Dr. Michelle Bonatti
Dr. Michelle Bonatti

Dr. Michelle Bonatti
Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)
Eberswalder Straße 84
D-15374 Müncheberg, Germany
P: +49 (0)33432 82 218

Sokoine University of Agriculture
Description of PhD-Topic

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires taking strategic actions, the identification of which depends, among others, on transdisciplinary, community engagement, and social learning. Helping communities to build sustainable strategies is complex (it consists on many different and connected processes); especially in communities experiencing food insecurity and vulnerability due to their biophysical situation and their socio-cultural conditions, where it is difficult to access education and trigger collective action. Despite a significant emphasis on a participatory approach, a lack of applicable educational tools for community-based strategy development remains, especially concerning social learning with respect to food security and climate change in the context of vulnerable rural zones. So far, only a few case studies analyzed the value added of integrating in-depth pedagogical processes and implementing educational tools to create sustainable development strategies at the community level. To close this gap, the overall objective of this work is to develop educational tools and improve pedagogical processes that enhance social learning, with particular regard to realizing SDGs 2 and 13 (food security and climate change actions). The hypotheses guiding this work are: a) a constructivist pedagogical frame can be operationalized as an educational tool to enhance social learning in SDGs projects; and b) operationalizing social learning processes can increase the quality of data and project output of sustainable development projects. In this dissertation, a cumulative approach integrating four peer-reviewed scientific articles is structured as follows: Chapter 1, the introduction, outlines the research problem embedded in the sustainable development paradigm as well as the need for, and challenges of, social learning process. Chapter 2 explores the theoretical framing with respect to social learning conceptualization and education theories in further detail, providing the theoretical foundation of this dissertation. The approach adopted in the dissertation is related to the concept of Critical Education embedded in a constructivist paradigm that analyses the importance of the reflection of a practice of conscious, questioning, and forward- thinking education. Chapter 3 provides the research design. This work was completed across three complementary methodological phases, and the field research was embedded in three international research projects. These research projects offered a fertile environment to investigate and address the research questions because they sought to create sustainable development strategies in different rural communities for not just food and nutrition security (SDG 2), but also climate change adaptation (SDG 13). The eight study cases in total were based on vulnerable smallholder’s communities in South America (Brazil) (4 cases) and Sub-Sahara Africa (Tanzania) (4 cases). The Results section (chapter 4) is the main body of this dissertation and comprises four peer-reviewed journal articles. Subsection 4.1 provides a conceptual base of social learning (articles 1 and 2). Subsection 4.2 provides an operational base of social learning (article 3). Subsection 4.3, brings a final assessment as a complementary process for social learning (article 4). The first and second articles provide the conceptual basis for all subsequent studies presented in this dissertation. Through case studies in vulnerable Brazilian communities, psychological and pedagogical aspects of social learning to develop community-based strategies were identified. Four study cases were conducted using structured and semi-structured interviews (n=50). Based on the findings of the first and the second articles, the third paper brings the design and operationalization of educational tools to increase project social learning (participation and ownership). Here case studies in Tanzania are presented, where an innovative educational tool was developed to engage community voices in creating local solutions to food insecurity with a total of 270 residents. This educational tool was developed and tested 16 times, to assess its acceptance, applicability, and replicability in four remote rural communities. The fourth article analyses the potential effects of a sustainable strategy integrating community-based and research-based assessments as complementary process of social learning. A case study using ScalA tools was developed in Tanzania rural communities. Chapter 5 is a synthesis of results. Each subsection provides answers to one of the research questions based on the theoretical and empirical finding produced in the four publications. Through the research findings, the hypothesis cannot be rejected. Chapter 6 provides conclusions, highlighting the key messages of the knowledge developed in this dissertation. Furthermore, in this section, the limitations and aspects needing further study are listed. The main conclusions are summarized as follows: The constructivist pedagogical frame is appropriate for operationalizing an educational tool to enhance social learning in SDGs projects. This finding not only contributes to better understand the mechanisms that enhance social learning, but also represents an advance in the theoretical links between social learning and the Habermas and Freire theories. The social learning process is possible following three main steps. The primary pedagogical step for social learning processes in SDGs projects is to identify and recognize this community knowledge and mental schemes accurately (article 1 and 2). Then, the second pedagogical step concerns the development of local solutions by community members based on a critical understanding of their own life conditions (Codification and Decodification process based on mental schemes transformation). Therefore, through a process Conscientization, a reframing of the community’s future can be created, potentially increasing ownership (article 3). Finally, a third step to promote SDGs projects enhancing social learning is to compare the perceptions of the community and research experts regarding SDG strategies. These are complements to evaluate potential effects of project strategies enhancing the deliberative character of social learning (article 4). These three steps promote the multi-actor dialogue for community-based strategies creation while enriching the understanding of complex situations that the sustainable development projects must handle.



Scale-N is financed by BMEL
Scale-N Zalf