Hi, I’m Rupu Gupta, Conservation Psychologist, Co-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group, and Researcher at NewKnowledge.org, a research and evaluation think tank.
For the past five years, I have evaluated the EECapacity project, supported by a cooperative agreement between Cornell University and the US Environmental Protection Agency. It aimed to expand the critical role environmental education (EE) plays in fostering healthy environments and communities. The project’s overall strategy was to link an emerging cadre of diverse EE professionals working in urban environmental stewardship, community, and environmental justice organizations with established environmental educators who are active in nationwide professional and government networks. A number of resources, online learning opportunities, and professional development activities, were employed to engage groups of environmental educators across the country.
A number of key insights emerged from the findings that are relevant for evaluating environmental programs, and as Earth Week approaches, even more so in thinking about the intersections between environmental and human outcomes.
- Environmental educators in the US are more racially and ethnically diverse than is documented through professional associations – this means, that when evaluating environmental projects focused on diversity, we have to be mindful of the characteristics of the population of interest to understand change
- Environmental educators hold multiple perspectives about the goals of EE – perception of apparent differences in EE’s purpose (to connect kids with the outdoors versus to foster youth leadership in community gardening) often overlooks shared outcomes for young audiences)
- Culturally responsive approaches are critical to initiate relationship building between educators affiliated with professional EE and those aligned with community-focused goals – the processes of interaction are as important as outcomes of potential partnerships.
- Social identities tied to groups defining unique approaches to environment-focused work are important to consider – if the goal is to foster collaboration, a proxy may be the development of a superordinate identity that recognizes the shared goals of groups that have not previously connected.
- Differences in power and status are inherent in environmental projects with stakeholders from organizations ranging from national-level EE organizations to community focused programs – project outcomes will be meaningfully interpreted only when the evaluation context and interactions between the key stakeholders are honestly examined.
Earth Week is a reminder of the global imperative to protect our planet’s flora and fauna, in ways that complement social goals of altruism, equity and justice. For evaluating environmental programs, it is a humbling moment for us to reflect on the motivated, human-led actions and approaches that create environmental and inevitably societal change.
For more information:
- Approaches to foster collaboration among groups of environmental educators
- Multiple perspectives on the purpose of EE
- A tool to create appreciation of multiple perspectives in EE
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