|In 2008, Angela Wilkinson at Oxford University asked Barbara Heinzen to reflect on her experience of public interest scenarios work. That led to a larger question: how do societies learn? Several things stand out: first, fear inhibits learning. Campaigns that frighten people by emphasizing the dangers of climate change or HIV infection, for example, do not always work very well. However real the risks, fear seems to paralyse people as often as it inspires them to take corrective acton.
Instead of frightening people, there is more to be gained through dialogue and active engagement in a specific collaborative activity. In Totnes, England, a small group of people started the Transition Movement by coming together to respond to the dual challenge of climate change and peak oil in their own lives and community. There are now more than 2000 Transition groups in the UK and beyond. The experience of working together, first through dialogue and then on specific activities, has accelerated learning for all. Learning, it seems, is a communal activity involving the sharing of new ideas and new practices.
The Barbets Duet is another experiment in how societies learn. The word 'duet' identifies the value the founding partners have found in learning from two cultural traditions: African and Western, modern and traditional. By giving both cultures equal standing, with learning sites in the USA, UK and East Africa on equal footing, everyone has learned more rapidly.
The 2008 paper titled, "How Societies Learn" helped push Barbara Heinzen's consultancy practice into the creation of experimental spaces, especially those that bring people together in active learning across cultural boundaries.