Episode 005: The research on why Environmental Action Civics works

Field Chats: EAC Essentials
Field Chats: EAC Essentials
Episode 005: The research on why Environmental Action Civics works

Today, our program crew will be digging into just a few of the many research articles that back up our Environmental Action Civics approach and our goals for getting youth engaged in environmental decision-making in order to be active and engaged community members now and in the future. Do you know of research that supports this work? Drop it in the comments below!

References Cited:

Nicole M. Ardoin, Alison W. Bowers & Estelle Gaillard (2022): A systematic mixed studies review of civic engagement outcomes in environmental education, Environmental Education Research, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2022.2135688 Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13504622.2022.2135688

Louise Chawla & Debra Flanders Cushing (2007) Education for strategic environmental behavior, Environmental Education Research, 13:4, 437-452, DOI: 10.1080/13504620701581539 Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13504620701581539
Hungerford, H. R., & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing Learner Behavior Through Environmental Education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 21(3), 8-21. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00958964.1990.10753743

Schwartz, S.E.O., Benoit, L., Clayton, S. et al. Climate change anxiety and mental health: Environmental activism as buffer. Curr Psychol 42, 16708–16721 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-022-02735-6 Available at: https://rdcu.be/dkUKd

Melchior, A. (2019). Earth Force 2003-2019 Program Evaluation. Brandeis University Center for Youth and Communities. Chatham, MA.


Hey, everybody. Alyssa here with Earth Force. Hi. Welcome to Field Chats Environmental Action Civics Essentials Episode 5 today. If you haven’t listened to our other episodes, please do so. You can find those on our website. Today, my program team and I are going to be digging into just a few of the many research articles that back up Environmental Action Civics. Our approach at Earth Force and our goals for getting young people engaged in environmental decision making in order to be active and engaged community members now and in the future. So hey team, how’s everybody doing today?  Taylor: Doing good. Hi, Taylor here, Colorado Program Manager.  Alyssa: Hey Taylor, great to be with you all  Sarah: Sarah Jennings, Program Manager out of Pennsylvania, and I work across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Krysten This is Krysten Dorfman, National Program Manager, I work out of Virginia, and I also wanted to shout out Hayley Valley, our awesome communications person who is taking care of our recording and everything going on in the backdrop. Thanks!

Alyssa:. Yay! Thanks. And welcome, Krysten. Welcome to the team. So as many of you know, Earth Force is home to Environmental Action Civics, and you may hear to us, hear us refer to that as EAC when we’re speaking. And Environmental Action Civics really sits at the nexus of Action Civics, Environmental Education, and Problem, Place, and Project Based Learning. So over the last 30 years. Yes, this is our 30 year anniversary. We have crafted and refined a six step process to get to environmental action civics experiences. And our process has been used and adapted by folks across the globe. We’re super proud of that. We don’t just think it’s the best process. We know it. And today we’re going to share some of the research that backs that up. So we’re here today to share research that connected our process and approach to collective action. And that’s, that really separates us from the traditional EE or action projects. That kind of start with project first and then work backwards from that So hopefully you’ll see here that earth force is different and environmental action civics is different. So we’re going to dig into the research today but first I was just wondering team research is such an important part at Earth Force of like how we do what we do and we’re always reconnecting to the research and thinking about, you know, best practices and such. And so recently we just had that staff meeting where we really dug into a few new articles and we’re looking at best practices for our work. Just curious, what did you all think of that? How’d that go? 

Sarah: This is one of the things that I love about working for Earth Force is that during our staff meetings that we have every other week, we, there’s always a new article that we’re digesting that we’re thinking about and we’re constantly asking, like, Does this align with EarthForce? Are there any experiences in this article that are reading as a best practice for environmental action that are missing from our process? So we’re always evolving. I know it’s it’s hard sometimes, but we love being in that space where we’re constantly trying to get better and just always grounding our adaptations and you know, how we move forward in, in research. So I, I love our staff meetings for that reason. It’s great to geek out on on the research and dig into, you know, what are we doing really well? And what are some things that we can be doing better? 

Taylor: I would just echo, yeah, the, the constant desire to kind of define it because it’s kind of a new element. We’re drawing on so many different pieces from the civic education realm, the environmental education realm. Where do they intersect? How do we do that effectively? It’s really important to continue that conversation. [00:04:00] And, you know, continue to refine and just make it the best it 

Sarah: I’ll say one more thing I think it helps us get out of our echo chamber to, like,  we use like words like youth adult partnership and lived experience. But what is other research thing that is defining it as the same thing? And so I think, you know, yes, we’re in the nexus of civic ed and environmental ed and problem based and place based. And I think. One of you know, one of the difficulties that comes with that is we’re talking a lot of the time about the same thing, but we’re calling them different things. And so we’re reading the research. We’re getting a baseline. Okay. This is what we’re talking about. We’re calling it this. How can we, you know, create some shared knowledge around, you know, what, what we’re talking about here you know, with the goal of, of just contextualizing these environmental issues in the community and getting kids to take action. For sure. Oh, that language. 

Krysten: And like speaking of like being translators, Sarah, and like using different words when we mean the same thing, I really see our role as program staff as like translators of these like academic things that can feel really Or interpreters. Yeah, interpreters can feel really like inaccessible to many folks, myself included a lot of the time. And I see our role as like, yeah, interpreters to kind of bring it, bring it down to actionable steps that people can digest and follow. 

Alyssa: Hmm. I love that. Krysten, thank you for sharing that. Thanks all. And couldn’t agree more. I find all of those benefits from our staff meetings and just love that we can all come with kind of different ideas and opinions and even like disagree and hash things out and. And just leave feeling really good and connected. I just really appreciate our team and our, our work in the way we do this. So so great. Let’s, let’s dig into the research then. So what we’re going to focus on today is a recent article. Well, this will be linked in our show notes too. It’s called “A systematic mixed studies review of civic engagement outcomes in environmental education.” So I know that’s a mouthful, it’s by Ardoin et al and found that working with young people can lay the ground for a lifetime of civic engagement. And they really found these five components that are more likely to increase civic outcomes in young people. So what we’re going to do now is talk about these five, five things, and I’ll give you a list of those in just a second and we’re going to dive in and tell you, like, how Earth Force is doing these things, these five things, and then maybe throw in some additional research, too and, and so here we go. Those five things are that this work would be:

1. focused on the local community

2. that it’s actively engaging learners through participatory and experiential approaches,

3. That it includes action taking, ding, ding, ding, as an integral part of the education programming.

4. That it emphasizes development of lifelong cognitive skills

5. and provides ongoing opportunities for participants to engage in meaningful social reaction.

So Taylor, do you want to take us down the first one, this whole like focused on local community piece and talk to us that? 

Taylor: Yeah, so research has consistently shown that programs that engage young people and actively addressing local issues are more likely to result in the development of skills and knowledge and the motivation necessary to be effectively engaged in environmental decision making. And so taking things local. Provides kind of the start for all of this. Because, you know, typical E. E. or environmental education focuses on content that may take students away from their community, you know, that could be a field trip to a state park or or even content about something that may be in the rainforest and you, you don’t really live in the rainforest. And so by focusing locally, students can make connections where they are rather than contextualizing the environment or nature as something separate. You know, they make those connections in place versus making connection. So how we do that in Earth Force in our first step, you know, students begin by defining their community and they do that as a group or with their, their adult allies. And so once they define that community, it could be as small as their classroom or as large as their, their neighborhood. And then they do that to investigate those environmental issues, you know, and that’s kind of where everything begins. And that gives students the context to immediately practice that course content, but whatever the environmental element is, or the civic element is and that’s kind of where it begins. And then that kind of then goes into the other parts of our process by developing and strengthening partnerships, which is 1 of my favorite parts of the process. So, like, they identify those things. And so I won’t go too deep into that, but really, it’s the idea of the context. And being able to immediately make those connections in place when you focus on local community.

Alyssa: For sure. And Earth Force is so good at that. We are saying do not, let’s like, let’s look hyper local. What is part of what young people are experiencing every day. So thank you for that. Krysten, do you want to tackle the, the second bullet here?

Krysten: Yeah, sure thing. And that second point is that this work actively engages learners through participant participatory and experiential approaches to 250 cent words. They’re participatory and experiential approaches. Yeah. And that or force. We do this by facilitating experiences for experiential learning. Right? So like Taylor was saying that first step of the process. Often it’s a community inventory where youth are going out into their local community right where they are and kind of taking stock of what they are seeing, what they’re feeling, and what they are experiencing through their own lived experience. I feel like we’ve talked about this concept of lived experience and how important that is. And that is kind of more long term, like over someone’s whole life, not just the hour or so that they’re out looking around. And their lived experience is going to impact what they notice. It’s going to impact what youth will find important what, what is jumping out at them, what is even being flagged as, as a [00:10:00] concern when they’re out there doing these inventories. And that next piece participatory learning, I see that really is coming out in the decision making process. Where, you know, youth can actively participate in a decision that’s being made. It’s not a passive thing that an adult in the room is doing for them. It’s not something that a student leader even is doing for them. Every single person who is a part of that project gets to participate and have a voice about what’s important. And Alyssa, this is making me think of something that you brought up the other day, which is agency. And learning and how important that can be. And I think these two learning styles participatory and experiential, like, feed right into that. And that as a learner, you have agency to learn in the style that, that works for you. 

Alyssa: I love that, Krysten. So well said. And from our newest member, again, listen to her role. Thank you so much for that insight. So Sarah Jennings, including action as integral, we know that well, don’t we? 

Sarah: Yes, it is definitely at he heart of our whole process and in our name, right? Environmental Action Civics. That’s in, you know, in the field that we’re, we’re We’re really the home of and so, yeah, thank you, Taylor and Krysten. Those were some really great points. And I just also want to say these are these are best practices, like, whether you’re digging into civic, you know, a civic education course or environmental, their best practices in education in general. So I hope that this resonates with all of you out there listening. And so action, a lot of folks in the environmental education field, this is like, where, you know, we’re moving into, we know that it’s important, but getting to that community level, getting to that systemic change through action. That is really where the work lays ahead of us. And so at Earth Force, that is. You know, that’s what we’re offering is a process and some steps that will get you to really community level and systemic and sustainable change. So, you know, we found that, of course, taking action is is vital. It’s integral in in any education program. But how you do that really matters to write the process to getting to action. And we have also found that, like, if young people are not completing the entire process, that they didn’t get to action, that they’re not going to get to that environmental and civic motivation as much either. So that’s a really, you know, that should always be our goal is to get to action.

So, you know, when we’re talking about action, it doesn’t always have to be these moving earth projects, right? This rain garden it can be a civic action. Or a type of stewardship. And so that’s something that we found, you know, can take place at step five of our process. And so there’s all these other tools and processes that we want young people to go through before that to make sure that we are getting to this really meaningful and community led process. So some of the research that also supports this from Chawla and Cushing this is from 2007, is that they also have found that taking action on an issue is important in fostering environmental motivation. So. We know it’s an, it’s integral. You know, a lot of us, we’re talking about fostering environmental literacy, environmental motivation for a lifetime. And Alyssa, I know you’re going to get into that, into that next, those lifelong skills. So, you know, this, this is where it’s at, right? Action. We can use it to combat climate anxiety. We can use it to foster environmental motivation, civic motivation. So it’s, it’s it’s at the core of everything that we need to be doing. And I’m glad to see it. It’s in the research as best practice. Melissa, you want to tell us more about the lifelong cognitive skills that is developed as well.

Alyssa: Yeah. Thanks, Sarah. I love that highlight on action. That really is the center of what we do. And the additional two bullet points here, again, this is all coming from that, that mixed studies lit review. from Ardoin et al where the development emphasize the development of lifelong cognitive skills and provide ongoing opportunities for participants to engage in meaningful social reaction, interaction, reaction, maybe too. But so our process really has youth collaborating with diverse audiences, speaking and listening, problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, like doing all of this throughout. And so we know that those are important lifelong cognitive skills. And this is certainly seen in our process and students have the opportunity to really practice and develop those skills. The ongoing opportunities for participation, we totally recognize that that can be really difficult to provide these like, for example, the earth force process over and over and over to the same group of students, especially with schools, the way like traditional settings of schools and after school clubs and stuff. So this is certainly something that we are always thinking about and wanting to improve on.

We do notice, however, that when young people have the opportunity to go through the Earth Force process and engage in environmental action civics a number of times, that’s when that really, really, really and so that’s really why I like middle school is helpful to we focus on starting in middle school and it’s because research shows that when young people have those opportunities at the middle school age that they’re more likely in the future to be engaged citizens. So we’ve reviewed all of this. This article and this this lit review and we were like, Oh, my gosh, we’re doing all of these five things. This is so great. And so much more. And again, like continually thinking and talking about the research. In addition, we have been doing evaluation for 20 years at this point, that really points to To this same stuff. So we are saying like, yes, this is great. We have this process when it’s done in this certain way. The evaluation shows that like young people are developing these are having these experience and developing these like skills and such. So really excited about that. And one running theme is the importance of taking informed action. Research shows that when young people advocate to power about an issue, or they take meaningful action on issues that are important to them, that’s really when the magic happens. And so that’s really like empowerment and healing through action. And we were going to throw in a story in here too, but our team loves to chat, and so we’re already at this. It’s like 15 minute mark where we’d love to  wrap up

Krysten: Thanks everyone for tuning in today. We welcome you to drop in any research that you’ve come across that also supports this work and connects to what we do. And go ahead and share this episode with other folks who you think might be interested in learning a bit about it. All of the sources that everybody referenced today can be found here in the show notes. So we will see you all in two weeks. Bye. All right, everybody. See you later. Bye!

Want to learn more? Contact our Program Team!

Krysten Dorfman
Program Manager

Krysten supports organizations in integrating, implementing, and training Environmental Action Civics and manages our partner organizations' facilitation of the RISE Challenge in IL and MT. 

Sarah Jennings
Program Manager

Sarah coordinates the Caring for Our Watersheds Chesapeake Bay challenge and provides support in Environmental Action Civics in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Taylor Ruffin
Program Manager

Taylor manages the RISE Challenge in Colorado, supporting educators and organizations in Environmental Action Civics. 

Alyssa McConkey
Chief Program Officer

Alyssa develops and supports a growing network of organizations dedicated to integrating Environmental Action Civics. 

Written by -

Hayley Valley, Earth Force's Communications Manager, joined Earth Force in 2010 and has since held too many roles to count - all drawing on her experience in communicating Earth Force's commitment to environmental action civics. When she’s not knee-deep in Google Docs, you’ll find her chasing her two boys around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top