the obligation of present generations not to compromise the environment for future generations. In all of the discussions of how society ensures this obligation is met, there is little mention of the role of children. The voices of children, as primary stakeholders in the future, should be heeded however and their imagination, creativity and often more acute sensitivities to environmental issues taken proper account of.


Just as it is the duty of adults to move society towards less environmentally damaging, more equitable modes of living, so it is the child’s right to be included in those conversations. Adults also will benefit from the often clear-sighted and honest perspectives of children pointing out what is overlooked, but patently evident.


childrens voices


This somewhat obvious point seems to be a neglected one. Organisations like the Manchester Environmental Education Network [See:] however, are aware of the need for and value of children’s participation. They are creating intergenerational projects, particularly in collaboration with primary and secondary schools in the North West, where children work together with adults to address environmental issues in their schools and local communities. The children are drivers of the projects, identifying socio-environmental issues, and working out ways of resolving them.


The success of such intergenerational projects will relate, in part, to the rich communication that takes place among the children and adults and the extent to which adults understand the value of working in equal partnerships with children. How people communicate and disseminate information is crucial in shaping a steady state culture. Communication is thus the focus in the following section.


4. Communication

Steady State Manchester understand the need to communicate with as broad a cross-section of society as possible in order to disseminate and further shape their ideas. Communication, as Tompt, from the Transition Towns movement puts it, is ‘the relation through which influence, connection, solidarity, motivation, and inspiration grow and spread in any community of people’ (Online, undated).


A growing number of studies see effective communication as pivotal to addressing complex, local environmental problems. Many of these studies argue the need to view complex challenges from the ‘vantage of a pluralistic community’ with potentially ‘competing perspectives that circulate in a community, demanding attention, further interpretation and response’ (Higgens, Long & Flowers, 2006, p.14).


Elenore Long (2012, p.14) sees communication of local knowledge as informing people’s ‘realistic representations of complex social issues’: Diverse perspectives on issues communicated by different people in the community is crucial to understanding how to address them. Long argues that often the people that can give insider knowledge of an issue are those least heard.


wives of miners

Discussion tends to be dominated by people with perceived expertise. She gives an example of the wives of miners in 1981 who prior to a coal mining disaster knew there was a problem with mine safety through various observations including higher levels of rock dust in the wash cycle. Because they lacked perceived status and expertise their evidence in the hearing subsequent to the disaster was ignored. Alongside the exclusion of insider voices, Long critiques the ‘drive to consensus’ in public projects where the speed at which a way forward is reached is privileged over developing the rich understandings that make consensus sustainable.


The question of how communities create spaces for lively, inclusive and respectful discussion, and of what ‘kinds of practices they use to foreclose or open inclusive dialogue’ (Higgins, Long and Flowers) is an important one, one that many communities are dealing with. In some ways it begs deeper questions about what good communication is.


Our understandings of good communication will need to extend well beyond elegance in articulation of thinking, a notion that prevents many people from expressing their thoughts in public spaces. Good communication will need to encompass active listening skills, a sensitivity to the places in which discussion is taking place and a capacity to ‘articulate the arguments of others in terms they will accept’. It will entail recognising and resisting the urge to ‘close off discussion’ and ‘achieve resolution through force of argument’ (Higgins, Long and Flowers).


It will need to encompass greater understandings of the ways in which language can motivate or demotivate people, and can narrow or broaden discussion. It will need to be underpinned by an awareness of the time it often takes for really useful conversations to unfold, an important factor in facilitating the emergence of ideas. Inclusive conversations and their constituents of openness, empathy and sharing are crucial to comprehending how we put ‘the World together daily in the local places of our daily lives’ (Smith, 2005, p. 2) an understanding key to the development of a steady state culture.


How we develop such skills in educational contexts is a matter of importance in moving to a Steady State culture. Intercultural awareness and the practice of intercultural communication skills can help us engage with diverse perspectives while unifying people in common goals (Bennett, 1998, p.1). One of the chief tenets of intercultural communication is that we are ‘socialized’ into a way of viewing the World, that is to say, our views of the world are shaped by the places we inhabit, the schools we go to, the people we know etc.


Awareness that our views are shaped this way, and that other people’s views of the World are equally shaped in this way allows us to recognise difference and provides a starting point for achieving shared understandings through open, inclusive negotiation. Such communication, however, requires us to be attuned to our own emotional biases and the ways in which these can impede open discussion. ‘Mindfulness’, may serve to facilitate that attuning process in that it provides strategies which directly relate to tuning into our emotional reactions. [Mindfulness is a term that is variously understood. Here it is used to indicate an awareness of our physical and mental responses to a situation, for example when someone says something with which we vehemently disagree.]


The aims of formal educational contexts ultimately conflict with the development of communication skills based on openness, empathy and sharing. Many formal educational contexts in the UK stress the importance of collaborative communication between peers. Pair and group work is encouraged in collaborative activities, e.g. problem solving activities. Such activities offer opportunities for developing intercultural skills and mindfulness. However, learners are caught in double binds.


They are simultaneously required to engage in collaborative activities premised on listening skills, inclusive conversations etc, whilst ultimately being judged on their individual performances and their place on the sliding scale of brightest and best. The roots of good communication, as it needs to be understood in steady state terms, lie in understanding the power of working together, and of valuing contributions that aid the development of joint understandings. In moving to a Steady State culture, such communicational skills and the awareness that underpins them would need to be cultivated in educational contexts.


information landscape

5. The Information Landscape

Communities transitioning to a steady state culture will require rich information resources. Andrew Whitworth (2014,p.323) reasons that ‘communities are sustained by informational resources that are collectively maintained’; they are what nourish a ‘learning community’. Information resources include libraries, museums, community centres, noticeboards, stories, songs, art, conversations with shopkeepers who can talk in detail about where their produce is sourced etc.


Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (2003) in their work on information as a common-pool resource categorise information in terms of ‘artefacts’, ‘facilities’ and ‘ideas’. In the artefact category they include books, web pages, databases. That category might be further extended to include stories, songs and conversations etc. In ‘facilities’ they include libraries and the internet. This category might be broadened to include museums, noticeboards, community centre etc.


They see ‘ideas’ as encompassing knowledge, information and data. Artefacts, facilities and ideas form part of an information landscape defined here as the totality of information sources available to a place/community and continually generated through the ideas of people in those places. People can be inspired by the information landscape and infuse it with new information.


Encompassed in the notion of ‘information landscape’ is the information available in the natural landscape, the local biodiversity and geology of an area etc. Orr (1992) sees rich, biodiverse landscapes as the original source of all information, shaping our interactions, crafting our thoughts and language. The stripping away of that biodiversity, he argues, is tantamount to stripping away our ability to think creatively; ideas are all ultimately rooted in the natural world.


While there are now vast information repositories and a profusion of ways to communicate thanks to the internet, the information resources and the broader information landscape in many locales have become significantly impoverished. The UK landscape is increasingly monopolized by agroindustry, large (multinational) corporations, property developers etc.


This monopolization has been instrumental in the disappearance of diversity in farming methods, in retailing, in local industry, in subsidiarity, in biodiversity. As the landscape becomes more mono-cultural, information leaches out of it (Brown, 2012) to the huge detriment of those who inhabit it. Ensuring that such information does not disappear for good requires good stewardship of information and the means and spaces in which to disseminate it.


Fortunately there are many communities that understand the value of a rich information landscape, and are working to ‘collectively maintain’ and steward that information. A growing number of digital initiatives with global reach are interested in surfacing and cataloguing the complexities and rich variety in the local. The Ark of Taste is one such initiative [See:].


Related to the Slow Food Association, it was founded to ‘point out the existence of [food] products’ that testify to rich ‘cultures, histories and traditions’ that are at risk of disappearing from the landscape. An online catalogue of such foods is being created through participation from anyone who wishes to participate. The initiative is global but with many local communities involved.


The Friends of Angel Meadows community project in Manchester also provides a good example of how information has been caringly gathered and stewarded by a community, in this case a community largely local to the area. The Friends have sunk considerable efforts into ensuring that the history of ‘Angel Meadows’ (an area of central Manchester), of its slum dwellers and the squalor they endured during the height of the industrial revolution and the attempts to alleviate that squalor, is accessible to people today. Just as the Friends are ‘uncovering’ the history of Angel Meadows and making that information accessible, they are also finding ways to ensure that it continues to serve the community, offering a green space and garden areas.

Angel Meadows Manchester
Angel Meadows Manchester


The historic narratives of place, and of the lives lived in those places provide vantage points for re-envisaging a place and its potential. They also impart a sense of ownership of community spaces. That sense of ownership is significantly dependent on the extent to which communities have actual ownership of physical spaces, or at least, can comfortably inhabit those spaces and steward information within those spaces.


Spaces where the flow of information is monitored, constrained, monopolized by brands etc are not favourable to shaping a steady state culture. Learning how to appropriate spaces and ensure they are information-rich is a key challenge.


Doing so will involve good understandings of how to access relevant information e.g. land relations records, deeds etc and to compile information in ways which are accessible but do not overly simplify often highly complex information. Records of land tend not to reflect ‘complex and dynamic land-based social relations’ (Borras & Franco, 2012) and certainly do not reflect its value to current and future generations.


Infusing the landscape with such information will require new approaches to mapping it, the layering not only of private and public ownership but also the layering of the history of the area, its biodiversity, its geographies, the dislocation and relocation of people within those geographies, its totems, its dialects and vernaculars and the stories told through these etc. This a significant role for arts and crafts (see for example the art of Derbyshire Well-dressing) and digital design in shaping understandings of the ‘real’ value of landscapes. All such endeavours act as reminders of land and the resources on it as parts of the commons.


Collectively maintaining and generating information in the landscape is important to shaping a steady state culture. It needs to be a shared endeavour across all educational contexts, formal and informal. Burgeoning numbers of local food projects are leading the way, re-discovering local foods and agricultural processes and the language used to describe them. Local farming markets tend to be significant sources of localised information, perhaps reflecting the fact that short-food supply chains are long on information.


Steady State Manchester


Steady State Manchester are keen to understand how education can help shape a Steady State culture. I have provided some initial thinking in response to that question.


There is a lot I have not covered given the scope of the question posed by Steady State. I might have discussed, for example, the skills we need to establish local financial systems: this is an area that those with significantly more knowledge of such systems than I have may be able to address from an educational perspective.


I might have looked at how education can explicitly tackle the deeply ingrained value systems associated with ‘over consumption’. I might have discussed the demands on our time that prevent many of us from engaging in community activities. I might have discussed the levels of playfulness, fun and imagination that will be needed as we learn new skills. I have only glancingly explored the ways in which informal local learning communities might interact to mutual benefit with learning communities in other parts of the World.


The points I wish to emphasise in what I have written in this document are these:

  • Moving to a Steady State Culture will require a learning renaissance;
  • We will need to nurture and value a much broader range of skills than are currently focussed on and ditch unhelpful dichotomies between manual skills and academic skills;
  • A larger number of people in much smaller population spreads will need to possess relevant skills;
  • A mono-cultural learning landscape will need to cede to a far more diversified learning landscape in order that the skills we need for a Steady State Culture are developed;
  • The initiatives of local communities are likely to be significant drivers in shaping a steady state culture, increasingly shaping public policy;
  • Informal and formal learning communities will need to work more closely together, with formal institutions finding ways of responding to the initiatives of local communities;
  • Formal institutions will need to significantly widen access to the knowledge and expertise they hold;
  • Moving to a Steady State culture will require broad involvement and a move from the rhetoric of brightest and best to the rhetoric of ‘mutuality, contribution and caring’;
  • We’ll all be learners and teachers, drawing at whatever stage in life on our natural inclinations to learn and communicate information, knowledge and skills to others;
  • A focus on communication skills will be central to shaping a Steady State. Kernel to that focus will be listening skills, empathy and an understanding of the value of pluralistic conversations;
  • We’ll need to value and invest in a sense of ‘place’, with all of the rediscovery, innovation and creativity that this will entail.


There are a growing range of educational initiatives, a few alluded to in this paper, which are changing the learning landscape in ways that can shape a Steady State Culture. The number of such initiatives needs to substantially increase and their activities supported and nurtured.


For this to happen we need profound change in the ways in which we think about education. Through writing this paper I realize the vocabulary we use in most formal educational contexts is constrained, and relates, without many of us consciously realizing it, to competition, status, authority, recognition, power, intellect etc. This means that even when we wish to change education we end up reverting to default educational understandings and processes that are not conducive to shaping a steady state. For them to be so they need to be fused at a fundamental level to the vocabulary of mutuality, shared ownership, collaboration, humility, creativity, experimentation, learning from failure, discovery, motivation and imagination.



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