COGNITIVE SCIENCE AS SOCIAL LEARNING IN PARTICIPATORY DESIGN
AND PLANNING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IN
THE LOWER 9th WARD NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
ROBERT BALLARD SURLES, JR.
M.B.A., Loyola College, Baltimore, MD, 1976
M.A., The Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, 1992
A thesis submitted to the
The Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado Boulder
The College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver
In partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degrees of
Doctor of Philosophy in Cognitive Science
Doctor of Philosophy in Design and Planning
by Robert Ballard Surles, Jr.,
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Robert Ballard Surles, Jr.
has been approved
Willem van Vliet
^ I T> j 1
Surles, Jr. Robert Ballard (Ph.D., Cognitive Science and Ph.D., Design and Planning)
Cognitive Science as Social Learning in Participatory Design and Planning for
Environmental Sustainability in the Lower 9th Ward New Orleans, Louisiana.
Thesis directed by Professor Willem van Vliet, and Associate Professor
This study examines the role of social learning in participatory planning in the
Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. It was one of the
most severely damaged communities in the northern gulf coastal region, including
Mississippi and Louisiana. In spite of the uncertainties and the threat from
governmental agencies to disallow rebuilding in the Lower 9th Ward, the community
organized itself around the collective purpose to reclaim its land, homes, and
The study focuses on the processes that enabled the Lower 9th residents to
embrace environment as place, restore hope and purpose and to formulate a plan of
action to effect a sustainable environment and community. Their plan was accepted
and praised by the recovery agencies and planning department of New Orleans and
became a model for restoration and sustainable practices in environmental
management for the Gulf Coast region.
I examined this transformation through a framework of social learning, which
is increasingly viewed as an essential tool in participatory planning for achieving
sustainability in natural resources and effectiveness in environmental management.
Social learning nurtures positive behavioral changes conducive to social
cohesion. Increasingly, practitioners and theorists are calling for wider use of social
learning models to address the complexities of environmental management. Social
learning is constructed through conversations about content and formed in social
interactions around problems or actions. Its focus is less on what we are learning, and
more on how we are learning and how we apply that knowledge to problem-solving
European researchers have used social learning successfully to manage
surface water and water catchments to mitigate pollution. The Lower 9th residents
used these same practices to meet the challenges of environmental restoration.
Analyzing data gathered through ethnographic research over a 14-month
period, this study identifies the critical dimensions of social learning used by the
Lower 9th residents and suggests how planning and design can create and strengthen
conditions for social learning to support environmental sustainability.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. We
recommend its publication.
Willem van Vliet
This dissertation is dedicated to Jennifer, Alex, and Max with all my sincere
appreciation and love. I could not have completed this work without your support and
encouragement and occasional prodding!
Thank you with all my love.
I should like to acknowledge all my committee members of whom I certainly could
not have completed my research, the defense, and the finale writing of this thesis
without their assiduous help, friendship, and mentoring. For me this has been a
journey with extraordinary personal circumstances outside the domain of academia: a
hardship beyond the pale of normal impediments for anyone. I could not have
navigated through the academic maze and strenuous requirements for both Ph.D.s
without my committees help. They are all true scholars in the classic sense of the
scholastic tradition. Their mutual interest in achieving the highest standards in
research and their love of learning is to be esteemed as a mantle that we should all
Willem van Vliet, a very special thank you for mentoring me, for your
sensitive compassion, and most of all your true friendship. You have been and shall
always be my friend. Your constructive criticism has been most helpful and insightful
and I am grateful. I could not have had a better taskmaster than you driving my
research focus. My family and I thank you most kindly for all!
Tammy Sumner, you have been most helpful in your deep analysis of my
data, research methodology and recommendations for its presentation. Your insights
are a profound blessing and your ability to share them in constructive simple ways is
without doubt a gift few possess. The discipline of Cognitive Science is very
fortunate to have such a palatine for its cause. Thank you for your continuous support
and encouragement over the years.
Donna Caccamise has been superlative in helping me through the writing
process and organizing fact patterns supporting my thesis. Your tutelage in Cognitive
Science, along the way, was and is still absolutely invaluable. In addition to the help
with the learning process there is no doubt that you are the space maven of CINC and
I appreciated the wonderful learning environment you provided for me there. You are
most kind and considerate with suggestions and for the course correction in my
research travels. Donna, thank you greatly.
Brian Muller has given me insight through his counterintuitive and oblique
discussions about the many attributes of design and planning and its relationship to
cognitive science. You have and continue to make suggestions for my consideration
in applying my research to practical problems in the field. Brian, many thanks!
Austin Allen, my friend and research colleague: thank you! I shall always
remember the times we spent in the Lower 9th Ward struggling with our emotions
from the horrific sights and the incredible challenge facing the community. I shall
also recall those long walks throughout the Lower 9th and our conversations between
us and with residents along our pathway about hope, family, and community. Thanks
for the many philosophical debates on design, on dwelling, on the concept of place
and the revealing of place. It has been a learning experience par excellent! Thank you
for that wonderful experience.
Words are not adequate to express my emotional ties and the depth I feel for
each member of my committee. I feel so very fortunate to have had each of them in
my life and in the lives of my family members. Thank you for your confidence and
your unwavering support during this journey. Thank you!
I have a very special thanks to Bob Smith, Chris Jacobs, Jim Smith, and
Uddhab Bhandary for their incredible support and friendship and in the course of my
writing and research. Bob Smith, thanks for your tireless encouragement and positive
attitude! It is contagious. Chris Jacobs, thanks for being there in the greatest time of
need. Hey, I think Sandy is waiting for another game of pool in NOLA? Jim, get the
bourbon ready. I think it is time to open another bottle of Bulleit? ... Hard Times Let
Me Be! ... And my friend Uddhab, many warm thanks for just being in my life and
part of our family. Thanks to all of you guys!
RESEARCH PROBLEM AND STUDY OVERVIEW...................1
Why Do This Research?...............................13
2. THE MERGING OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE AS SOCIAL LEARNING WITH
URBAN DESIGN AND PLANNING: ANALYSIS OF SLIM..................29
In Quadrant A: Discovery learning Interdependence........46
Quadrant B: Discovery learning Self-organization.........48
Quadrant C: Interdependence Learning systems.............48
Quadrant D: Self-organization Learning systems...........49
Negative aspects of social learning as reported by the researchers
BASED ON COMMENTS FROM STAKEHOLDERS........................50
First: The Overall Process Management......................52
Second: Communication Processes............................52
Third: Creation of Mutual Trust............................53
Fourth: Inter-action on an Area Basic
3. SOCIAL LEARNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL MANGAGEMENT IN THE
GENERAL DISCUSSION OF OUTCOMES..........................................57
How DID SOCIAL LEARNING WORK IN THE LOWER 9?.........................71
An accepted common purpose............................................72
A vested emotional commitment toward an object........................73
Learning values and ethics (ethos)..................................81
Individual and collective interests are mutually supportive...........82
4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Basis for the Research Question..................................89
Research Study Participants: Subject Population..................93
Structured interviews........................................... 99
Holy Cross-Neighborhood Association Meetings....................103
Coding of text..................................................108
5. OVERVIEW OF RESULTS...............................................115
Participants as teachers...........................................134
Competition vs. cooperation........................................141
6. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS.........................................152
Limitations of this study..........................................152
Factors influencing the success of social learning.................156
Implications of this study.........................................165
A: FOCUS GROUP PROTOCOLS
B: STRUCTURED INTERVIEW PROTOCOLS....................169
C: INFORMAL INTERVIEW PROTOCOLS......................170
D: SELF-REPORTING PROTOCOLS..........................171
LIST OF FIGURES
1- 1 Map of New Orleans and Confluence of water/wetlands........................3
1 -2 Data transition to mere knowledge.........................................17
2- 1 Heuristic for transformation..............................................44
2- 2 The four dimensions of social learning as recognized by stakeholders and
researchers participating in SLIM.......................................46
3- 1 Typical stakeholders meeting.............................................59
3-2 Lower 9th Social Learning and Behavioral Transformations..................63
3-3 Cognitive convergence.....................................................68
3-4 Isaacs conversation diagram..............................................70
5-1 Data results from coding.................................................118
5-2 Percent change as self-reported between vignettes over the fourteen month
5-4 Participant as teacher...................................................145
5-8 Competition Vs. cooperation...........................................149
RESEARCH PROBLEM AND STUDY OVERVIEW
Nothing in the world
Is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
Nothing can surpass it.
The soft over comes the hard;
The gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
But few can put it into practice...
(Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching)
I start this introduction to my research with a 2000-year-old parable from the
Writings of Lao-tzu (551 BC 479 BC), a most respected Chinese philosopher and
reportedly an older contemporary of Confucius. It is a passage from his book entitled
Tao Te Ching. a liberal translation simply stated means The Book of the Way. The
way of what? Of life! It is a book of passages to live by and to guide our way
through this course of time and space known as life. Each offering of advice is
insightful and profound. And some no doubt will speculate with indeterminacy as to
their true meanings, but the parable that is numbered 78 needs no speculation. It
places our thoughts squarely on the struggle between humankind and nature.
Humankind has always had to cut their dwelling places out of the environment and
deal directly with natural rudiments and their resulting impacts. One of the most
forceful of the natural rudiments is that of water, as we surmise from the passage.
And so it was on August 29, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana when hurricane
Katrina struck. Water, that supple natural element, moved levees, trees, cars,
buildings, ships, barges, steel, and worse of all it took the lives of over 1300
individuals and sustained damage in excess of 200 billion dollars throughout the Gulf
Coast area. This was the most devastating natural catastrophe in the history of the
United States. The primary source of damage came from the storms surge, which
was estimated at 26 feet, at its crest, in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the most
devastated areas. This was not only a natural disaster, but also a manmade disaster
(Hartman & Squires, 2006; Van Heerden & Bryan, 2006). Why was it a manmade
disaster? Because we historically have learned that certain environmental dimensions
cause various degrees of damage to the natural environment, as well as, the built
environment and can take human lives, our most precious resource; knowing this and
not acting on it we contribute to it. New Orleans is virtually surrounded by water and
wetlands and is in a most precarious location (See Figure 1 1 a map of NOLA). As
you can see New Orleans is bounded by the Mississippi River, Lake Borgne, Lake
Pontchartrain, and wetlands as well as low-lying areas easily prone to flooding. Lao-
tzu wrote that water is soft and yielding and yet it over comes the hard and the rigid,
everyone knows this, but few can put the knowledge of this into practice. Why cant
we put this knowledge into practice?
fcn Pearl Rive'
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Lake V; V"
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^ Kenne^wSs^^ __________-___ cm
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' aha<. p t Orleans chaimeiie
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Figure 1-1. Map of New Orleans and confluence of water/wetlands
Why cant we manage our environment in a sustainable manner? This is a simple
question, but its simplicity is deceiving. Resolving planning issues are difficult
enough in normal conditions, but planning in areas with untoward conditions adds
inordinate difficulty to the process. The answer is incredibility complex. My research
examines why we have not put this knowledge to work and most importantly how we
can. It is a matter of environmental management and sustainability, not just the
mitigation and disaster preparedness of design and planning touted by FEMA and
other government planning from the state and Homeland Security.
The ancient passage from Lao-Tzu states very well the purpose of my study.
When we build an artifact we impact the environment and the environment likewise
impacts the artifact. Man against nature and nature against man. Everyone knows
this is true, but few can put it into practice..We have public knowledge of this, but
we do not act on it. Why is there such a chasm between our experiences of the past
and our perceptions of the present or the near future? What accounts for our behavior,
the behavior of policy makers with whom we have vested the responsibility of
keeping our communities safe from natural disasters? When we are faced with a
pressing problem the starting point is always the question: What to do? The first step
in answering this question is to search our own past experience, the experiences of
others, or what has been done elsewhere in similar situations (Rose, 1993). We know
the future only by the past we project into it. History, in this sense, is all we have
(Gaddis, 2002). If we know, from our experience, what generally happens during a
natural disaster why cant we be better prepared to lessen or avoid the possible
destructive forces of the natural disaster? Are our urban planning/design protocols
failing the communities they are charged to protect? Is the knowledge we hold
inadequate to serve our well-being and preserve our built environment? This study
examines the relationships between specific elements of the urban planning/design,
social learning, natural/man-made disasters, and environmental sustainability. It
specifically looks at the critical dimensions, which support environments as places.
Our understanding environments as places integrates their social, cultural,
biological, physical and economic dimensions to that specific place and that specific
environment and is fundamental, as a first step, to our learning how to manage a more
sustainable environment.1 In my visits to New Orleans post-Katrina, specifically in
the Lower 9th and the Holy Cross neighborhood, I saw the strong emotional link
residents had to their place and realized early on in my research the revealing of
place as they spoke of it was paramount in understanding how they associated the
meaning of experience with place. The revealing of place is that moment story
having personal significance in memory that individuals associate with meaning and
emotion to their environment. Those story moments are deliberate conscious and
strategic acts of thought, which reveal place: a linking of experience to a physical
The environment is not an inert, physical entity out there with trees, water,
animals, and the like, but a dynamic system of interconnected, meaning-laden places.
Places integrate not only the biological, physical, social and economic dimensions of
1 Keen, Brown, and Dyball Editors, Social Learning in Environmental Management:
Towards a Sustainable Future, Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia. 2005 P. 91.
sustainability, but the histories and aspirations of the people who are connected with
and a part of these environments.
This quote captures the concept of environment as place and exemplifies the
emotional context associated with the community of those in the Lower 9th Ward of
New Orleans. Place was and is the common motivator and it is the reference for the
individual as well as the community. Place was shared by all the residences of the
community in the form of tacit knowledge as Polanyi ascribed it to be. Tacit
knowledge is that portion of knowledge that is much more difficult, or even
impossible, to record, transfer, to otherwise communicate to the uninitiated.2 3 4 Polanyi
characterizes tacit knowledge as a form of library of ideas, information, and other
sources that are shared by members of a community, which is uniquely place acquired
and place specific. As I found out in my research in the Lower 9th tacit knowledge
underscores the importance of place and placeness in the process of social learning
and the developing framework for understanding relevant issues concerning
rebuilding and renewing community well-being.
In this study I focus on the social learning that takes place during community
meetings where stakeholders struggled with issues of urban planning/design
regarding recovery of their community and its environmental sustainability. My
2 Ibid. P. 93.
3 Polanyi, M. The Tacit Dimension, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1967.
4 Holden, Meg, Social learning in planning: Seattles sustainable development
codebooks, Progress in Planning, Volume 69, Issue 1, January 2008. P 4.
research contributes to the current discussion involving social learning as it is used in
participatory planning and how it supports decision-making and influences policy
formulation of environmental management for sustainability. The study examines
what social learning entails along with its suggested benefits and limitations relative
to participation in dealing with this complex issues. Social learning, as a metaphor,
was introduced to planning theory by Edgar S. Dunn in 1967 and L. W. Milbrath was
one of the first to associate the term social learning to sustainable development
using the term self educating community to describe circumstance where people
learn from each other and from nature.5 There are many definitions of social learning
and it has a fairly long history starting with Gabriel Tarde (1843 1904) who was the
first to explore how learning takes place in social settings and his theory was
grounded through four main stages: 1) close contact, 2) mimeses of superiors,
3) understanding of concepts, and 4) role model behavior. But the contemporary
conceptual structure of social learning leaps away from the original foundation and is
today being developed as a governing mechanism for creating understanding and
management of extremely complex environmental resources and environmental
issues as they relate to sustainability (Holden, 2008; Ison, Roling, & Watson, 2007;
Keen, Brown, & Dyball, 2005; Kilvington, 2008). Today its key elements or core
strands of activities integral to the social learning approach are: reflection, systems
5 Dunn, Edgar, Economic and Social Development: A Process of Social Learning,
Resources For the Future, Baltimore, Maryland. 1971. And Milbrath, L. W.,
Envisioning a Sustainable Society. State University Press, New York, 1989.
orientation, integration, negotiation, action, value, and participation (Friedmann,
1987; Keen et al., 2005). The evolution of social learning has advanced primarily
through applied cognitive science and has changed its character and purpose over
time. As such, social learning is defined as being based on the premise that our
understanding of content is socially constructed through discourse about that content
and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or
actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning, but on how we are
learning.6 Social learning formulates knowledge as information plus content and
context. It is with a focus on interactive conversant processes dealing with problems
and actions and sharing ideas that lead to action(s). It is process oriented. It has been
said, With a better process you will have a better outcome.7 Understanding the
process and the procedures is a key factor in better urban planning and design and
At this time I should like to offer what the general consensus among the
constituents of the Lower 9th was as to their collective understanding of community
environmental sustainability. Their collective voice stated they wanted to have a
community that will sustain itself through natural disasters and nurture the well being
of its residence and their dwelling places. I heard many definitions from the
6 Brown, John Seely; Adler, Richard Educause Review January/February 2008. P.
7 Lecture comment by Professor Ray Studer on Urban Planning and Design, Fall
residences of the Lower 9th such as a community that would be easily rebuilt after a
disaster to one of just being able to living in harmony with our place our
environment. There are many definitions of sustainability and the most commonly
accepted definition comes from the 1987 report Our Common Future prepared by
the World Commission on Environment and Development otherwise known as the
Brundtland Commission, which stated, sustainable development is development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs.
The community of the Lower 9th simply wanted to meet their current needs
without taking away the same opportunity for their children and grand children. They
wanted their special place to be there for the future and they wanted to understand
how they could meet mother-nature head on and still keep their place in the crescent
city. Their desire however was threatened by suggestions from professional planners,
architects and engineers to redesign the entire city of New Orleans with the advent of
foreclosing out and preventing the rebuilding in low-lying areas. The Lower 9th
certainly fit in this category and their future was uncertain.
However, about the time I began my research, the Holy Cross Neighborhood
Association and the Lower Ninth had the good fortune of being selected by specialists
from Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research and the Louisiana
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in February 2006 as a pilot project to
demonstrate how to restore and/or rebuild damaged communities (Association,
2006). The DNR commissioned several outside consultants and various experts to
assists in the process. Three noted professionals (Bob Berkebile, Bill Browning and
Bill Becker) along with several others who had considerable expertise in working
with rebuilding disaster stricken communities and sustainable community
development helped to formulate a recovery plan with the Lower 9th.8 The B-Team,
as they became known, assisted the community in formulating a deeper and practical
understanding of sustainability and defense of natural disasters as being grounded in
the concepts of prevention, protection, prosperity, posterity and people. Each of these
elements was interacting, linking and supporting mutually the common goal of
becoming sustainable and maintaining sustainability and they were grounded in the
concept of placeness of the Lower 9th. The five P(s) became the foundation for the
Lower 9th to build on and to establish a community that would be sustainable. But
something very interesting and very revealing took place during the formulation of
strategies developed with the B-Team and the stakeholders. The community took over
the process. They literally ran up Amsteins ladder from manipulation to citizen
control of the process.9 They learned how to learn collectively (social learning) and
address the issues of environmental sustainability and community well being. There
8 Bob Berkebile of BNIM Architects in Kansas City, Mo, Bill Browning of Browning
& Bannon, LLC in Washington, D.C. and Bill Becker of Golden, Colorado, a senior
advisor to the Global Energy Center for Community Sustainability. These individuals
became known as the B-Team.
9 Collins, Kevin & Ison, Ray. Dare We Jump Off Amsteins Ladder? Social
Learning As A New Policy Paradigm, Open University, UK, Open Systems
Research Group, Systems Department, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. Page 3.
was a clear transition from authority or expert to, as Jean Lave referred to them as,
just plain folk.10 11 Western culture links science, schooling, and everyday practice in
a hierarchical ordering of the kinds of thinking and knowledge supposed to be
characteristic, respectively, of professional experts, laypersons (a term that should
give one pause), and just plain folks.11 The order of order was and is changing;
cognition and knowledge formulation is distributed. The community took each of
these elements (the five Ps) and began to develop an understanding of them as they
related to each other, the individual and the community and how the five Ps supported
making the community sustainable. The swell of participation within the community
and within the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association drove information gathering,
content formulation and context. This research reveals how this phenomenon took
place and why.
The recovery process in the Lower 9th Ward was and is replete with issues that
are very complex and in general are in contraposition to propounded guidelines issued
by the greater New Orleans planning department, the Army Corps of Engineers, state
authorities, and FEMA. The key problems within the complex issues and the goals for
the stakeholders were: how do we make our environment sustainable and how do we
participate and manage the recovery planning process to ensure that our environment
will be sustainable in the future? These individuals had no experience or training in
10 Lave, Jean, Cognition In Practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
England, 1988, Page 4.
11 Ibid. Lave, Page 4.
urban planning/design nor were they familiar with the stringent rules governing the
processes of planning protocols within the governing bodies that were charged with
overseeing the recovery. The stakeholders began a process of learning by doing,
sharing their feelings, their values, and their perception of the environment, thoughts
and information as the basis of their participatory planning. This cognitive
convergence was noteworthy because it is a natural outcome of social learning and a
positive indication that learning is taking place. Cognitive convergence consists of the
convergence of mutual interest, values, goals, and knowledge that transform behavior
resulting in a consensus of collective action.
The overall process that was initially guided by the B Team evolved through
and by social learning and the end resulted in a recovery plan for their community
that embraced principles of environmental sustainability. The plan itself is an
evolving document, because as the social learning continues better ideas, more
effective and more efficient methods take shape and are either included in the plan or
the plan is modified to accommodate the changes that are deemed necessary to
support their collective goal(s).
Pam Dashiell, the president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, in
an interview with me, stated, the very survival of their community in the short term,
as well as, the long term was at stake. If we as a community do not take a stand now
we will lose to the authorities that think they know better than us what we need. The
community members were committed to reclaiming their land, their homes and their
community. So, they, as a community were coming together and organizing and
learning with the help of others; what to do and how to do it and they were
determined to be successful in their efforts and they were.
Why Do This Research?
This research is important and it is needed, because we as cognitive scientists
and as planners need to develop new ways of learning that support collective action
towards a sustainable environmental future (Keen et al., 2005). This simply is the way
it should be irrespective of pre-disaster, post-disaster, or just part of the standard
operating procedures of urban design and planning professional protocols: safety,
well being, and sustainability for each and every community. Understanding and
accepting the experiential relationships between the past, present, and future is critical
to our achieving sustainability.
It also needs to be effective and it needs to be efficient. I use these terms as
defined by the late Peter Drucker, a highly regarded management theorist, who in his
writings indicated that to be effective is just to do the right thing and to be efficient is
to do things right! Many of the untoward consequences in planning are the results
from an attitude ofbusiness as usual by planners, public officials and authorities;
this behavior was most noteworthy during and after Hurricane Katrina through out the
Gulf Coast area. They are rule bound and rule governed. We collectively must
recognize when those rules must change for the betterment of our communities. It
aint so much the things we dont know that gets us into trouble. Its the things we
know that just aint so.12 We must do the right things and we must do things right!
However, complexity acts as a very formidable impediment to being effective
and efficient particularly when dealing with environmental sustainability in the face
of disasters. So, how do we become more effective and efficient in our collective
endeavors? The social learning process has contributed significantly towards
achieving acceptable levels of effectiveness and efficiencies as demonstrated by the
efforts of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the Lower 9th Ward of New
Orleans. The focus of my research attends to the critical dimensions of social
learning and the conditions that support those dimensions of collaborative decision
making in dealing with environmental sustainability.
The interrelationship between humans and the environment has never been
more complex and demanding than it is at this time. The compelling reasons
underlying this paradigm reside in the unremitting demand we as civilized societies
place upon our natural environment. It is exactly as John Stuart Mills Homo
Economicus (economic man) wanting goods and services in the aggregate, but as
such, never took into account the consequences for such behavior. The fulcrum of our
future is embedded in the relationship between the experiences both positive and
12 Artemus Ward (nom de plum) for Charles Farr Browne American humorist during
the mid 1800s astutely surmised this adage from observing public processes.
negative from our past and the projection of what we have learned into the future. Our
planning must focus on the future and the consequences of the planning on our
environment. So, how must we proceed knowing what we think we know and
knowing what we know? It is not what we know, but what we think we know that
imperils our future. How do we clarify and correct this fallacy in our thinking and in
The dynamics and the shape of knowledge is changing: how we know our
world and how we acquire knowledge is significantly in part due to how our world is
organized by us and for our purpose. It is a transition from the physical to the digital:
a transfer from expert to just plain folk. The order of order as David Weinberger puts
it determines our perception of our world and impacts our acquisition of knowledge
and it is limiting, because it takes up space and is physically bounding (Weinberger,
2007). Weinberger proffers three magnitudes of order: the first order ostensibly is
where things go, books on the shelves, dishes in their place, and toys in the box, so to
speak. It is a rather intuitive or preferential placement of the ordinary things in our
lives the norms we grow up with and inculcate as unthinking activities. The second
order of order is restrictive and prescriptive; because we defer these choices to those
we believe to be the more knowledgeable ones in our society. The experts, the
professionals, the authorities: these are the doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists,
planners and professors and as such they filter, place, and diffuse information
regarding all the structure for civility in our society. It is the organizing of content and
information within specific structures and organized around those structures. It is
physical and it is limited by that physicality and parsed by how it is filtered by the
experts. We have more or less accepted what has been given to us by these
institutional protocols. But the second order of order is being overtaken by a third
order of order which is immaterial, because it is not physically limiting; it is digital
and it is permeable. It consists entirely of metadata; data about data and meta-
information; information about information. It is available to everyone including the
Just Plain Folk of the Lower 9th who have access to web and the Internet. The more
information about information we have the more accessible it is thereby enabling us
to organize it in ways that make sense to us as knowledge and it becomes
understandable and applicable. This third order of order sits well with Weinbergers
definition of knowledge as information plus content. But my research shows that
knowledge as it was formulated in the social learning processes of the Holy Cross
Neighborhood Association and applied to the problems they were facing required
data, information, content and context as shown in Figure 1-2.
Figure 1-2. Data transition to mere knowledge
At the base of Figure 1-2 is data. When the data is imbued with purpose we get
information and as we cull through the information we realize elements recognized as
facts. The facts have content relevant to the issues at hand. The facts and content may
or may not have a relational aspect to the case being explored and if it does then
knowledge is engendered and if there is no discemable relation to the case at hand we
must return to the culling of information for facts that have both content and
relational aspects (context) applicable to the case at hand. As we proceed through this
iterative process we step upward toward the apex of the triangle and as we proceed
we gain knowledge. At the very apex of the diagram resides mere knowledge:
knowledge that is irrefutable and universally accepted as such. Each step of this
process is dependent on our confidence level of the information we have and its
content and the context of the relevant facts. As the facts emerge we gain a sense of
knowing that may or may not change as the information base and facts mature. If
there is not a strong correlation between these elements the process must begin again
and again with the data until the facts support the case being examined. This
explication of knowledge acquisition is more or less the process stakeholders
followed to collect data, information, facts, content and context in their understanding
of the environmental issues facing the community.
Historically in urban design and planning we have collectively accepted the
existing order of things, which resides in the second order of order. We depend and
have depended upon the experts, the officials, and the authorities to orchestrate the
general plan, the comprehensive land use plan, as well as, the codes and regulations
for our built environment. Our expectation of a better process with the attendant
better outcome has been generally unfulfilled and the learning arc from one public
planning process or policy to another has not been well grounded. Our expectation
has been that we would learn from the process and from the experience. Despite the
centrality of the expectation of learning to planning progress, planning theory does
not have a coherent theory of learning within planning processes... (Holden, 2008).
Most cognition in planning and design deals with the understanding of policy transfer
and application of the policy or the formation of public agendas as these relate to
outcomes or specific goal(s) and does not address the shaping of processes,
procedures, and the assimilation of information for shared understanding regarding
the issues at hand (Rose, 1993). It (the planning processes) accentuates the difference
in what John Seely Brown refers to as, the breach between learning and use, which
is captured in the folk sayings ofknow what and know how (Brown, Collins, &
Dugid, 1989). This is further accentuated in planning by the missed causation of the
experience/leaming relationship and its application ...Everyone knows this is true,
But few can put it into practice.13 A central element of my thesis is that social
learning shores up the link between experience and learning through the creation of
content and its application to environmental issues.
This research is also important to cognitive science and urban design and
planning, because of the existing need to match what we know to be true and what we
know to be inevitable in the future as it relates to environmental sustainability.
Anytime a community builds a structure, any structure, that artifact has an impact on
the environment and the environment has an impact on the built structure. In most
cases the community can mitigate the known pending impact (Beck, 2005;
Friedmann, 1987; Healey, 2006). The degree of impact is predicated upon certain
environmental dimensions (Randolph, 2004). Environmental dimensions or
ecological constraints may include any of the following elements or a combination of
them, such as fire from lightning strikes in forested areas or elsewhere, excessive rain
or snow, flooding, water pollution, high winds, tornadoes, erosion, mudslides,
subsurface contraction or expansion, expansion or contraction of wetlands and
earthquakes. These are broad, but inclusive of conditions that impact human health,
13 Ibid. Lao-Tzu, Tao Te China
safety and the welfare of communities. They are conditions that must be accounted
for if sustainability is going to be an achievable goal for communities. We know this.
We have experienced this. So, how do we plan so that our communities can sustain
themselves and their environments?
The problem solving processes of the past are not working and I suggest
social learning as a viable mechanism to better meet the challenges poised by the
complex environmental issues facing our society. Others in the profession also
recognize this fact as indicated thus: We used to think planning is knowing, now we
realize planning is learning.14 Randolph goes on by stating that traditional
approaches of planning are not able to cope with the complex demands on the
horizon. He sees a new approach emerging in urban design and planning
communities. An approach incorporating two components: The first one, he refers to
as Adaptive management (scientific learning) and the second one as, Collaborative
environmental decision-making (social learning).
1. The adaptive management or scientific learning approach is to adapt: study and
do and monitor and evaluate and learn and study and do and monitor and embrace
uncertainties. Adaptive management follows the leaming-by-doing process. The
cyclical process involves not only planning but action, monitoring, and evaluation.
Resulting in learning as the basis for further planning.15
2. The Collaborative environmental decision making or social learning has
stakeholder involvement, consensus building, conflict resolution, collaborative
14 Randolph, John, Environmental Land Use Planning and Management, island Press,
Washington, D.C. 2004, Page 33.
15 Ibid. Randolph, Page 34.
learning, and partnerships can build social capital (networks), intellectual capital
(mutual understanding), and political capital (constituencies).16
The purpose of this approach, according to Randolph, is to have a better
process, a better outcome, and the opportunities for better decisions for both the
stakeholders and the environment. The point being made by Randolph is the
traditional so-called rational comprehensive approach is not nor has it been working
since its inception during the late 1950s and early 1960s.17 Why has it not been
consistent in solving urban design/planning problems? Because the subtlety of the
rational comprehensive method seemed intuitively transparent: it assumes decision
makers can identify and agree on exactly what the problem is: a consensus on values,
goals and objectives, alternative resolutions are considered and ranked in accordance
with their costs/benefits/advantages and disadvantages.
Alan Altschuler, a noted urban theorist, addressed the practicality of this
approach and concluded that it is not as it was purported to be (Altschuler, 1965). His
major concern with the approach was the lack of compelling evidence for the
16 Ibid. Randolph, Page 34.
17 There are many definitions of Rational Comprehensive Approach to planning, but
T.J. Kents definition in his book The Urban Plan, 1964 Pages 98 99 is the most
widely accepted. It states, The plan must be comprehensive in the sense that it
covers the whole city, deals with all essential physical elements of the urban
environment and recognizes its relationships with all significant factors, physical and
nonphysical, local and regional, that affect the physical growth and development of
the community...It should take into account demographic and economic forecast and
anticipated technological change. It must be comprehensive in these ways in order to
promote the public interest; defined as the interest of the community at large rather
that of individuals or special groups.
assumed relationship between the consensus of public interest and
comprehensiveness. In his opinion, if a comprehensive approach is to be
comprehensive it must reflect the will of the people through the concept and
discourse of public interest. In a democratic process, the public interest must not
result from a few planners or government servants whose own interest may bias the
direction of values, goals, objectives or defining the issue at hand and that is therefore
incongruent with reality. Can there be comprehensive planning?
Altschuler states, To the extent, then, that comprehensive planning is possible, the
correct law for a society is something to be discovered, rather than willed, by public
officials. The role of the politician who ignores consistency or obstructs grand
schemes to placate interest groups is hard to defend. So is the concept of majority
will, and the idea that party conflict is desirable. It is in this sense that the claims of
planners often seem to be in conflict with those of politicians. Both claim a unique
ability to judge the overall public interest.
Altschuler contends this type of dichotomy undermines the understanding of
objective, goals, and problem formulation. If we do not have a clear and publicly
shared understanding of the objectives, goals, and what exactly the problem is we
cannot comprehensively plan. There is inherent instability in the comprehensive
approach, because it is not comprehensive and the planner does not have the ability to
identify public interest! Altschuler further states in support of his thesis that truly
comprehensive goals tend not to provide any basis for evaluation of concrete
alternatives. It is thus difficult to stir political interest in them and impossible to plan 18
18 Altschuler, Alan, (1965). The goals of comprehensive planning, The Journal of
the American Institute of Planners, 31(3), Page 68.
rationally in their service.19 Alschuler suggested an alternative methodology, which
he called middle-range planning. It is planning for the achievement of goals that are
general, but still operational. However, he indicates that even his approach has the
fatal flaw that it provides no basis for the planner to claim to understand the overall
Still others, notably John Friedmann, responded to Altschulers disconcerting
view by defending the rational comprehensive approach, but with some modification
of the approach, which leads one to infer there are some flaws in it (Friedmann,
1965). Friedmanns basic answer to Altschuler is that, professional fields of
competence have grown up around all of the concerns and the technical expert is
replacing the comprehensive planner in influencing the decisions that guide a citys
development.21 He further states, Comprehensiveness rests on an incorrect
conception of the term. Comprehensiveness in city planning refers primarily to
awareness that the city is a system of interrelated social and economic variables
extending over space.22 He concludes that the demand of comprehensiveness in the
city, if that is a requirement, will basically be out-sourced: maximizing the
specialized contributions of technical experts to the solution of urban problems.
19 Stein, Jay, Classic Readings in Urban Planning. American Planners Association,
Planners Press, Washington, D.C., Page 77.
20 Ibid. Stein, Page 78.
21 Friedmann, John, A Response to Altschuler: Comprehensive Planning As a
Process, AIP Journal, 31,3, 1965, Page 195
Ibid. Friedmann. Page 195.
Friedmann unpacks the semantic ambiguity of comprehensiveness by offering a
differentiation of policy and program planning as an approach to managing the
development of a city. Policy is concerned with the maintenance and achievement of
performance goals for the city as a whole and program planning is primarily focused
on the achievement goals for specific activities or sectors. He postulates the need for
urban social accounts that would enable managers to measure performance or the
achievements of specified goals. Friedmann finishes his assessment by advocating a
high level city administration to over see or manage the planning functions of policy,
program, design, and land use, basically it is a reorganization and will result in more
bureaucracy. His defense of the comprehensive approach is grounded in a redefinition
of policy and achievement goals as clarification of comprehensiveness with appeal to
specialized knowledge or expertise.
Perhaps, it would have been better to go back to T. J. Kents thesis in The
Urban Plan, as Judith Innes so aptly did in referencing Kent, in her critique of
Altschuler (Kent, 1964). Innes indicates that Kent stated in his book the following:
The plan must be comprehensive in the sense that it covers the whole city, deals with
all essential physical elements of the urban environment and recognizes its
relationships with all significant factors, physical and nonphysical, local and regional,
that affect the physical growth and development of the community... It should take
into account demographic and economic forecasts and anticipated technological
change. It must be comprehensive in these ways in order to promote the public
interest; defined as the interest of the community at large rather that of individuals or
special groups. 23
23 Kent, T.J., The Urban Plan, Chandler, San Francisco, 1964. Page 98-99.
His definition of public interest is still rather ambiguous, but Innes tackles this
conundrum through her concept of consensus building. She answers Altschulers
derogatory assessment of planning and planners in an article entitled, Planning
Through Consensus Building: A New View of the Comprehensive Planning Ideal
(1965). She broaches the issue of public interest by and through participatory
processes, which engenders consensus among the group. Innes cites eight case studies
where participants are extremely diverse and such diversity is, as she stipulates,
representative of public interest. These actual case studies are typical of the types
of issues planners and public servants are confronted with in the comprehensive
approach. She addresses each of Altschulers critiques of the comprehensive ideal and
answers them in the context of the results from the cases. Her response to the difficult
issue of public will or interest is somewhat diffused by the fact that the participants in
the cases are very diverse. Innes even bused in the disadvantaged and inner city
participants who were stakeholders to voice their opinions regarding issues that
needed resolution. The degree of participatory interaction, according to Innes
exceeded her expectations. Diversity constitutes, according to Innes, a snapshot of
public interest and was used as a justification and as a baseline for the well being of
the community at stake in the planning issues. As for the comprehensiveness, she
asserts that her process follows closely to the standard established by T.J. Kent. In her
conclusions she states:
The plans, policies, and guidelines produced by the consensus processes studies here
conformed in significant ways to Kents stipulations for the urban general plan. They
are comprehensive in the sense that they deal with interrelationships among physical
factors water, land use, and agriculture, for example. They are general in that they
set broad principles and leave specifics for later. The discussion makes their
reasoning explicit. Most of the processes were informed by technical knowledge, and
all of them succeeded in coordinating across players.24
This seems, on the surface, to be a reasoned approached to resolving complex
issues in the urban landscape, but it is not without impediments. The questions of goal
resolution, examination of alternative methods, conflict resolution, implementation of
the plan and managing the process needs to be addressed as issues of specific
problems. For example, how did the learning process take place? What new
knowledge was acquired as a result of this process? What exactly occurred to move
toward consensus and what iterative processes were invoked to assure they were on
the right track? One may have consensus, but does the collective agreement reflect
reality and how does one know? Were the stakeholders being participated (used) or
did they really participate with their environment and each other in this process?
There are many others trying to advance this difficult process in a manner that
links the different traditions of understanding, different codes of rationality and
knowledge cultures of professional communities to resolve the issues manifest
24 Stein, Jay, Editor, Classic Readings in Urban Planning, Planners Press, APA,
Washington, D.C., 2004, Page 157.
between the environment and the community.25 It is a work in progress and it is a
learning process. The integration of learning (the what) and its application (the
how) for policy formulation that is effective and efficient is the goal of the process.
It is a unique shift in the foundational beliefs (a paradigm shift as enunciated by
Thomas Kuhn), which drive the community of those involved in all aspects of the
built environment and the natural environment. The attempts of the New Orleans
Planning Department to approach the relief and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane
Katrina were and still are grounded in the old comprehensive rational approach and
their efforts are still under way five years after the event occurred.
The social learning approach taken by the stakeholders of the Lower 9
showed a very important key aspect that has been missing in the traditional
comprehensive approach and even in the emerging components Randolph discusses.
The key aspect, which affords a different and successful foundation towards utilizing
social learning as a governing mechanism for achieving collective goals is the
importance of place, placeness and the revealing of place, which gives content,
context and information through the relationships and experiences the community
members share in their understanding of their Place. This place-relation of
stakeholders in the Lower 9th and their collective understanding through social
learning became the ligature of their purpose. The success of the Lower 9th stems
25 Keen, Meg; Brown, Valerie; & Dyball, Rob, Social Learning in Environmental
Management: Towards a sustainable Future, Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia, 2005. Page
primarily from their utilizing social learning to formulate a plan of environmental
sustainability for their community. This plan renewed new hope, new vision and
caused sections of the Lower 9th to be adopted as one of the 17 redevelopment zones
by the New Orleans planning department after they (the planning department) had
virtually written the Lower 9th off as being uninhabitable by the city, the Army Corps
and others. Their approach can become a model for urban designers and planners and
cognitive scientists interested in collective learning and its application to complex
problems just as the European Community has successfully used social learning as a
governing mechanism to address and resolve complex water catchments issues
impacting environmental sustainability. 26
26 The European Catchments Water mitigation project directive 2000 2008.
THE MERGING OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE AS SOCIAL LEARNING WITH
URBAN DESIGN AND PLANNING: ANALYSIS OF SLIM27
The past ten years has shown significant advancement of environmental
management in utilizing social learning as a governing mechanism or coordination
mechanism for mediating complex natural resource and environmental issues.
Environmental management has expanded to become environmental governance, the
concern of all citizens at every scale of society. The accepted phrase for the main task
of environmental mangers since 1987 has been sustainable development, understood
to be a balance between economic development, social equity and environmental
sustainability (Keen et al., 2005).
Environmental issues require input from many different stakeholders and involve
situations where resources, goals and processes are not well defined. As such they
entail the perspective that new methods are and will be required to steward ecological
harmony in the attempt to become more sustainable with respect to our communities
and our environment.
New Orleans is faced with such a task as a result of the destruction from
Hurricane Katrina. However, it is an opportunity for all the stakeholders to insist on
new methods and new technologies to be applied to managing their environment in a
manner that will ensure a path toward sustainability and well being for their
27 (SLIM) Social Learning for the Integrated Management and Sustainable Use of
water at Catchments Scale. Page 1. http://slim.open.ac.uk
communities. It is my conjecture that stakeholders in the Lower 9th of New Orleans
have, in fact, taken the initiative and have developed a plan of action for the
restoration and environmental sustainability of the Lower 9th. Their approach and
their methodology incorporated the use of social learning as part of the planning
process. The comparative context of methodology and approach is similar to the same
as utilized in Europe to address environmental management problems of water
catchment basin and surface water problems facing them in the near and foreseeable
future. This approach is analogous to Kai Eriksons commentary regarding the
Buffalo Creek Flood of 1976 as he states in his book: I am suggesting that
knowledge of what happened in one place can be useful in understanding what is
happening in the other. Learning from the past and projecting it into existing
situations can give insight to achieving the purposes and goals facing environmental
issues. Environmental management underwriting environmental sustainability is the
real goal for both New Orleans as well as the communities involved in the European
Water Framework Directive. The context of lesson-drawing from the European
experience supports empirical evidence of social learning in achieving the
transformation of individual and institutional behavior, at large social scale, with
significant technical results, through deliberate investment in multi-stakeholder 28
28 Erikson, Kai, Everything In Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo
Creek Flood, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1976, Prologue.
learning processes.29 This approach and its application to participatory planning
processes are new and offer substantive changes for managing environmental
sustainability. The problems facing New Orleans and the problems facing Europe are
common problems of environmental degradation. Our mutual learning efforts affords
opportunities to achieve ecological harmony through the process of lesson drawing
and social learning. Lesson-drawing from experience has two preconditions: easy
and open access to information about what other governments and stakeholders are
doing, and different responses to common problems.30 I am using the data
engendered by the research conducted by the European Directive on complex
environmental issues to support my thesis that social learning and placeness are the
two most critical dimensions supporting environmental planning and sustainability.
The SLIM case studies are the most recent and reportedly the most effective in using
social learning techniques as a mechanism for the successful management of
environmental problems. These dimensions of environmental issues and social
learning techniques contributed significantly to the success of the Lower 9th in
developing a plan for sustainability restoration. If there is cognitive convergence
among stakeholders using comparable methodologies in resolving similar issues in
SLIM Research Outcomes. http://slim.open.ac.uk/page.cfm?pageid=resout.
2008, Page 1.
30 Rose, Richard, Lesson-Drawing In Public Policy: A Guide To Learning Across
Time And Space, Chatham House Publisher, Inc. Chatham, New Jersey. 1993. Page
3. Emphasis added by me to key constituent of the process.
Europe then there may be grounds supporting its application (cognitive convergence)
in the Lower 9th or at the minimum a framework for assessing its effectiveness.
The commonality of these two problems share mutual dynamics; the
environmental management of water catchments(s) and the rebuilding of the Lower
9th, with its degree of complexity over shadowing the ecological constraints and the
number of different stakeholders who are asserting competing interest. The difficulty
facing the Lower 9th in their quest for rebuilding their community and implementing
sustainable guidelines for their environment correlates very strongly with the
processes of environmental management and planning used to address Europes
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) deals primarily with the
issue of clean surface water acceptable levels of ecological goodness and setting a
standard of chemical particulates deemed acceptable. The Directive: 2000/60/EC of
the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 aims at maintaining
and improving the aquatic environment in the community primarily in terms of the
quality of water... Planning is based on defining good ecological and chemical status
and identifying the influence of human pressures on this... The starting point is the
reference condition for that area... The public must be consulted and involved in the
planning process.31 In order to accomplish this objective the European Commission
funded Social Learning for the Management and Sustainable Use of Water at
Catchment Scale (SLIM). SLIM is a multi-country research project as stipulated by
the WFD and its main objective is the investigation of the socio-economic aspects of
the sustainable use of water. Within this theme, its main focus of interest lies in
understanding the application of social learning as a conceptual framework, an
operational principle, a policy instrument and a process of systemic change. A
premise of SLIM is that it is very useful to view sustainability as an emergent
property of stakeholder interaction and not a technical property of the ecosystem
(Blackmore, Ison, & Jiggins, 2007; M. Muro, 2008; Tippett, Searle, Pahl-Wostl, &
How should we deal with and implement the new approaches and new
methodologies applied to common ecological problems? The European Water
Framework Directive is a good place to start. Social learning is increasingly cited as
an essential component of sustainable natural resource and environmental
management and the promotion of desirable behavioral change(M. Muro, 2008).
The multi faceted character of ecological systems has caused theorists and
practitioners to call for wider use of social learning models to address the complexity
of sustainable natural resource management and promote desirable behavioral
31 Policy Briefing No. 1 May 2004. Box 1. Social Learning for the Integrated
Management and Sustainable Use of water at Catchment Scale. Page 1.
change (M. Muro, 2008). SLIM conducted fourteen case studies and these were
developed as twelve monographs. I have examined the case studies and the
monographs and reviewed their research methods and their key findings regarding the
effectiveness of social learning and its ability to transform the behavior of individuals
and institutions in developing policy for managing environmental sustainability. The
policies regarding environmental management toward ecological sustainability as
derived from the findings of SLIM have a high degree of fungibility with dealing with
the environmental issues facing the Lower 9th. The fungibility of programs or policy
is a matter of degree or comparable fit. Rose develops seven hypotheses to
determine the comparable fit. They are as follows:
The fewer the elements of uniqueness, the more fungible a program.
The more substitutable the institutions of program delivery, the more fungible a
The greater the equivalence of resources between governments, the more
fungible a program is.
The simpler the cause and effect structure of a program, the more fungible it is.
The smaller the scale of change resulting from the adoption of a program, the
more fungible a program.
The greater the interdependence between programs undertaken in different
jurisdictions, the more fungible the impact of a program.
32 Ibid. Rose, Richard. Page 118.
The greater the congruity between the values of policy-makers and a programs
values, the greater its fungibility.
If we take each one of these and conduct a comparability analysis we find the
degrees of fit or fungibility correlate strongly. In order to compare the two I have
identified four key components: ecological component, stakeholder component,
government or regulatory component and resource availability.
The first hypothesis stipulated by Rose addresses the concept of uniqueness.
Comparing the two the ecological component is comparable because of the general
environmental degradation of the geographic area. The catchments area being
polluted by human interactions and the Lower 9th is faced with environmental
degradation from flooding as a byproduct of wetlands dying from human interaction.
The demise of the wetlands contributes to the flooding, which in turn causes the
destruction of communities and their infrastructures. They are therefore, similar and
not unique in character. They are as Rose puts it context dependent and the contexts
between them are the same. The stakeholder component is likewise comparable and
context dependent. The case studies show mutual interest and high degrees of
participation and organizing for addressing the issues at hand. The regulatory
component as well as the resource component are context dependent and lack any
obvious gradations of uniqueness.
The second hypothesis stipulated the concept of programs of delivery by
institutions being substitutable. The institutions are herein referred to as formal
organizations of government involved in implementing and delivering programs or
public agencies, which are means to delivering programs. They also include
public/private collaborations for providing means of delivery and implementation of
programs. Substitutability in this case requires only equivalence; that is different
institutions and organizations can perform the same functions.33 34 As in the case of
Europe and the Lower 9th both organized to meet the situation and both devised
through their organizations methods of delivery and implementation. The equivalence
construct takes into account statutory elements that exists or need to be changed to
accommodate addressing the ecological problems and resource availability. Both
showed growing stakeholder involvement with very active engagement among and
The third hypothesis states the greater the equivalence of resources between
governments the greater the likelihood of fit. Both the EU and the United States have
comparable resources to focus on issues of environmental degradation and are
governed by statutory guidelines for processing remedial action to cure the anomalies.
These are enacted at different levels and usually defer in time to the situation locality.
It is the generalized well-being of the public that is at issue. Resources are governed
33 Ibid. Rose. Page 123.
34 Ibid. Rose. Page 124 and 125.
by policy and diffused by statutory programs at various levels. These in turn are
administered, as the need is perceived. Some are urgent and others are more
deliberated through design and planning.
The fourth hypothesis states the simpler the cause and effect structure of a
program the greater the fit. The direct link between cause and effect may be simple or
complex. The programs and policies addressing environmental issues can be and
usually are inherently complex. So the relative degree of complexity between
programs may become an impediment to successful implementation of those
programs and could result in untoward circumstances or wicked problems (Rittel &
Webber, 1973). However, I am not comparing the specific policy or program
between the two, but the context of social learning within the participatory planning
processes. Evidence, from the case studies of SLIM, supports the fact that learning is
taking place and successful planning is the end result. Those same techniques utilized
by SLIM are comparable to the techniques used in the Lower 9th.
The fifth hypothesis states the smaller the scale of change resulting from the
adoption of a program, the more fungible a program will be. The scale of change
resulting from adopting an entirely new program is certainly a non-incremental form
of change.35 It can be abrupt and may result in heightened resistance that will impede
understanding and may derail efforts to achieve the intervention necessary for
successful planning. It may only be a matter of minor changes to an existing
35 Ibid. Rose. Page 135.
program, which mitigates the scale of change and makes adoption easier. Again, I
assert that I am not looking to compare the adoption of specific programs between
New Orleans and the areas focused on through SLIM. Rather, I am looking at
adopting methods that support collective action toward understanding the issues
confronting levels of government, the interest of stakeholders, environmental
awareness, and identifying the necessary resources to accomplish future goals of the
The sixth hypothesis indicates the greater the interdependence between
programs undertaken in different jurisdictions, the more fungible the impact of a
program will be. Rose states, when a program or strategy in one jurisdiction is
influenced by programs addressing related problem in another jurisdiction: instead of
being parallel, programs interact. The solution of similar complex problems resides
in the mutual understand of differing interest among stakeholders and their mutual
construction of content through discourse. It is a form of participatory planning or
interactive learning. The traditional process of participatory planning in Europe and
the United States is comparable. Both processes have mutually influenced each other
for centuries. The interdependence between them is and has been substantiated.
The seventh hypothesis stipulates the greater the congruity between the values
of policy-makers and a programs values, the greater its fungibility. The stakeholders
values of the Lower 9th are embedded in their sense of place and their revealing of
36 Ibid. Rose. Page 136 and 137.
place. The values and the cultural richness are very similar in kind with the
stakeholders facing catchments issues in the EU. The rich cultural history of the
cities, towns and villages are impacted by surface water pollution that degrades their
well-being and erodes ecological system(s). Contrastive inference shows similar
values system between European communities and the Lower 9th which supports the
improvement of environmental management. Many of the European communities
have families that are very much attached to their land and their way of life just like
those in the Lower 9th Ward. The experience and feeling contribute to their mutual
intent of curing the environmental problem and continuing their life in the area where
they know they belong. It is place attachment that motivates individuals and their
families to cure the various maladies inherent in and with environmental issues. The
mutual interest of place and environment establish the foundation of values that
inspire collective action. The values shared by stakeholders at all levels cohere
between the methodologies being applied within the social learning structure.
The case studies examined are logically consistent with the framework issued
by Rose in his lesson-drawing paradigm. The effectiveness of social learning as an
instrument for developing environmental management policy has proven itself over
the past several years. It is not seen as a substitute for traditional methods of
addressing ecological planning issues, but as an essential addition to them.
Social learning is a dynamic process which enables individuals to engage in new
ways of thinking together to address problems such as the unsustainable use of water.
As such social learning practices help us to:
Recognize and reframe our mental models.
See issues through fresh eyes.
Resolve social dilemmas.
Define and articulate what we value.
Discover a shared purpose.
See through conflicting views to a shared vision for the common good.
When regulation and inducement fail to guarantee adequate stewardship of natural
resources, social learning may be a more powerful lever for change.37
The process of social learning affords a reordering of information through the
notion of networking (Blackmore et al., 2007; Brown et al., 1989; Brown & Adler,
2008; Collins & Ison, 2007). The notion of informal networking is a way of
coordinating shared activity and is an effective way to cross boundaries, of
disciplines, organizations, hierarchies and scales and creates spaces for learning.
The informal networking utilized by SLIM is very comparable to the stoop culture of
the Lower 9th, which provided invaluable knowledge contacts through simple direct
To quote one of the participants in the Lower 9th: I have learned so much just by I
was here, just by being here. The word - many cities have a stoop culture. Youve
used that relating to our neighborhood. But Ive learned a lot from that stoop culture.
All I have to do is sit on my stoop and sooner or later somebody is gonna come by
and talk to me. They may ask me something, well have a conversation and Ill find
out this or that. I have learned a lot through the neighborhood association, just
through the bigger meetings and our smaller one. But for me, because Im here and
myself and Liza Jane (my dog) were here early on, after the hurricane, and just
roaming the neighborhood we talk to people and get names and information and give 38
38 SLIM Case Study Monograph # 3 van Slobbe, E. (2004) The Overijsselse Vecht in
the Netherlands, and #5 Gibbon, D., Powell, N., Roggero, P. and Toderi, M., (2004)
Dialogical tools: a methodological, platform for facilitation and monitoring social
it to the meetings we have to learn. We all do this and we all learn what up and whos
This type of information contributes to essential understanding of the out-of-the-
box-issues the real issues facing environmental management and sustainability: not
just the standard policy jargon famishing the general public as to what is going on and
what is going to happen and when. The information and knowledge garnered by this
type of processes (informal networking/stoop culture) is the order of the 3rd type. Its
shape is messy and falls into what Weinberger calls miscellaneous, but essential for
constructing content. And knowing occurs in the act of constructing content to
assess the issues and address possible solutions knowledge is conversation (Berger
& Luckmann, 1966; Brown & Adler, 2008; Holden, 2008; Keen et al., 2005).
When considering the extensive research conducted by the SLIM case studies
over the past ten years, what evidence do we have that the process of social learning
is relevant to environmental sustainability and for that matter of practical use in
participatory design and planning? What evidence is presented that actual learning
takes place from this type of collective interaction? What are the impediments and/or
negative attributes of social learning or interactive learning as it is sometimes referred
to in the twelve case studies? In order to address these questions it is important to
39 Ibid. Wienberger. Page
understand the variables used in the modeling of the situations being address in each
of the Case Study Monograms (CSM)40:
Systems of Interest This is simply the physical ecological area of mutual
stakeholder interest that suffers any environmental degradation and needs to
become sustainable. It is viewed as an ecological system of interest.
Ecological Constraints Are usually the emergent detrimental properties of
the collective impact of individual activities.41 However, they for the most
part are pending threats of natural phenomena i.e. flooding, erosion, etc.
Stakeholders These are the individuals and the bodies represented in the
platform that has been formed to manage the system of interest.
Institutional support Platforms created within institutional frameworks and
are charged to deal with resource dilemmas, but are generally devoid of
statutory power. These platforms are simply an aggregate of representatives of
stakeholders and their associated networks. However, the individuals and
organizations that derive power from them will resists giving up their power
or allowing it to be transferred to the platform.
Facilitation This is referred to, as the intervention required putting into
interaction people who are in a situation of interdependence Facilitators are
40 SLIM CSM # 1 Page 47 and CSM # 4 Page 24.
41 SLIM-CSM #1 Page 25.
engaged to induce negotiated agreement, conflict resolution and concerted
action on specific issues.42
Conducive policy Policy context within which the platform operates.
Learning processes SLIM research considers learning as a process of
knowing based on experience and practice. The social in interactive learning
refers to the collective process that can take place through interactions among
interdependent stakeholders given proper facilitation, institutional support
and conducive policy environment.43
Capacity building The recognition of learning opportunities to cure
deficiencies needed for environmental management.
Now taking these variables into account, consider Figure 2 1 below.44
42 SLIM CASE # 1 Page 29.
43 SLIM Policy Briefing The Role of Learning Processes in Integrated Catchment
Management and the Sustainable Use of Water, Briefing No. 6. May 2004. Page 1.
44 SLIM CSM #4 The Nitrate Problem in Serra de Conti and Montecarrotto (Marche,
Italy) May 2004. Page 48.
This model shown as Figure 2-1 represents a heuristic of the CSMs of SLIM
in which an adverse environmental situation exists in some geographic location and
the starting point of the case study is with the history of that particular situation. The
vertical axis represents progressive changes in practices and the horizontal line
represents progressive changes in understanding. The large irregular shaped line in
the center represents the total ISSUE at hand with the variables embedded in the
ISSUE with social learning interacting within and among the variables enabling the
transformative migration of changes in practices and changes in understanding. This
over simplified model is indicative of what came into play and how the methodology
of social learning assisted in the transformation of behavior.
Now that we have the basic framework of how it works conceptually I want to
focus on the substantive questions regarding social learning as stakeholders and
researchers experienced it during and after the research. The results from all twelve
case studies are generally the same. There is no significant differentiation regarding
social learning in any of the case studies. The stakeholder interviews with the
researchers during mid-October 2003 from CSM #2 indicated that social learning was
occurring. Their reports were in the nature of self-reporting and not of a quantitative
nature. The self-reports were measured, again subjectively, by empirical evidence
collected by the researchers. The results correlated strongly with the data at hand on
the individual case and then compared with the other case studies, which gave
comparable results. The researchers graphically show their perceptions in the
following diagram shown here as Figure 2-2.
Figure 2-2. The four dimensions of social learning as recognized by stakeholders
and researchers participating in SLIM45
The researchers have depicted the self-reporting results by learning systems
and discovery learning and by inter-dependence and self-organization. They took the
self-reports and categorized them in the following manner.
In Quadrant A: Discovery learning Interdependence
Typical reflections from the stakeholders as reported by the researchers:
Its all about creating a one world feeling among Nature, Water, and
Agriculture, while each have a different language and culture.
45 SLIM CSM # 2 A & 2B Effects of Social Learning May 2004. Page 103.
"Its all about people themselves doing, seeing, measuring, interpreting,
assessing, then bringing that experience into the wider discussion
"Its a shared learning process. That means you can try out new ways to find
your own meaning and purpose, together with others.
"Its about creating new understanding and new practices among the largest
number of people possible, and not about imposing the best technical
"Different stakeholders working together around a concrete action, thats
what creates learning opportunities, also for bestruurders, and an
understanding of inter-dependence.
"The main effect of the weirs is that now Nature, Farming, and Water
stakeholders can sit round the table together and talk about something
concrete, that connects management decisions to what happens to the
hydrological system, based on a shared experience.
The researchers inferred from the commentary that the stakeholders have learned
that effective action on issues at hand require a new type of relationship, which is
informed by the process of discovery learning between the action that is taken and the
environment in which it is taken and a new type of relationship with the actors
involved with the system of interest.46 A form of interdependence emerges that has an
ecological and a social dimension associated with it. It is stressed that the discovery
learning process is in reality the blending of the two components: ecological and
social. They each impact the other.
46 Ibid. SLIM CSM # 3 Page 103.
Quadrant B: Discovery learning Self-organization
Typical comments from stakeholders:
The real eye opener is how important the weirs have been in creating understanding
and willingness to work together thats almost more important than the technical
You take people into the field and confront them with the perceptions of others, you
let them learn what works in practice, so that in the end everyone comes to own the
problem and be responsible for solving the problem.
We need a process to couple practical and policy knowledge. Thats what excites me
about this project.
Theres real value in the decentralized way in which we are now working, with an
open ear role as we move around with farmers, and the autonomy to make choices
about how we work together on water conservation. It's enormously empowering.
The researchers concluded that the stakeholders responded in a very positive way,
when they shared action around an object, in this case the weirs, that in effect
mobilized their efforts by bringing in actors from the wider system and therefore into
a new relationship. The process becomes self-renewing and self-organizing.
This action in and of itself becomes a form of learning and it is interactive and it is
relationship based and therefore social in nature.
Quadrant C: Interdependence Learning systems
Typical stakeholder comments:
Social learning that doesn t mean that stakeholders stop disagreeing with each
other but it does mean that they come to understand each others position, needs, and
priorities. It means they stop fighting each other and are willing to trust in the
relationship that is created among them as they learn to work together.
"We were so proud of our professional water management but when other
stakeholders began to talk with us, we realized we had missed some important
considerations new questions and challenges began to emerge.
Now their is this relationship with the water boards we have the opportunity to
continue to learn about how farming, Nature and water management affect each
other and can contribute to each others goals. The more we know, the more it will
The researchers suggest that a multi-stakeholder process of continuous learning,
which is embedded in institutional relationships is of great value to the overall
process and should be encouraged.47 It appears on the surface that what the
researchers are saying here is that they have empirical evidence through participant
self-reporting and from researcher observations of the activities over time, supporting
a causal relationship between multi-stakeholder and interactions with the platforms,
which are managing the systems of interest.
Quadrant D: Self-organization Learning systems
Typical stakeholder comments:
"Self-organizing systems are learning systems.
"Its not a master plan its a learning pathway. You begin in action, take small
steps, and then you seek more partners and broader actions. Its then a question of
supportive what is working and making sure there are clear and measurable
indicators of continuing progress.
Now, with this approach, it has led to more supple discussions among all parties,
No-ones ideas are holy ground any more. Theres a greater willingness to seek out a
local level innovative ways to meet the policy goals. Why did the stakeholders in the
47 Ibid. SLIM CSM #2 Page 104.
beginning fell so powerless? It was because each one was trying to reach his goals
independently of the other. Now we are learning that we can score our own goals
better when we work together, by working together, the whole system becomes
stronger and richer.
It is obvious from the comments given by the stakeholders that they believe they are
making progress in understanding the issues and are pleased with the relational
grounding they are achieving by a leaming-by-doing process and its interactive
mechanism scaffolding the interaction.
Negative aspects of social learning as reported by the researchers based on comments
Some of the stakeholders interviewed by the researchers were skeptical of the process
and questioned the possible end results. The main criticisms were:
No form or structure.
Too much room for free riders.
Too time consuming.
Its all about creating the conditions for voluntary compliance!
There is no way to monitor social learning.
There is no way to measure social learning. 48
48 Ibid. SLIM CSM #2, Specific comment one stakeholder made during interview.
May 2004. Page 105.
There is no guarantee of success.
You cannot build something with loose screws. (Same as footnote #43)
The researchers did not give any response to these criticisms in this specific
section of their assessment. In other studies within SLIM the researchers
acknowledge that most of the criticisms could easily be of traditional methods of
environmental management as well as other types of participatory processes. Social
learning methodology does not afford a perfect path to understanding or to managing
these difficult issues, this fact does not negate the common recognition that
collectively we must find better ways to address the complexities of ecological
instabilities otherwise the ecological debt will be too great a burden for us to pay. The
untoward consequences impact our very existence.
The researchers did give commentary regarding stakeholders perception of what
they believed were necessary conditions and success factors for effective social
learning. The following quotes give a conceptual framing of their thinking:49
In order to participate in this sort of process, you have to be clear, and strong,
concerning your own interests. Only then can you seek to mange the tensions between
national law and what it is useful to do on the ground, amidst the competing claims of
The state and the provinces have to make clear the framework conditions if social
learning is going to work.
49 Ibid. SLIM CSM # 2 Page 106.
These are the two main necessary conditions for social learning that became
prominent from the interviews of the stakeholders. It is the consensus of the
stakeholders that if these conditions are not articulated in some similar format then
the probable outcome will not comport with desired expectations.
Four success factors were proffered as essential to achieve a desired outcome.50
First: The Overall Process Management
The process is very important. The Province must act as the guardian of the
The process must be anchored in the experience of people on the ground.
You must begin in inter-action, create a climate of acceptance, provide stimulation,
create a sense of obligation, and as quickly as possible get everyone involved in
doing something in practice. And you must seize the opportunities created by having
the right people in the right place at he right time.
Second: Communication Processes
The communication process has to be well organized. It has to be facilitated. If
someone says, yes, I now understand your interest in this matter but it doesnt
change my own views , in my experience this represents a breakdown in
communication rather that a weakness or failure of the social learning approach.
Communication is the basis for creating the content for mutual understanding and
the real issues before us.
50 Ibid. SLIM CSM # 2, 4, 5 and from Policy Briefings. The necessary conditions for
success and the success factor vary slightly by case study. The comments and quotes
herein are from page 106 and 107 of CSM # 2.
Third: Creation of Mutual Trust
Creating mutual trust without this you cannot make progress.
Mutual trust is essential in creating an environment, which affords meaningful
Without trust among the participants the focus goes back to self-interest and not on
Fourth: Inter-action on an Area Basic
The social learning value is greatly increased when you take an approach based on
a area accord .
We must have agreement on the needed basic environmental elements that support
its capacity and its self renewal.
These success factors contribute well in regards to formulating some general critical
success factors, but I realized from my research in NOLA that what may be Critical
Success Factors (CSFs) in one situation may very well not apply in other areas. This
aspect is recognized by the researchers in SLIM and is pointed out in several of their
CSMs. One of the surprising findings from examining these CSMs is that there was
no consensus as to having a collective goal established at the very beginning of the
social learning process. As the researchers pointed out opinions ran from The
provinces look after the collective goals of society" to the statement of No
collective goals are necessary; it is more important to know what the goals and stakes
of each person or institutions are, and what your own goals are, and then to find a
process in which each can gain something.
In contrast to this assessment, the Lower 9th started with a goal of reclaiming
their land, their homes, their community and their sense of place with the collective
understanding that things may change in the process, but unless we know where we
are going how ya gonna know when ya get there, as Charles Allen, president of the
Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, stated at the very first recovery meeting.
Their collective goals did change as a result of the social learning processes. And as
the learning continued, they were reinforced with a degree of certitude, which was
lacking in the very beginning.
The SLIM researchers gave a report as to their reflections on social learning
based on their finding and the interviews. The following summarizes the capstones
and I quote:51
Social learning becomes attractive as a policy coordination mechanism when
the experience of conflict and hard regulation suggest that it is necessary to
find another path.
Social learning is most effective when deployed in association with other
51 The reflections by the researches are quoted from: SLIM CSM # 2 Page 107 and
Water tight regulation reduces the scope for social learning; stimulation
complements social learning.
Clear conditions that guide and support social learning within the framework
that is established.
The development of a shared meta language allows stakeholders to reflect
more deeply on the process that has occurred.
Social learning allows more scope for explicit experimentation, remedy of
mistakes, and change of course, at various scales of inter-action.
Social learning develops an awareness of inter-dependence that becomes
internalized in behaviors and practices and institutionalized in new routines.
The actions that are possible are to a considerable extent locked into history.
Social learning allows stakeholders to reflect on the implications of bottom
line assumptions, to enter holy ground, to draw new boundaries around
As the researchers indicated their ideas about social learning and its
application to resolving complex environmental issues have been enriched and
challenged. There is a place in the coordinating systems and processes to utilize the
social learning protocols, but it is conditional and those conditions must be met in
order to achieve the very modicum of success. Many aspects of the SLIM protocols
of social learning found their way into the interactions of the Lower 9th some of them
were intentional and others were not and those seem to come into play in a very
natural and subtle manner.
SOCIAL LEARNING AND ENVIRONMENTAL MANGAGEMENT IN THE
LOWER 9th GENERAL DISCUSSION OF OUTCOMES
If we do not take care of ourselves, here and now, we are going to lose our
place, our community and our culture. This was the rallying call from the former
president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, during one of the first
meetings of the association after the hurricane. She continued, Otherwise, the
planners and government officials are going to close us down and shut us out. They
are already talking about designating the Lower 9th a no build zone, because most of
our property is below sea level. If we do not act we will not be able to rebuild our
homes or renew our way of life in our community. Our very survival is at stake!
Pam Dashiel and Charles Allen were the principals that started the grass roots effort
to reclaim their places, rebuild their community and started organizing to do it. Pam
and Charles acted as the first facilitators and brought in the community stakeholders
as they began moving back into the community. The start was slow, but rapidly
gained momentum particularly after being selected by Tulane/Xavier Center for
Bioenvironmental Research and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources in
February 2006 as a pilot project to demonstrate how to restore and/or rebuild
Before the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association joined forces with the rest
of the Lower 9th and began organizing efforts to collect information as to what was
going on with the city planning and other government agencies; they held meetings
with local government officials; FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineering and many
volunteer groups that were coming in to assist in clean up efforts for the rebuilding.
In these meetings stakeholders began to assign each other tasks to get information on
all aspects of the recovery effort. They became a self-organizing community of
stakeholders and as L. W. Milbrath coined the term a self educating community.
Social learning started in the Lower 9th because of this effort in their community.
They became a community of interest and a community of practice with a common
purpose. Their common purpose was embedded in the values shared mutually among
them for reclaiming their place and their homes. The concept of value is certainly
relative, but it seems the community stakeholders had given a definition to value that
everyone accepted. Value is something one acts on irrespective of resources
available. If you do not value something, you will not act on it regardless of the
They lifted each others spirits as the need arose. Many of them admitted that
the meetings became very therapeutic and inspirational. They looked forward to
going to the meetings for that purpose. There seemed to be no problem in getting
people to the meetings to participate in the process (See Figure 3-1). 52
52 From this point on when I speak of the Lower 9th I am including the Holy Cross
Figure 3-1. Typical stakeholders meeting
They expressed concern for each others safety and often looked in on each other,
outside of meetings, to make sure they were all right. They were greatly concerned
about their environment their place. How was the government going to manage
changing the levees to make them safer and how were they going to treat the wetlands
to protect their community? They were practicing social learning by going through all
of these various concerns and conditions confronting the community. Social learning
is the collective action and reflecting that occurs among different individuals and
groups as they work to improve the management of human and environmental
interrelations, social learning for improved human interrelations with the environment
must ultimately include us all, because we are all part of the same system (Keen et
al., 2005). They spoke openly about every scale of activity and tried to assess how it
was to help or hinder their interest. This quickly became a major concern for the
stakeholders of the community. They were not bashful about expressing what their
own interest was and wanted to know how it was going to be satisfied. In many cases
the personal interest were at odds with the expressed interest of the community. The
most frequent example was for the individual homeowner wanting to immediately
start rebuilding their home as it was: as they remembered. While the community
interest was to focus on building their homes for sustainability to enhance the value of
the community and to create better harmony with the conditions of their environment.
This entailed redesigning the homes and building them elevated and stronger to
withstand higher wind conditions, perhaps to design the community as to mitigate
urban wind and the flow of water runoff. Who would prevail in this simmering issue?
There is no individual without interest and there is no group without interest.
There are times when the interest of the individual and the interest of the group are in
contraposition (Olson, 1965). The real basic issues with which urban designers and
planners must contend, is that of competing interest regardless of the situation. Whose
interest is being served by the implementation of policy that will govern the well
being of a community and its members? Its intention prima facie is to promote and
serve the will of the public. How do public officials, urban designers and planners
know the will of the people unless the people are willing to participate in some format
that will enable them to profess their desires?
The city of New Orleans began very soon after the hurricane, to address the
re-planning of areas destroyed by holding open planning sessions with the public in
different areas of the city. These sessions were very much a Top-Down agenda
guided by a planning official or city government official supported by various
individuals who possessed assumed expertise on planning/rebuilding issues. The
process was clearly a second order of order: a deferral of knowing to the so-called
experts. This was a noble effort, but it had many false starts and failings along the
way. The city-planning department was just not structured to handle the inordinate
magnitude they faced. I attended several of the meetings and observed the give and
take of interest to be very strident with the public leaving with unsettled feelings of
doubt expressed verbally and with their countenance.
The Times-Picayune, the dominant local newspaper, was most critical of the
public/planning process as managed by the city and expressed concern of tacit
collusion on the part of the city government and planning department as well as the
specialists hired by the city to steward the process of cleaning up and rebuilding
communities. The inference drawn from the tacit collusion was that the government
was just affording public participation as window dressing and the real decisions and
real direction of rebuilding was already in the works in the back offices of city hall.
The competing interests of Federal and State governments and the city, the
communities, and the individuals were obviously hanging on funding, as well as, on
new policy formulation and its implementation. The same concerns confronted the
constituents of the Lower 9th. As the city continued these open public forums they
began to allow the various parishes to start putting together their own planning
strategies with the help of hired consultants whose skill set would help guide the
communities along the venues necessary to submit their plans and negotiate some
As part of the social learning process the Lower 9th had open dialogue
encouraging all stakeholders to express their greatest fears regarding their personal
interest and what they thought the interest of the community the Lower 9th should
When we look at the application of the social learning process framework that
facilitated the participatory planning effort for the Lower 9th we see that it took on the
very same type of model as expressed in Chapter 2 (Figure 2 1) as the heuristic of
transformation indicated by SLIM. This may be expressed in the following model
(Figure 3 2).
Figure 3-2. Lower 9th social learning and behavioral transformations
The existing situation consisted of a community in a low-lying area that had
been destroyed and it was facing several ecological constraints. The community
began to collectively understand their situation. They transformed that understanding
to action that would change the situation in the future toward concerted action to
become sustainable by transforming their environment as place. The variables
associated with the issues facing the Lower 9th are very comparable to those
confronting the EU environmental management process dealing with the demise of
water catchments. The relative success of their approach utilizing social learning
If we compare the variables between the Lower 9th and the SLIM directive we
see strong correlation between the two.
Variables used by SLIM Variables used by Lower 9th
Systems of interest Environment as Place
Ecological Constraints Flooding, Wetlands, Levees
Institutional support Institutional support
Conducive Policies Existing Codes and Regulations
Learning Processes Leaming/networking
Capacity Building Exploiting Opportunities
Comparative context of the variables are:
System of interest and environment as place. The SLIM researchers identified
geographical areas of interest as expressed by stakeholders that were in
decline and/or polluted and needed environmental restoration/mitigation. The
Lower 9th stakeholders took the notion that their environment was place and
as such needed the land to become part of a holistic system having capacity to
sustain itself. This collective view supported the movement within the
community to adopt plans to become self-sufficient, off the grid, use only
what you need, respect the land by restoring it to allow it to have its own
capacity to sustain itself.
In the SLIM EU cases ecological constraints were viewed as degraded areas
suffering from exploitation of the collective impact of individual activities.
Where as the Lower 9th regarded ecological constraints as environmental
threats such as floods, storm surges, islands of ecological dearth in and around
their neighborhood, degradation of the wetlands due primarily to untoward
activities of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Stakeholders in both Europe and in New Orleans are pretty comparable. The
struggle of competing interest between the collective and the individual is
grounded on the same value structure. The main differentiation is the fact that
the Lower 9th was literally fighting for the reclamation of their homes and
The institutional support as expressed in the case studies of SLIM showed that
certain institutions provided platforms organized and funded within
institutional frameworks to deal specifically with resource dilemmas. These
may or may not act in the best interest for the resolution of environmental
problems. There is likelihood of it being an impediment to the solution or the
process contending with other stakeholders. The Lower 9th collaborated with
major institutions such as universities, planning companies, volunteers and
volunteer institutions that had the same purpose of helping with achieving
sustainability for the community. The collaborative efforts were supported
from resources garnered from those institutions. The social capital (networks)
led to intellectual capital (mutual understanding) and political capital
(constituencies) (Randolph, 2004).
Facilitation within the SLIM framework acted as an intervention mechanism
to induce negotiated agreements and conflict resolution. Within the
framework of the Lower 9th the facilitation effort was with an individual or a
team of individuals with the purpose of providing support and direction on
issues that confounded interaction with governmental agencies. The B Team
was particularly instrumental in grounding a solid understanding of
procedures and the dynamics in dealing with compliance issues, building
codes, and environmental guidelines. The facilitators encouraged, enlightened,
motivated, and at times cajoled the stakeholders into action.
Conducive policies under the aegis of SLIM refer specifically to those policies
through which platforms operate. The platforms are guided by the knowledge
embedded in the policy or policies that address the resource dilemma. If these
policies are supportive in a facilitating manner it leads to greater resource
acquisition to manage the resolution of the dilemma. As for the Lower 9th
many of the existing policies and procedures were not adequate for managing
the existing problem much less the future wicked problems on the horizon.
The stakeholders of the Lower 9th had to negotiate new policies and
procedures to address the plan that would ensure environmental sustainability.
Learning processes of both SLIM and the Lower 9th were and are very
comparable. The strength of the learning processes derived from the learning
partnerships (networks of communities of learning)) formed and the learning
platforms (representatives of stakeholders from government and citizens
processing usable information from the learning partnerships) managing the
process of planning, mitigating and rebuilding. The most important aspect of
the learning process is found in the learning ethos, which includes the ethic
and values shared mutually by the stakeholders, the facilitators, the skilled
practitioners, and the private/public partnerships joined in the common
purpose of make it right.'
The strong comparative aspect of each of these variables adds significance and
credibility to social learning as a facilitating mechanism in the participatory process
toward achieving their goal of environmental and community sustainability.
The social learning that took place in the Lower 9th may be viewed as a form of
cognitive convergence (See Figure 3 3). 53 54
Interest (individual & collective) Values Goals Norms Behaviors Knowledge
53 Make It Right Foundation dedicated to the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward.
54 Ibid. Keen, Brown, and Dyball
Cognitive convergence occurs by and through iterative discussions/conversations
that are reflexive and reflectively guided by and through learning partnerships. Such
dialogue takes the aggregate views of stakeholders who suspend judgment and
commit themselves to listen, contribute and engage in openness toward harnessing the
collective intelligence of the group (Isaacs, 1999).
Conversation in this regard is thought of as thinking together. The very term
conversation means to turn together. It is a fact that dialogue is a conversation in
which people think together in relationship to one another and with objects of focus.
The meaning of dialogue is derived form the Greek words of dia and logos. Dia
means through and logos mean word or meaning. Dialogue literally becomes a
flow of meaning. The process of discourse, on the surface, appears to take the
position of simplicity and includes all forms of text. Text can be anything from the
written word to the perception of things in our meaningful environment. Our
sensibilities filter and guide such engagement. Communication via conversing takes
center stage as the focal point of mediating content and understanding. We talk all
the time. Converse to ourselves and others in a manner that no second thought is
rendered from prattle to seriousness. But in the realm of participatory planning the
framework of social learning conversation takes on a dimension of seriousness and
complexity, because personal and collective interests, as well as, untoward
consequences are at stake. Conversation is the fulcrum of collective action: engage,
inform, and restore.55 These three words engage, inform, and restore define resilience
in the context of Make it Right. Figure 3-4 graphically depicts the complexity of
conversation and gives a good description of discourse in social learning.
"to tum together"
to weigh out
Reflective Dialogue Generative
Suspend Explores underlying Dialogue
Listening causes, rules, and Invents
without k assumptions to get w to deeper questions ' unprecedented
resistance; possibilities and
dis-identify and framing of new insights;
problems produces a
fFundamental\ \choice point J Skillful collective flow
Analytic, uses hard k data to get to ' Tension and
(Productive , to problems; reasoning made
Defensiveness) / explicit
"to ward off,
Figure 3-4. Isaacs conversation diagram56
55 From an interview with Pam Dashiel and Charles Allen III.
56 Isaac, William, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Currency Publishing,
new York, 1999, Page 41.
We meet to converse (to turn together) and to deliberate (to weigh out) issues
confronting us. We defend or we suspend our position on issues concerning our
interest, hopefully in constructive ways. It is convergence of conversations that
renders knowledge that we collectively act on. That is to say concepts, theories,
norms, goals indicators, symbols, etc. come together so that multiple autonomous
actors become integrated and able to act collectively by achieving consensus (Ison et
al., 2007; Keen et al., 2005). The goal is to reach the level of generative dialogue to
promote new ideas and new actions, which enables one to point to what you do not
How did social learning work in the Lower 9th?
The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association has had experience in the traditional
forms of participatory planning and participatory meeting(s) generally referred to as
open forum meetings. But these meetings had a certain order and protocol designed to
move their business along. Typically these meeting did not have the passion and
intensity that I witnessed at the meetings whose agenda was filled with angst
regarding the slowness of officials and departments responsible for restoration of
basic day-to-day services, or the clean up and rebuilding of the community. The
57 Ibid. Isaacs, Page 74.
slowness and apathy of public agencies spurred action on the part of individuals in the
community to act and act now. This precipitated the basis to act as a collective. My
observations and the commentary from stakeholders allowed me to formulate a list of
attributes or conditions that were necessary and/or sufficient for social learning to
occur in the Lower 9th.
The attributes needed to operationalize social learning as part of participatory
planning in the Lower 9th are as follows:
An accepted common purpose
The stakeholders of the Lower 9th embraced each other for the common
purpose of rebuilding and reclaiming their homes and their place. This was and still is
a very strong motivating force giving each resident the will to move mountains if
necessary to get their lives back. They recognized the formidable task it would be for
each of them to act alone to fight for what they wanted, but collectively they showed
power and fortitude through a common purpose. The logical place to begin any
systematic study of organization is with their purpose(01son, 1965). A common
purpose makes the organization a cooperative system, which improves the
effectiveness and the efficiency of their mutual efforts to achieve their goal(s). It also
becomes the unifying and coordinating principle for the organization. Purpose is the
embodiment of an organizations recognition that its relationships with its diverse
stakeholders are interdependent. In short, purpose is the state of their collective moral
A vested emotional commitment toward an object
Their emotional commitment was fixed on their place. It is the place where
their memories claimed experience and identity through story moments. It is the
recognition of social and political influences operating through society that shape the
identity of places (Keen et al., 2005). Those story moments are deliberate conscious
and strategic acts of thought, which reveal place. It is fundamental to human
existence that we engage with our surroundings they are a reflection of our actions
and our aspirations(Keen et al., 2005). It is the existential or lived space that has
such an emotional hold on the stakeholders of the Lower 9th. We do not grasp space
only by our senses ... we live in it, we project our personality into it, we are tied to it
by emotional bonds; space is not just perceived ... it is lived (Relph, 1986). We
interact constantly with the physical setting; the activities associated with place and
meaning. Relph in his influential work on place and placelessness, identifies three
components of place: physical setting, activities, and meanings. He argues that of
58 Bartlett, C and Ghoshal, C. Changing the Role of Top Management: Beyond
Strategy to Purpose, Harvard Business Review, (1994) November December, pp.
these three components, meaning(s) is probably more difficult to grasp than the
others, and yet it is of vital importance. Architects and planners, in not considering
the meanings that places have to individuals and groups, run the risk of destroying
authentic places and/or producing inauthentic ones. About the same time, Canter
suggested a similar three-part model of place, derived from psychological studies.
Place, according to this model, results from the relationship between actions,
conceptions, and physical attributes. In particular, Canter claims that the influence of
physical attributes on psychological and behavioral processes deserves more
attention. However, he also points out that individuals conceptualize places
differently and that it is therefore important to consider places from the perspective of
their users.59 Martin Heidegger stated, place places man in such a way that it
reveals the external bonds of his existence and at the same time the depths of his
freedom and reality (Relph, 1986). Research by Nancy Kanwisher and Russell
Epstein of MITs McGovern Institute for Brain Research has identified specific area
of our brain they call the parahippocampal place area (PPA) where they believe
cognitive functions relate to stimuli of place.60 Perception of place causes stimului
within the PPA, which encodes the geometry of the local environment and gives rise
to familiarity, recognition, and attachment. It is a direct primal neurobiological link
59 Gustafson, Per, Meanings of Place: Everyday Experience and Theoretical
conceptualizations, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2001, Vol. 21, Page 6
60 Epstein, Russell and Kanswisher, Nancy, A Cortical Representation of the Local
visual Environment, Nature 392, 598 601 (9 April, 1998) Accepted 16 February
between humans and place. Environment as place is one of the strongest dimensions
that support social learning of sustainability.
The shareholders had no problem creating trust and informal networks.
Building and developing trust through relationships was critical in establishing the
informal networks. Networks became power. Think of networks as water and think
back to Lao Tzus parable: Nothing under Heaven is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for attacking the hard and strong, nothing can compare with it. The weak
overcomes the strong. The soft overcomes the hard. Everyone knows this, hut none
have the ability to practice it. These networks were/and are still pervasive just as the
element of water is in Lao Tzus parable. In the information age, network power is
what works most effectively. Network power is a shared ability of linked agents to
alter their environment in ways advantageous to these agents individually and
collectively. Network power emerges from communication and collaborates among
individual, public and private agencies, and businesses in a society. Network power
emerges as diverse participants in a network focus on a common task and develop
shared meanings and common heuristics that guide their action. The power grows as
these players identify and build on their interdependencies to create new potential. In
the process, innovations and novel responses to environmental stresses can emerge.
These innovations in turn make possible adaptive change and constructive joint
action (Booher & Innes, 2002).
They (networks) permeated hierarchies, bureaucracies, institutions, colleges,
officials unofficially and many other organizations and people. This was the third
order of order in play with the NOLA planning activities. Yochai Benkler observed
that our mediated information environments is changing from the mass media and
experts control of information, which has been referred to as the one-to-many model
to the many-to-many model. This model represents individuals being connected via
the Internet and producing information and knowledge among and between
themselves. Benkler puts it very succinctly, ...What we see now emerging is a
diversity of forms of attachment and an abundance of connections that enable
individuals to attain discrete components of the package of desiderata that community
has come to stand for in sociology. As Wellman puts it: Communities and societies
have been changing towards networked societies where boundaries are more
permeable, interactions are with diverse others linkages switch between multiple
networks, and hierarchies are flatter and more recursive ...Their work and community
networks are diffused, sparsely knit, with vague, overlapping, social and spatial
boundaries.61 This interconnectedness allows individuals of the Lower 9th to access
61 Benkler, Yochai, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms
Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn. 2006, Page 366.
and acquire meaningful information that transforms into knowledge of and
knowledge about their interest.
The data, information, facts, and knowledge they brought to the meetings
were astounding. In many cases it was too much. On several occasions at
neighborhood meetings invited officials from the city government, or FEMA, or the
Army Corps of Engineers would be asked questions regarding specific concerns or
policies being drafted and these officials would opine ignorance about it or just deny
it. Yet sitting in the meeting were stakeholders who would stand up and give the
answer they had received via their informal network, much to the embarrassment of
the official(s). The network system operated on trust and that trust was never broken.
The networks provided fuel for the learning partnerships and knowledge
relationships. Knowledge relationships flourished with colleges and universities. The
colleges and universities would provide volunteers for design charettes,
environmental designs, or site analysis and informal discussion groups about
changing toward a sustainable community and environment. These unique
relationships also allowed students and faculty members to discuss and explain many
of the concepts, which guide the planning process and manage environmental issues.
Critical to the success of social learning is developing understanding of the
issues and the consequences of planning policy in dealing with those issues. Mutual
understanding and the confidence associated with that understanding is critical in the
transformation toward consensus of action. Understanding contributes to decision
making by the collective. Decision-making is made through consensus on formulation
of plans of action, resource acquisition, and resource allocation. Many of the
relationships established vis-a-vis networking contributed significantly to the process
of consensus toward a better understanding of processes.
In the context of social learning in the Lower 9th, political capital refers to
constituencies under the political domain that provides conducive policy (conducive
policy is one of the key variables in the SLIM research program.) for achieving the
goals formulated by the Lower 9th. Knowledge is embedded in policy and this
attribute is of value when change is proposed in new planning policies dealing with
environmental sustainability. Many existing policies are inadequate for handling the
complexities communities and local governments are faced with when establishing
guidelines of sustainable communities. But the knowledge (why the policy was
formulated, what constraints influenced its formulation, and why it will not work)
associated with the policy is significant in forming new policy. Trust between the
political side and the community are tenuous in the best of times. Knowledge
boundaries will be rendered impermeable by lack of trust(Keen et al., 2005).
Informal networking granted bridging the differences in issues and assisted in
creating trust between government officials, administration and specialist
departments. The liaison afforded through networking enable the community to forge
learning platforms and learning partnerships with specific units of the government
that assisted in developing new understanding and the formulation of new planning
policies for rebuilding and moving toward environmental sustainability.
The creation of learning partnerships was most significant in the social
learning process for the Lower 9th, because it afforded access to resources:
manpower, brain power, financial contributions, additional members to the informal
network and the open ended dialogue that gave the stakeholders information and
knowledge about critical elements of rebuilding, sustainability and environmental
management. The association with the various groups emerged as another self-
organization effort within the context of the participatory/social-leaming framework.
Communication between the stakeholders and the learning partnerships was direct,
open and trusting, meaning they established a high level of confidence as to the
information flowing between nodes of the system. Pam Dashiel indicated they have
had more than 1000 volunteers, consisting of a diversity of individuals from the just
plain folks to professionals, assisting the stakeholders of the community at every
level of support and activity. Learning partnerships is also one of the critical
dimensions of social learning for the Lower 9th. These are a few of the organizations
with which the Lower 9th formed learning partnerships. The majority of the learning
partnerships were with volunteer groups such as:
2. Preservation Resource Center
3. National Trust for Historic Preservation
4. Neighborhood Planning Network
5. Tulane Bioenvironmental Department
6. University of New Orleans School of Business
7. LSU Department of Landscape Architecture
8. University of Colorado Department of Landscape Architecture
10. Louisiana Sierra Club
11. University of Florida School of Building Construction
12. Center for Community Sustainability
13. Global Green
14. Common Ground
15. Citizens Against Widening the Industrial Canal
16. Make It Right
The learning platforms are alliances between the community and government
agencies or special units formed by the agencies for the expressed purpose of
coordinating and cooperating with the Lower 9th in their efforts to rebuild and to
become sustainable. They share information and consultation on issues that arise from
the planning process particularly with issues concerning restoration of Bayou
Bienvenue (wetland restoration), site design, code modifications for rebuilding green
homes, green development, and compliance issues.
Learning values and ethics (ethos)
The relationship between the stakeholders of the Lower 9th and their land has
changed. A new stewardship has emerged that embraces a different value system. The
value system is based on the stakeholders renewing their relationship with their land
and their community through the concept of environment as place. The new value
system encompasses the commitment of the stakeholders to mutually support the
collective efforts and formulate a plan of action to achieve sustainable restoration.
This purpose and its value are shown as change in the individual stakeholder and in
the community at large. Its purpose has instrumental value, intrinsic value and
inherent worth. The stakeholders want this change and are pursuing it through
participatory planning within the social learning framework. The stakeholders place a
significant value in change for sustainability and their commitment toward this
perceived change continually reinforces their common purpose individually and
Individual and collective interests are mutually supportive
The reason that individual and collective interests are mutually supportive is
based on their shared values. They both value the land and want to rebuild their
community. Working together through their common purpose creates a cooperative
system more effective and more efficient in achieving individual and collective goals.
Social learning provides a process in which they may learn how and why it is
necessary to cooperate and coordinate as a means to achieving their goals.
I use the term horizontal discourse to emphasize the fact that social learning
requires a conversant dynamic framework that does not recognize top-down or
bottom-up exchanges: it is not hierarchical; it is flat. This means the form of
exchange is very much like the third order of order. It is messy, but open and
revealing. It goes all over the place, but it is not without direction and purpose. The
exchanges are respectful, reflective, and require participants to take time and become
reflexive of their engagement with others regarding the context and content of the
subject matter. It requires suspension of judgment, focused listening, and awareness.
To be aware is to allow our attention to broaden and expand, to include more and
more of our immediate experience causing us to understand what is happening as it
is happening, which engenders first-person knowledge. Social learning becomes
a process of interactive reflection that occurs when we share our experiences, ideas
and environments with others. The importance of reflexivity reflecting on the
learning, which then leads to new learning was a continuing theme in the Case
Study Monograms (CSM) of SLIM. The dialogue process in social learning isnt
seeking outright consensus, but a learning environment to learn to think together. This
process affords sharing understandings and sharing the assumptions, which grounds
the understanding and the reasoning behind the assumptions. 62
62 Ibid. Isaacs. 1999. P 144.
The process of facilitation is critical in the very beginning of utilizing social
learning in the participatory framework. It takes time for participants to get in the
flow of the dynamics and develop an understanding of its rather unstructured nature.
This was one of the criticisms from several of the participants involved in the case
studies research of SLIM. Some people just like structure and are uncomfortable with
the openness of social learning. A good facilitator can use scaffolding techniques to
bring unity and a sense of purpose to the methods of social learning. Observations of
the process in the Lower 9th indicated that most all of the participants made natural
adjustments to the learning environment and within a few weeks they were
comfortable with its informal atmosphere and lack of structure. As the proceedings
progressed, members of the community began to take on the role of teacher,
providing information and suggestions to develop understanding of issues and their
attendant assumptions. Members became very engaged in the processes taking turns
to provide suggestions and information on developing the restoration plan. This
discourse was instrumental in opening suggestions by the participants as to contacts
outside of their community, thus adding impetus to more and more networking. The
group was learning and the individuals were learning, according to their self-
reporting. The group also became more cohesive and was drawn closer together as a
community. The sociality became more obvious as the process continued.
Persons...have common interests in the degree to which they participate in a