Governance in complex and dynamic global contexts: Importance and characteristics that facilitate transformation through adult education

Petra Buergelt, Aliki Nicolaides, John Buck , Marguerite A. Welch, Alexis Kokkos, Renee Owen , George Koulaouzides , Claudio Melacarne , Mina Wilson

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In this symposium, we explore how diverse governance systems influence the degree of transformation possible using adult education. We use the term adult education broadly, including various systems of learning such as communities, organisations, and universities. Humanity is at a critical turning point. The Western worldview has led to humanity experiencing an existential crisis (Buergelt et al., 2017; Grande, 2000; O’Sullivan, 2002; Reason, 1995). Additionally, societies around the world are becoming increasingly complex, diverse and dynamic (Berkes, Colding & Folke, 2003). This is also true for adult education organisations. Surviving and thriving requires transforming people’s fundamental cosmological, ontological and epistemological perspectives towards a worldview that will foster healing and multiple ways of knowing. Whilst transformative learning theory and practice offer learning processes for individual transformation, there is a knowledge gap regarding how societies and cultures can be deliberate in transforming alongside individuals transforming. One crucial pathway for transforming cultural and social systems is dynamic governance processes and structures. Over the last decades, neoliberalism has led to universities increasingly using authoritarian top-down hierarchical governance systems, which have been marketizing education and resulting in “authoritarianism, suppression of information, maladaptive behaviour, lower quality and transparency, and the creation of scores of new administrative positions to run an unwieldy, ineffective system” (Levin & Greenwood, 2011, p. 37). This authoritarian top-down governance system is hindering adult higher education fulfilling its social mandate of transforming individuals and societies in ways that ensure the health and well-being of citizens and nature. It has also resulted in universities contributing to the existential crisis we are facing by perpetuating Western ways of knowing, cultures and pedagogies. We put forward that sociocracy (also known as dynamic governance) offers a powerful governance framework (Buck & Villines, 2017) capable of creating conditions for collective transformation of organisations such as universities, which may enable educators, researchers and students to thrive in times of complexity and continuous change. Sociocracy is grounded in Indigenous knowledges and critical Western epistemologies that reflect ecological principles. Sociocracy is governance by people in association with each other. It offers dynamic governance processes and structures that give educators, researchers and students the power to influence the organisations they are participating in (Buck & Villines, 2017). Sociocracy distributes power to enable groups to govern themselves collaboratively as partners sharing knowledge, solving problems, and seeking consent in ways that creates new mutually benefiting futures. It offers a process for drawing out, harnessing and synergising complex, diverse and changing knowledges and perspectives through collaboration resulting in creativity. This dynamic process enables systems, such as universities, to learn from and adapt to complexity and change in agile ways. Sociocracy offers ways for developing people’s full potential and utilizing the energy of all members to accomplish the aims of the whole collective. It ensures that all voices at all levels are respected, heard and considered. The Sociocratic structure consists of circles with permeable boundaries that are connected via double links that ensure dualistic down and up feedback loops. These features together with an innovative full-group consent decision making process (which is distinct from consensus) safeguard inclusiveness of multiple viewpoints, equality and the ethics of actionable decision making, resulting in higher quality decisions based on collective intelligence. In sum, sociocracy seems to facilitate both collective and individual transformations in an intentional, conscious, gradual and nurturing yet revolutionary way. In this symposium, presenters from distinct social, cultural and disciplinary backgrounds with experiences of varied governance systems in higher education, organizations, countries and social systems as scholars, practitioners and social activists will discuss diverse governance systems in these global times. The presenters are members of the International Transformative Learning Association Leadership Circle and are courageously applying sociocracy to evolve an agile and transformative association capable of generating conditions for individual and collective transformations of educators, researchers and students. Our mission is to promote critical scholarship, research, teaching, and praxis of the social, scientific, artistic, and humanistic principles of transformative learning. The symposium will facilitate embodied learning by having delegates experiencing sociocracy in praxis. Using a fishbowl as a pedagogical practice, delegates will receive points to observe, the presenters will enact sociocracy principles when discussing their perspectives, and a narrator will provide a running commentary on the sociocracy principles being used. The presenters will conclude by reaching a common conclusion/decision using consent decision making. Actions and policy implications that are likely to emerge include participants exploring sociocracy as governance approach in their adult education organisations, contributing to turning the tide and higher education fulfilling its transformative mandate again. References Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C. (2003) Navigating social-ecological systems: Building resilience for complexity and change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Buck, J., & Villines, S. (2017). We the people: Consenting to a deeper democracy (2nd ed). Washington: Buergelt, P. T., Paton, D., Sithole, B., Sangha, K., Campion, O. B. & Campion, J. (2017). Living in harmony with our environment: A paradigm shift. In D. Paton & D. Johnston (Eds.), Disaster resilience: An integrated approach (2nd ed) (pp. 289-307). Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas. Grande, S. (2000). American Indian identity and intellectualism: The quest for a new red pedagogy. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 13(4), 343-359. Levin, M., & Greenwood, D. (2011). Revitalizing universities by reinventing the social sciences: Building and action research. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative Research (pp. 27-42). Thousand Oaks: Sage. O’Sullivan, E. (2002). The project and vision of transformative education: Integral transformative learning. In E. O’Sullivan, A. Morrell & A. O’Conner (Eds.), Expanding the boundaries of transformative learning (pp. 1 – 12). New York: Palgrave. Reason, P. (1995). A participatory world. Resurgence, 186, 42-44.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings Adult Education in Global Times - An International Research Conference
EditorsJude Walker, Gabriella Maestrini, Suzanne Smythe
Place of PublicationCanada
PublisherUniversity of British Columbia Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780920056547
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021
EventAdult Education in Global Times (AEGT 2021): An International Research Conference - University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Duration: 3 Jun 20216 Jun 2021


ConferenceAdult Education in Global Times (AEGT 2021)
Abbreviated titleAEGT 2021
Internet address


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