Social Innovation in Environmental Education Research

Part of our mission at Be The Change Earth Alliance is to engage in productive dialogue with educators on the opportunities and obstacles for the wide scale uptake of environmental education. With that goal in mind, we’ve launched into a community action research initiative that explore Social Innovation as a lens to support transformative education. 

Our Social Innovation Roots

After five years of working with different educational stakeholders including teachers, directors of instruction, school administration, district sustainability managers, BTCEA is creating space for processes oriented projects that support the systems change that is oriented towards transformative education. 

BTCEA is committed to environmental education as a component of urban sustainability and will continue to build on the successes, but we also acknowledge the complex dynamics of systemic change and endeavor to catalyze innovation through a common agenda that supports the scaling of environmental education best practices.

In the last few years BTCEA’s work has evolved from a primarily grassroots approach, working closely with teachers to develop environmental education resources to working within higher levels of the education system. Through this new approach, we have come to understand how we can help unite individuals across the system in the pursuit of 'collective impact'

Social Innovation is a tool for individuals and groups who aspire to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems such as climate change, in a way that brings disparate parts of the whole together in productive dialogue and action.

This is a participatory action research study which is made impactful through the participation of passionate educators and leaders, including teachers, school and district administrators, as well as students, parents, and community organizations.

Cultivating a Community Research Agenda

The motivation for this research project is a result of BTCEA’s experiences bringing environmental education into schools and a strong desire to better understand the current challenges and opportunities for the wide scale uptake of environmental education.

Thanks to the support of the Vancouver Foundation approaches include place-based learning connecting the classroom to the community, an inquiry approach to problem-solving, a blended approach to on-line research, home and community based research, classroom dialogue and small group project presentations, personal values clarification, and taking real action to develop personal and social responsibility. The application of these approaches has been positively received by many teachers, yet these teachers still face considerable challenges to integrate environmental education into the mainstream courses in secondary school.

Teachers and students who clearly see the connection between global environmental issues and local actions are more likely to make choices supporting global sustainability. Further, they can have a strong influence on their friends and family. This is congruent with the positive results of the ‘quit smoking’ and ‘seat belts’ campaigns when the youth brought the message home to their parents.

An Emergent Process

This first stage of research is largely exploratory with the objective of developing a picture of those aspects of the current education system which encourage or challenge the integration of environmental education and an ecological school culture. This picture will be used to identify key actors, connections, and points of leverage within the education system that will be critical in developing a ‘social innovation prototype’ (a preliminary model that is collaboratively developed and tested and later adapted and adopted to create systemic change).

The second stage of the research project is to develop a social innovation process that leads to the sprouting of an environmental education intervention/prototype that will then be tested within the local education system. Those who participate in various stages of the research will be provided a range of opportunities to provide insights on the emergent implementation process and outcomes of this initiative.

The research components of this project will be conducted in partnership with BTCEA, other environmental educators and organizations, with BTCEA's Founding Director and PhD student, Maureen Jack-LaCroix, as the project lead, under the permission of the Simon Fraser Research Ethics Board.

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