CLEA: Community Learning for Environmental Action

CLEA is finding out how best to support peer learning and mentoring between grassroots environment groups. Funded jointly by NRCL and the Victorian Landcare Council, its starting point is the Landcare movement in Victoria, and its specific focus is how Landcare groups and networks can share what they know about the social side of Landcare – about organising community action, collaborating with partners, and influencing decision makers.

CLEA is using what is already there in the Landcare community to strengthen peer learning. Most regions have regular meetings of Landcare Network Chairs and of paid facilitators, but CLEA’s focus is the next level down, supporting Landcare Committees of Management to think through the challenges they face and to frame the Questions Without Easy Answers they want to tackle.

Regional and rural communities are in transition. Farming families are handing onto the next generation or selling to corporate owners. Time-poor lifestylers are moving in with a desire to learn how to look after their land, but they don’t necessarily want to go on committees. There are a host of openings for partnerships with local government, public land managers and agricultural service providers.

For Landcare’s leaders – its committees – the challenge is to organise community action and influence in this changing social environment. CLEA is supporting Committees of Management to formulate and tackle their own questions, and then connect to their peers in other organisations working for environmental health. Landcare can to learn from Landcare!

CLEA has been capturing and publicising what leaders in Landcare think about the challenges facing Landcare, and the solutions that are working for them (see Stories on the CLEA website). By linking people raising similar issues, CLEA is strengthening the informal networks between Landcare leaders. If these people know a bit about each other, it’s easier for them to pick up the phone and talk when they strike a problem and want to think through their options with a peer.

In our first year, we’ve learnt a lot about capacity building itself:

  • Lesson 1: Keep strategy and tactic open to constant revision. In capacity building projects, constraints and opportunities are not clear at the start. Trying to predict too closely what will work is unproductive. Testing ideas in action will generate understanding and create possibilities, and testing a number of approaches simultaneously, in small, low risk ways, will suggest where more effort will deliver results.
  • Lesson 2: Cultivate networks between leaders. Landcare leaders often don’t speak beyond the local level, and Committees of Management can think they are working along, so CLEA is connecting leaders and CoMs to each other, and bringing them together to talk.
  • Lesson 3: New skills and knowledge need a home. In the right relationship, skills can keep developing and knowledge can be shared. CLEA’s Questions Without Easy Answers gives Network Committees of Management a way to put learning on their standing agenda.

For more on CLEA, go to the CLEA website https://sites.google.com/site/landcareplanning/home or contact Kaye Rodden, VLC Secretary, nidgee@reachnet.com.au.