A learning community
What is a learning community?
It is a group of actors who collectively seek to learn from the lessons of their past and present action in order to better lead future action.
What are the specificities of learning communities?
In our societies, we often observe the split between two worlds that come to despise and envy each other: the world of reflection and research on the one hand, and the world of practitioners on the other. A very old distinction that goes back to the three classes of European society: those who fight (today’s decision-makers); those who pray (today’s thinkers and researchers); those who work (today’s practitioners). However, in many areas, this separation is sterile. A learning community puts the actors themselves, based on a collective reflection on their own action, in a research situation: capitalising on past and present action in order to act better in the future.
Learning from accumulated experience
The world is neither a laboratory where solutions are tested by varying different parameters, nor a company that develops prototypes before going to industrial scale.
We learn from the experiences of others. Each one is rooted in a particular context, has been the result of a process that is not reproducible What can we learn from it then? Not "good practices" that simply need to be copied, but guiding principles that prove to be the major conditions for success. It is up to everyone to make the most of them according to their own context, in accordance with the principle of active subsidiarity (read La gouvernance à multi-niveaux).
This is the starting point of the Factory: four local authorities who have pooled their experience and drawn common lessons from it, which has been called the "peer city benchmark".
See the documents :
- Quatre territoires mettent en évidence les points communs de démarches démocratiques de transition conduites sur plusieurs décennies
- La conduite de la transition d’un territoire vers une société durable passe par l’engagement d’une grande diversité d’acteurs
- Une stratégie de transition territoriale repose sur le développement de la capacité de coopération des acteurs
For a territory, being part of a learning community does not mean reinventing the wheel. On the contrary, its primary concern is to have access to a large number of previous experiences in order to learn from or be inspired by them. Learning journeys, organised for example by CERDD, thus serve to meet innovative experiences and to dialogue with those who carry them.
The first role of the Factory, as a learning community, is to bring together for the allied territories the most significant experiences from wherever they come from. They must be easily accessible, presented in a synthetic way. Their indexing should help to grasp the systemic nature of the transition: a given issue, for example the energy efficiency of the housing stock or the evolution of the agri-food system, refers to other issues that are sometimes seemingly remote, such as the mobilisation of local savings, education or biodiversity.
In order to meet the needs of allies, the Factory relies on two complementary documentary collections: its own collection which pools the resource centres of the various allies; the documentary collection of Citego (cities, territories, governance) which presents several thousand cases in a homogeneous manner and indexes them "systemically" with the relational atlas.
From action to action, the mediation cycle
Drawing on the lessons of past and present action to nourish future action, the idea is appealing and yet it is rarely done. It has the appearance of a "short circuit", from producer to consumer of knowledge, but it is only an appearance. Organising a learning community requires understanding and practising the different stages of the ’action to action’ cycle. There are three of them:
Step 1: transforming an action into operational knowledge, useful to oneself and to others, putting it into a narrative, trying to distinguish between what is purely circumstantial and what is more structural, being lucid about the limits of the action despite all the passion and time one has devoted to it . This first stage is the most difficult. It almost always implies accompanying the actors.
Step 2: capitalising on the collective experience. Capitalisation means transforming the flow of information from the action into a capital of knowledge. The guiding idea is that it is by confronting actions of the same nature but carried out in very different contexts that we can sort out what has come from circumstances, specific to each context and each moment, and what, on the contrary, is structural, is found in all contexts. This capitalisation work, preferably carried out by the actors themselves, makes it possible to identify common guiding principles which have proved to be the key to success. The capitalisation carried out by four cities involved for decades in a strategy of change, Loos-en-Gohelle, Grande Synthe, Le Mené and Malaunay, is at the very origin of the Factory. The guiding principles that emerged from this process constitute a frame of reference for action.
Step 3: Disseminate and implement the guiding principles. Experience has shown that the "compendium of experience" provided by the guidelines has a general value, well beyond the learning community that has emerged from them. But the implementation of the Guidelines, even when stated in simple terms, requires real revolutions of institutions and cultures. There is much resistance to this transformation. The third stage aims, through appropriate pedagogical formatting, to share these guiding principles, to show their implications and to initiate the necessary transformations.
Learning communities in the Factory
All of the allies gathered within the Transition Factory have the vocation to constitute a vast learning community. Nevertheless, the stakes are so high and the subject is so vast that the Factory will have to develop, over the years, the habit of taking up challenges as they arise. This habit, this "second nature", will be an essential element of the Factory’s intangible capital. Three types of learning communities are likely to emerge:
- communities of territories, if possible on a regional basis, reflecting together, as the four founding territories did, on the conduct of their transition ;
- thematic communities, in order to deepen together the conditions for the success of a particular aspect of the transition, for example agrifood policies, mobility policies, value creation policies, territorial governance and the training of its actors, deliberative democracy, cooperation between actors; this will be the subject of the thematic workshops.
- methodological communities, for example to gradually develop a doctrine of accompaniment.
The Factory's Thematic Work Areas
They bring together, at the initiative of one of them, various allies, communities, research centres, consultants, regional or national public services interested in a given theme and wishing to draw lessons from the experience accumulated on this subject.
The first step will be to bring together the experiences and reflections available in the two documentary collections Factory and Citego and to see whether any work has already been done to capitalise on experiences. Very often the members of this work camp will also have their own sources of information or their own experience to share. The workshop will aim either to test the guiding principles already identified by applying them in the different contexts of the allies, or to complete them in the light of new experiences, or to develop these guiding principles together. The fruit of this work will benefit all allies by enriching the Factory’s documentary collection. All the work contributes to a common knowledge available to all, inside and outside the Factory.
Particular attention will be paid to the systemic approach of the Factory, linking the policies under discussion to the broader context of transition.
When, on a particular issue, the work of capitalizing on the experience has been done, the territory will be able to draw on the guiding principles that have been highlighted to define its own policy. It will also be able to draw inspiration from certain experiences. It is even the role of learning trips to discover them and to be able to dialogue with their designers.