“Toolbox for Environmental Change”

Denis Napthine at Openingx450

Denis Napthine opening the Hawkesdale Common Sustainability Trail with interpretative signage on Sunday 27th February

On Thursday 17th March I was fortunate to participate in the “Toolbox for Environmental Change” at Melbourne Museum. Sponsored by Greening Australia and Sustainability Victoria, this annual event attracted 320 registrations and included displays and stalls from over 30 sustainability and environmental organisations. With 27 different workshop sessions to choose from, there was a great variety of opportunities for learning and sharing, with the theme “Using  Technology for Sustainability”. As well as a plenary session by Paul Mees, outlining an integrated, multi-modal transport model for Melbourne, there were school case studies, story-telling workshops and information about ResourceSmart AuSSI Vic, the accredited framework for education about biodiversity, energy, waste and water.

 I was invited to present with Professor Leone Wheeler and Jodi-Anne Smith from RMIT and Sustainability Victoria, with the workshop session “Let’s talk about it – the role of stories in reflecting, learning and ongoing action for sustainability”. Our workshop came about as a result of the School Community Learning Partnerships for Sustainability research project which began in 2009. Professor Wheeler, Jodi-Anne and Jose (Robbie) Guevara visited the school early in 2009 to discuss the sustainability projects we have initiated with students, teachers and community members. They used a specific methodology, called the “Most Significant Change” story technique to elucidate Hawkesdale’s story, which we chose to call “People Power – Achieving Sustainability Together”.

 This process can be lengthy and time-consuming, as it involves meeting with all of the stakeholders to discuss:

  • The background of the partnerships between the school and community,
  •  the social, educational and environmental outcomes,
  • the most significant change from each perspective,
  • reflecting on the partnership and
  • reflecting on the story-telling process.

  Between each of the meetings, which were transcribed and then re-written, participants had the opportunity to read and review the stories. I saw this project as an opportunity to reflect on the education for sustainability projects that Hawkesdale has been involved with over the past decade and bring together the various initiatives into a coherent document that could be used to promote the school, apply for funding and demonstrate our commitment to the environment to parents and the community. As well as the opportunity to reflect and the resulting story, this method resulted in some other unexpected outcomes. As a teacher, I was able to hear from a student’s perspective the activities and learning opportunities that had the most impact on their development and identify the effective teaching strategies that had resulted in improved knowledge, skills and attitudes towards sustainability. I was also surprised by the scope of our achievements when we had finished documenting all the different aspects of our work at the school and encouraged to celebrate those outcomes –  trees planted, nesting boxes installed, gardens created, solar panels and wind turbines installed, mulching pits and recycling programs implemented, waste and energy use reduced and knowledge shared at conferences and in newsletters and magazines.

 This process was motivating to the participants, because we were able to reflect on how much progress we had made and we were receiving recognition for our work. Not all the outcomes of our work can be measured quantitatively and the story-telling process allows the qualitative outcomes to be documented. The skills and abilities that students have developed through the different projects, including the “kids teaching kids” process, has been the most significant change. These changes include leadership, teamwork and communication skills, increased confidence, organisation and resilience, and the ability to persist despite difficulty.


  1. brittgow

    We arrived at the “Most Significant Change” by group discussion and consensus between all participants. You can read more about the method at http://www.mande.co.uk/docs/MSCGuide.pdf – a research paper by Dart and Davies.
    Yes, I believe students and community members have changed some behaviors to be more sustainable – there is an awareness and attitudinal change that I have noticed develop from Year 7 to Year 12. Together with the skills mentioned and the belief that students have a voice and can participate in decision making, these students have made a long-lasting impact in their community.

  2. LivAnon

    Interesting post, Britt.

    I assume that awareness and knowledge would have increased – this would have been revealed through the story telling process. It would also probably have some depth because it’s a qualitative method. Seems to me the process is akin to an open focus interview, though. How has ‘significant’ been quantified or defined?

    In your opinon, has behaviour changed at the individual level?

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