activist education

Activist education is conducted by and with activists, is openly interested in the processes of change-making, and utilises education methods that effect justice-oriented social change.

We use the expression ‘activist education’ to describe our work. This has implications not just for what we consider important for community organisers to learn, but how we believe adults learn most effectively. We’ve facilitated discussions and workshops with other social movement trainers and facilitators to explore just what might be involved in working as activist educators. The educational principles and practices (or pedagogy) that guide our work include:

  • experiential and empowered learning
  • listening and reflection
  • mentorship
  • questioning, not telling
  • exercises linked to real and contemporary change work
  • building a ‘container’ or learning environment characterised
  • by trust, openness, honesty, self-critique, mutual respect and support.

We avoid the ‘talking head’ approach to adult education, the facilitator as expert; and treating participants as empty vessels. Our pedagogy is influenced by the Rant Collective who describe their approach as “empowered learning”. Like us, the Rant Collective, draw inspiration from Paulo Freire’s popular education work in Brazil. Empowered learning involves respecting participants, reflecting on and sharing life experience, and developing tools, skills and confidence. Their workshops, like ours, are active (not lectured) and involve exercises, role plays and discussion.

We are guided by the ‘spiral model’ of learning that was developed and practiced by the Doris Marshal Institute in Toronto. The spiral model emphasises reflecting on experience and incorporating new information in action.

The popular education spiral model

The popular education spiral model

We’ve also been influenced by Training for Change. Based in Philadelphia, Training for Change is one of the United States’ best-known activist education and training organisation. They refer to their approach as direct education, a pedagogy based on:

  • actions that directly confront and challenge the current system of injustice;
  • education that directly confronts and challenges the current system of injustice (including how people are taught)
  • respecting the expertise of the people themselves, rather than looking for expertise in textbooks and teachers and
  • the influence of experiential and popular education.

some of our favourite activist education resources

5600k

Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 1)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986

“Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign shows that it could have been better. A glance at the civil disobedience ‘blockades’ at Roxby Downs, Daintree and Errinundra, that followed in a spate after the Franklin, shows that few participants in those actions understood the model provided by the Franklin Blockade or by the campaign of which the blockade was part. Few people realise that inherent in a protest like the Franklin are long lead-times, and endless tasks, dilemmas, stress, and conflict. We hope this bok will dispel some of the myths about the Franklin, and that it will assist organisers in other social change campaigns.”

6800k

Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 3)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986

“Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign shows that it could have been better. A glance at the civil disobedience ‘blockades’ at Roxby Downs, Daintree and Errinundra, that followed in a spate after the Franklin, shows that few participants in those actions understood the model provided by the Franklin Blockade or by the campaign of which the blockade was part. Few people realise that inherent in a protest like the Franklin are long lead-times, and endless tasks, dilemmas, stress, and conflict. We hope this bok will dispel some of the myths about the Franklin, and that it will assist organisers in other social change campaigns.”

148k

Review Tools

Tools and games to assist participants’ learning through recall, ensure core proficiencies have been covered, and review major lessons and insights.

great activist education tools and thoughts from TfC

models of education

We have collected some popular educators thoughts and insights into models of activist education.

a supportive and respectful community of practice

During the 2006 Nonviolence Trainers gathering, several Australian activist educators developed a set of principles for how we hope to work together. We resolved that activist educators in a supportive and respectful community of practice would:

activist educators’ skillshare

In June 2007 we convened an Activist Educators’ skillshare to strengthen our community of practice. The 17 participants work with a range of social movements in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) as educators, facilitators and trainers. If you are an activist educator and would like to be part of the group’s ongoing dialogue and sharing, let us know.

environmental advocacy course

Between 2003 and 2006, James convened the Environmental Advocacy Elective at Griffith University, Brisbane.

What are people saying about us?

Isaac Astill, Divestment Campaigner, 350.org Australia

It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.
2015-03-17T19:37:41+11:00
It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.

Anna Keenan, Students of Sustainability Collective 2006

Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.
2014-03-30T07:52:56+11:00
Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.
Shani Tager

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
2014-05-10T21:52:42+10:00
Shani Tager
The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.

Kate Lardner, Doctors for the Environment Australia

During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and been given the chance to create the openings and space to make my own opportunities arise.  
2015-03-17T20:53:26+11:00
During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and been given the chance to create the openings and space to make my own opportunities arise.  

Peter Archer, World Vision

I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
2014-03-30T08:11:05+11:00
I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.

Peter Callender, Quit Coal



Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it's early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!


2014-04-16T22:34:36+10:00
Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it's early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!

Alycia Gawthorne, GetUp! organiser

The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
2015-03-17T19:33:28+11:00
The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.

Cherry Muddle, Australian Marine Conservation Society

The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.
2015-03-17T21:02:16+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.
Sophie Peer

Sophie Peer, ChilOut campaign director

The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
2014-05-16T14:31:59+10:00
Sophie Peer
The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
Six Degrees

Sam Robb, Six Degrees

When I’m amongst passionate and talented people, I always feel like our movement can be powerful. But after the last 10 days, I not only feel we can be powerful, I know we can. I know how we can be and that is a unique and invaluable gift. The quality and consideration of the facilitation and subject matter was astonishing, and there was a group wide acknowledgement of both an immense privilege of being a part of the cohort and a resounding responsibility to use and share what we felt and learnt.
2014-05-23T17:11:47+10:00
Six Degrees
When I’m amongst passionate and talented people, I always feel like our movement can be powerful. But after the last 10 days, I not only feel we can be powerful, I know we can. I know how we can be and that is a unique and invaluable gift. The quality and consideration of the facilitation and subject matter was astonishing, and there was a group wide acknowledgement of both an immense privilege of being a part of the cohort and a resounding responsibility to use and share what we felt and learnt.