Journal article

The need for a complexity informed active citizenship education program

Adult education Citizenship Community development


While active citizenship education programs are assumed to have positive benefits for the active citizenship practice of participants (UNESCO, 2009, p. 4), there is actually little evidence that programs do (de Weerd, Gemmeke, Rigter & van Riji, 2005, p. vii). This paper discusses a research project that aimed to determine and increase the impact of an active citizenship education program that incorporates education for sustainability principles.

The inquiry’s findings showed that while the program developed in graduates the active citizenship characteristics desired by Australian governments, graduates encountered significant systemic blocking factors related to power relations when they attempted to put what they had learned during the program into practice. The findings also highlighted the risk of the program producing a cohort of ‘expert citizens’.

To address these findings and improve the interactions and working relationships between program graduates, paid community workers and other community members, a new program has been developed that is informed by complexity and adult education planning theory.

This new program recognises active citizenship as a ‘wicked’ problem, takes a systemic innovation approach, incorporates a participatory budgeting process, and supports participants to pass on their skills and knowledge to other community members.

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