We regard societal learning as "Facilitated social change based on collective learning processes, democratic participation and empowerment". It refers to the way different groups in society, whether community-based, business or government, can work together to improve the environment, the economy and the community.
Societal learning recognises that neither top-down centralist government decision-making nor a completely free market approach — every individual out for themselves — can solve the problems faced by societies. The world is complex and changing rapidly so we need approaches to problem-solving and institutions that are flexible, adaptive and creative. We often don’t know the answers to problems and we need to learn our way forward. Societal learning can be likened to what the renowned sociologist Anthony Giddens has coined as ‘the third way’ for the renewal of social democracy.
Societal learning can be seen as an evolving paradigm associated with the achievement of sustainable development. A societal learning perspective encourages deeper questioning and thinking about how society needs to change and organise itself to achieve sustainable development. It leads us to ask questions about:
the philosophical assumptions and moral beliefs and values to follow;
the methodologies or ways of solving problems appropriate to complex human problem situations in an era of globalisation, complexity and rapid change; and
the economic, political, legal and intellectual institutions we need to achieve sustainable development and social and economic equity.