Collaborative learning for DRR

Karina Barquet and Maria Osbeck (SEI)

Collaborative Learning is a framework and set of techniques intended for multiparty decision situations. It is a means of designing and implementing a series of events to promote creative thought, constructive debate and the effective implementation of proposals that the stakeholders generate (Daniels & Walker, 2001). Collaborative Learning is used to facilitate a shared understanding of complex issues by combining the presentation of information with dialogue amongst a group of stakeholders in order to clarify the scope and definition of problems. The aim is to create an enabling environment in which stakeholders with divergent views are able to engage in constructive dialogue to jointly design strategies or recommendations to a specific problem (Feurt, 2008).

Stakeholders in collaborative learning

Broadly defined, stakeholders are persons, groups, or communities who have a concern in a process or in a geographical area through residence, employment, or interest. Stakeholders may be self-identified, or they may be selected. Stakeholders may represent themselves directly, or they may represent their community or particular interest groups. Stakeholders involve a whole range of actors from statutory agencies through to individual citizens (Forrester, Gerger Swartling, & Lonsdale, 2008). EDUCEN has specifically focused on two type of civil society actors: volunteers and gatekeepers/leaders.

Implementing collaborative learning in DRR

Good stakeholder engagement processes do not ‘just happen’ (Forrester et al., 2008). They require careful planning in order to identify who participates, the timing of events and modes of engagement, and the outcome of that engagement, as well as analysis and evaluation of the process.

(Read more on EDUCEN’s collaborative learning approach.)

Collaborative Learning


  1. PROCESS of collaborative learning follows these steps: assess, design an action strategy, implement the strategy, evaluate results, and design next action.
  2. RELATIONSHIPS are important and stakeholders are considered equal partners. Differences in knowledge and worldview are respected and treated as resources for collective problem solving.
  3. COMMUNICATION among stakeholders is honest, sincere, understandable and appropriate. Procedures exist for fostering dialogue that contributes to a shared understanding of areas of agreement and disagreement. Consensus is not required in order to make progress on shared goals.
  4. INCLUSION, to the extent possible, of all groups with a stake in solving the problem should be represented in order to consider diverse aspects of the issue (scientific, political, economic, legal, etc.). Strive to identify and include people who will provide comprehensive perspectives on the problem being addressed and are in a position to take actions that will move toward the desired outcomes.
  5. PARTICIPATION should aim at actively involving stakeholders in the co-creation of knowledge about the nature of the problem to be addressed, development of an action strategy to make progress and selection of tasks that can be accomplished within their sphere of influence. Stakeholders should be willing to commit to these working principles.
  6. FACILITATORS are catalysts for innovation and change. They support stakeholders as they analyze information and develop strategies that make sense in their work environment.

Implementing collaborative learning

EDUCEN adapted the 4 phase collaborative learning cycle as outlined by Feurt (2008). The activities implemented in each of the steps are explained below. FIGURE COLLABORATIVE LEARNING ABOUT HERE

Phase 1: Assessment

A review of secondary material from each of the participant cities as well as data generated by city coordinators in the course of the project was carried out as a first step. Based on this data collection, semi-formal skype interviews were conducted with each of the pilot coordinators guided by a questionnaire designed to identify the cultural aspects of DRR within the pilots. This questionnaire was sent to each pilot coordinator a couple of weeks ahead of the interview to give coordinators the time to prepare. The interviews with pilot coordinators generated further knowledge about the particular cultural and disaster risk contexts of each of the pilot cities, the methodological issues that each of the coordinators is facing, the stage of the project of each of the cities, and the similarities and differences between cities.

Based on the summary from the secondary data analysis, the data collected, and the information gathered through the interviews, a situation map, in the form of an excel sheet, was developed. This map was used as point of departure for the subsequent stakeholder engagements in the project. The situation map contains information on key issues, such as the hazard in focus (e.g. floods), the main challenges linked to the hazard, the target group approached in each of the cities, the goal that each pilot city has in EDUCEN, the type of objectives in the project (management, communication/information, physical/infrastructure, or institutional/organizational), the method used to achieve the goals in each of the cities, and whether any of the experiences in one pilot city could potentially be transferred to another pilot city (internal document Objective Matrix 2016). Hereon, we identified the main opportunities and challenges for change in each of the pilot sites. These were grouped into 5 categories: communication, trust, social exclusion, coordination, and participation (Barquet, Thomalla, Osbeck forthcoming).

Phase 2: Design the process

This phase was carried out in close cooperation with city coordinators and other local stakeholders from some of the EDUCEN cities. Through a one-time workshop, the problem statements was firstly confirmed, and later further developed based on three strategic questions: WHAT, WHO and HOW, posed in relation to the 5 key issues identified under Phase 1 and highlighted in the table below.

Phase 3: Implementation of Collaborative Learning

We departed from the experiences of Phase 2 to organize a one-time workshop with local stakeholders within the DRR community from two of EDUCEN pilot cities, L’Aquila (Italy) and Lorca (Spain), and three external cities Dordrecht (Netherlands). The aim with the workshop was to achieve concrete guidelines for policy-makers on more specific DRR issues in a broader geographical scale. The issues in focus were co-defined by city coordinators and facilitators and based on site-specific challenges where there was room for improvement: the role of volunteers in DRR, inclusion of gatekeepers in risk management, and communication and information dissemination to enhance risk awareness and preparedness

Group Activity 1: “Think, Write, Share”

Duration: 1 hour

Room setup: 3 tables with 6 chairs each (5 stakeholders plus 1 translator per table). Tables should be spread across the room. Each table has a topic (volunteers, gatekeepers, communication)

Material needed:

  • 1 Flip Chart with the title (Gatekeepers, Volunteers, Awareness Raising) on top,
  • big post-it’s on each table (1 color per theme)
  • Signs with assigned groups per table
  • pens
  • markers


  1. Stakeholders will look for their names on the list and go to the table assigned to them.
  2. A facilitator per table is assigned
  3. THINK: Stakeholders will read through the set of questions given in each of the tables. Each question contains a short background and a set of questions. (3 minutes).
  4. WRITE: Stakeholders will individually answer the questions. One answer per post-it and at least one answer per question per person (4 minutes).
  5. SHARE: The table will take rounds where each person shares their thoughts. One post-it per person per round without interruptions. Stakeholders need to wait for their turn to be able to speak. Facilitator will collect the post-its and paste them on the flipchart (10 minutes).
  6. After 15 minutes change table according to List 2. Repeat the steps above.
  7. After 15 minutes change tables one last time. Repeat the steps above.

Group Activity 2: Categorize Issues

Duration: 30 minutes

Room setup: 1 room per group (total 3 groups). In this exercise stakeholders were grouped in their respective countries: Spain, Italy, Sweden/Netherlands.

Material needed:

  • 1 Flip chart (prepared according to template) on each room (see figure X)
  • Post its (3 different colors, 1 color per room)
  • Printed lists with issues from Activity 1
  • Big signs for doors with case-name in each of the rooms
  • Pens
  • Markers


  1. Stakeholders will look at the list with issues from Activity 1 and select those that seem relevant to their context.
  2. For each selected issue, stakeholders will discuss a possible strategy to address the issue. One issue/strategy per post-it
  3. After 30 minute-discussion, take a break. All material should be left in the room because stakeholders will come back to the same rooms for Group Activity 3.

Group Activity 3: Rank issues

Duration: 30 minutes

Room setup: same as in Activity 2

Material needed: same as in Activity 2


  1. Stakeholders will go through the list of selected issues with corresponding strategies
  2. For each post-it, stakeholders will have to think about the actors that should be involved for implementing the strategy
  3. Stakeholders will then rank their post it’s on the scale in the flipchart (fig. X)
  4. Group leaders should take notes on why issues were positioned that way. Each group will have a chance to present their results during the final activity.
  5. After a break gather back with the whole group.

Group activity 4: Lessons learned and feedback to plenary

Duration: 45 minutes

Room setup: Large room with all groups gathered. Tables and chairs facing the whiteboard

Material needed:

  • Group flip charts
  • Whiteboard or board to stick the flip charts
  • tape


  1. Group leaders will have 10 minutes each to present their flip charts and discuss the selection of strategies, actors, and how issues were positioned.
  2. After all groups have presented, all stakeholders will engage in an open discussion on lessons learned and ways forward.