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.”

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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.”

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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?

Alana West, Quit Coal organiser

The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:00:54+11:00
The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
Denise Cauchi

Denise Cauchi, CEO, Doctors for the Environment 2020

The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.
The Change Agency
2020-02-25T11:27:45+11:00
Denise Cauchi
The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.

Chris Henderson, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you're contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I'll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about them more widely. For WILPF Qld, the MAP workshop and resources have seriously contributed to the transformation of our branch, helping to focus and get into action in relation to the nuclear cycle, in conjunction with many other organisations that have joined the Qld Nuclear Free Alliance. And maybe will have effect way beyond that.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:44:52+11:00
I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you're contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I'll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about them more widely. For WILPF Qld, the MAP workshop and resources have seriously contributed to the transformation of our branch, helping to focus and get into action in relation to the nuclear cycle, in conjunction with many other organisations that have joined the Qld Nuclear Free Alliance. And maybe will have effect way beyond that.

Josh Creaser, Frontline Projects Coordinator, 350.org

Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.

 The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.

 These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects. 

 The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:56:37+11:00
Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.  The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.  These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects.   The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.

Leigh Ewbank, Yes2Renewables coordinator

Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.

 By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:58:10+11:00
Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.  By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 

Simone van Hattem

The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:04:17+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.

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.  
The Change Agency
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.  

Thea Ormerod, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change

Whereas I had been working intuitively and reasonably well as a part of with a team of dedicated volunteers, the Community Organising Fellowship is providing a range of easy-to-understand useful tools which will help ARRCC to be much more effective. The training is carefully crafted to maximise skills development so we can use our limited resources in a way which will deliver results far more strategically. I already have quite a clear vision of how to successfully motivate our volunteers into participating more actively in the change effort.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:24:22+11:00
Whereas I had been working intuitively and reasonably well as a part of with a team of dedicated volunteers, the Community Organising Fellowship is providing a range of easy-to-understand useful tools which will help ARRCC to be much more effective. The training is carefully crafted to maximise skills development so we can use our limited resources in a way which will deliver results far more strategically. I already have quite a clear vision of how to successfully motivate our volunteers into participating more actively in the change effort.

Hayley Troupe, 350.org organiser

The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:29:30+11:00
The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.
Emilie Carey

Emilie Carey, Solar Citizens


I really admired your facilitation skills. I learnt lots watching you guide us through the evening. I'll definitely be using lessons from last night. You're a total pro and I'm really grateful you're generous enough to share your knowledge.

The Change Agency
2016-03-25T10:35:26+11:00
Emilie Carey
I really admired your facilitation skills. I learnt lots watching you guide us through the evening. I'll definitely be using lessons from last night. You're a total pro and I'm really grateful you're generous enough to share your knowledge.
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The Change Agency