Learning in European agricultural and rural networks: building a systemic research agenda

  • Bernard HubertEmail author
  • Ray Ison
  • Nadarajah Sriskandarajah
  • Chris Blackmore
  • Marianne Cerf
  • Isabelle Avelange
  • Marc Barbier
  • Patrick Steyaert


Six key themes that emerged from the European Union (EU) funded LEARNing project designed to develop and test a systemic approach to research practice are reported. The focus was on the learning and knowing processes experienced by individuals, groups and institutions that emerges from collective action and results in changes in practices or in the potential to change practices of those involved. The authors, drawn by the idea that the key to understanding knowledge is to be found in ‘how we know what we know’, or, in other words, in the processes of ‘learning and knowing’ present these themes: processes, theory, evaluation, institutionalisation and social and professional practice as a basis for further innovation in the conduct of R&D and as a basis for future capability-building of researchers.


European Union Collective Action Research Agenda Common Agricultural Policy LEARNing Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We wish to acknowledge the special group of people who constituted the LEARNing project. Their critical engagement, personal warmth and friendship made all that is written here possible. They included: Christophe Albaladejo, Rémi Barré, Marco Barzmann, Nathalie Couix, Nathalie Girard, Janice Jiggins, Sofie Kobayashi, Alex Koutsouris, Jozsef Kozari, Catherine Mougenot, Mark Paine, Jet Proost, Ewa Rockika, Niels Röling, Pierre Stassart, Severine van Bommel.


  1. Blackmore, C. P. (Ed.). (2010). Social learning systems and communities of practice. London: Springer/Open University.Google Scholar
  2. Blackmore, C. P., Cerf, M., Ison, R. L., & Paine, M. (2012). The role of action-oriented learning theories for change in agriculture and rural networks. In I. Darnhofer, D. Gibbon, & B. Dedieu (Eds.), Farming Systems Research into the 21st century: The new dynamic (pp. 159–177). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Collins, K. B., & Ison, R. L. (2009). Jumping off Arnstein’s ladder: Social learning as a new policy paradigm for climate change adaptation. Environmental Policy and Governance, 19, 358–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Collins, K. B., Ison, R. L., & Blackmore, C. P. (2005). River basin planning project: Social learning (Phase 1). Bristol: Environment Agency. From
  5. Gibbons, M., & Nowotny, H. (2001). The potential of transdisciplinarity. In J. Thompson Klein, W. Grossenbacher-Mansuy, R. Häberli, A. Bill, R. W. Scholz, & M. Welti (Eds.), Transdisciplinarity: Joint problem solving among science, technology, and society. An effective way for managing complexity (pp. 67–80). Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag.Google Scholar
  6. Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M. (1994). The new production of knowledge – The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Hatchuel, A., & Weil, B. (1999). Design-oriented organisations. Towards a unified theory of design activities. In 6th New Product Development Conference. Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  8. Hirsch Hadorn, G., Hofmann-Riem, H., Biber-Klemm, S., Grossenbacher-Mansuy, W., Joye, D., Pohl, C., Wiesmann, U., & Zemp, E. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of transdisciplinary research. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Hubert, B., & Bonnemaire, J. (2000). La construction des objets dans la recherche interdisciplinaire finalisée: De nouvelles exigences pour l’évaluation. Natures Sciences Sociétés, 8, 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ison, R. L. (2010). Systems practice: How to act in a climate change world. London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ison, R. L., & Russell, D. B. (2000). Exploring some distinctions for the design of learning systems. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 7, 43–56.Google Scholar
  12. Ison, R. L., & Russell, D. B. (2007). Agricultural extension and rural development: Breaking out of knowledge transfer traditions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ison, R. L., Steyaert, P., Roggero, P., Hubert, B., & Jiggins, J. (2004). Social learning for the integrated management and sustainable use of water at catchment scale. Final Report (EVK1-2000-00695SLIM). Available at
  14. Ison, R. L., Röling, N., & Watson, D. (2007). Challenges to science and society in the sustainable management and use of water: Investigating the role of social learning. Environmental Science and Policy, 10, 499–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ison, R. L, Blackmore, C. P., & Iaquinto, B. (2012). Social learning: Exploring the revealing and concealing aspects of contemporary metaphors. Ecological Economics (to be submitted).Google Scholar
  16. LEARN. (2000). Cow up a Tree. Knowing and learning processes for change in agriculture, case studies from industrial countries. Versailles: INRA Editions.Google Scholar
  17. Morriss, S., Paine, M., Parminter, T., Sheath, G., & Wilkinson, R. (2002). Achieving agri-environmental policy outcomes using models of institutional change. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 8, 127–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nowotny, H., Scott, P., & Gibbons, M. (2001). Re-thinking science: Knowledge and the public in an age of uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  19. Open University. (2000). Managing complexity. A systems approach (T306). The Open University, Walton Hall.Google Scholar
  20. Pohl, C., & Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2007). Principles for designing transdisciplinary research – Proposed by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences (A. Zimmermann, Trans.). Munich: Oekom Verlag.Google Scholar
  21. Pohl, C., & Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2008). Methodological challenges of transdisciplinary research. Natures Sciences Sociétés, 16, 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. SLIM. (2004). SLIM framework: Social learning as a policy approach for sustainable use of water. Available at
  23. Steyaert, P., & Jiggins, J. (2007). Governance of complex environmental situations through social learning: A synthesis of SLIM’s lessons for research, policy and practice. Environmental Science and Policy, 10, 575–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wilkinson, J. (1992). Talking with African writers: Interviews with African poets, playwrights and novelists (Studies in African literature series). London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  25. Winograd, T., & Flores, F. (1987). Understanding computers and cognition: A new foundation for design. New York: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Hubert
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ray Ison
    • 2
    • 3
  • Nadarajah Sriskandarajah
    • 4
  • Chris Blackmore
    • 2
  • Marianne Cerf
    • 1
  • Isabelle Avelange
    • 1
  • Marc Barbier
    • 1
  • Patrick Steyaert
    • 1
  1. 1.INRA Department Sciences for Action and DevelopmentParisFrance
  2. 2.Communication & Systems DepartmentThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  3. 3.Monash Sustainability InstituteMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Urban and Rural DevelopmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations