The train to Cloughjordan from Dublin, Ireland, departs twice a day, and the project team working on the BLended Adult Learning for the Social-ecological Transition (BLAST) Erasmus+ project may have easily made up half of the people on the train. That is to say, Cloughjordan is a beautiful, and remote, quaint little town in the heartland of the Republic. With a population of around 500, and about 100 permanently based at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, this was a great base for deep learning and discussion.
A tour of the Ecovillage and its surrounding area from one of its founding members taught us that the Ecovillage had been registered nearly twenty years ago, to develop fully serviced sites for houses built by members in line with the overall Master Plan design, and with their Ecological Charter specifications. Over the past two decades, the ecovillage has borne fruit to a number of achievements, including the planting of 17,000 trees in the community woodland, the opening of an eco-hostel (where we stayed), and a number of awards including the UN-backed International Award for Liveable Communities.
BLAST activities focus on producing a set of 3 inter-related Intellectual Outputs, a Community of Practice Guide, a Catalyst Toolkit, and a Competence and Learning Framework. The project will also deliver a number of national workshops, a Training of Trainers and an international multiplier event. Safe to say there was a lot to work through during our meetings, and the next two days were replete with intense planning, discussing permeated by social time. After all, a majority of the partners use participatory consent-based decision-making inspired by sociocracy. This approach inherently transforms potential adversity into better collective solutions, and will be informing the project as a whole.
The importance of participatory, physical meetings for a project of this nature cannot be overstated. Cutting across organisational profiles, country boundaries, even methologodies for education (the ‘Blended’, after all, concerns the ‘blending’ of physical with virtual educational environments and tools), culturally diverse and geographically distributed projects risk delays, due to different cultural notions and practices of time management, accumulation of bureaucratic slowness in different countries, conflicting affordances of projects conducted simultaneously by partners, and further challenges.
With this in mind, the BLAST project partners come from a mix of organisations representing large networks of community-led initiatives and adult education providers, and are thus used to meeting across regions, disciplines and areas of work. There are complementary domains of expertise (such as regenerative design, community resilience, cosmopolitan communication, or social innovation) and a common intention to bring about massive personal and community-led change over time by supporting people to engage actively in the socio-ecological transition in response to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement and critical targets.