circular estonia

innovation in education and governance



My name is Maarja. This blog, for the time being, is just to collect some ideas as they develop and change, become something more concrete. I am very interested in education, learning systems, innovation, sustainable development, employment and economy, governance, (social) enterprise, social change etc. At the moment I live in England, but hope to return to my home country Estonia one day and keep close working relationships. My primary focus is on higher education and how to connect it strategically to regional development through innovation, enterprise and collaborative projects, but in the long term I would like to be involved in the entire education and learning system.  🙂

I have started this small venture in Bradford UK, which is just about to kick off properly in the coming year The name might change. And the website will. I guess the creative process can be confusing and messy. Bear with me.

UPDATE SEPT 2015: I no longer live in the UK! And I also need revisit a lot of the things I’ve written below!

Here is how I see the Circular Estonia project at the moment.

Circular Estonia is in essence an action research project that aims to create a circular economy and achieve sustainable development goals (I define this very broadly) through strategic interventions in education and governance.

Inspired by systems thinking methodologically, I look for inter-disciplinary creative solutions and new models in education, governance/management, business and civil society collaboration. What underpins collective learning, collaboration and innovation activity in society? As part of the activities we test various methods. For example, we are exploring whether connecting local government GIS system and with an innovation and collaboration platform that revolved around a vision and set goals and connected to a higher education institution for learning and research purposes could make a positive impact.

Governance in this day and age is changing – it is no longer the “government” that has all the solutions and responsibilities, but there is an increasing understanding that the civil society – all of us – play a big role in shaping the way we live and how our society functions. The numerous social enterprises and civil society initiatives, business and charity partnerships etc. attest to this. Yet there are many challenges, one in particular – we often do not collaborate effectively.

For example, Eggers and Macmillan (2013. p.2) write that “government agencies often find themselves working at cross-purposes. Public health agencies fund obesity programs while U.S Department of Agriculture subsidizes sugar. Transportation departments fight traffic congestion on the one hand while subsidizing road use on the other. International development agencies provide aid to farmers in the developing world while trade barriers keep foreign agricultural goods out of Western markets.” These examples show that there is a lack of strategic direction and insight – what are we working towards and how do we get to desired results together? In the face of many regional and global challenges, it is tantamount that we learn to collaborate and perhaps more importantly realize the factors underpinning the success of this.

Education and moreso “learning” plays a very important role in supporting this transition. Education both reflects the society and shapes the society. We can see the evident impact of informal learning processes facilitated by social media, TV, our social circles etc., but I’d argue that formal education still holds one of the biggest opportunities for unleashing and supporting positive change in a systemic way (as well as keeping the status quo).

The kind of skills, attitudes and values we create through the educational experience shape the way we move forward both as individuals and as a society.

My project is therefore best described as an experiment that starts in a higher education setting. I am most curious about the innovation labs phenomenon. Can “innovation labs” and collaborative projects (triple and quadruple helix: education, governance, business etc – exploring and creating synergies between these processes by careful design)  act as a catalyst that bridges the efforts of many organisations and individuals in a framework of ethical and sustainable development? 

A vision unites people, gives direction.  Although there is no consensus on the “sustainable development” values and goals, perhaps  a critical mass of likeminded individuals is enough. This reminds me an important starting point – the invidual.  An active citizen, ethically aware entrepreneur, a scientist, a doctor… Perhaps this gives us all a reminder to reflect on our learning journeys and the factors that contribute(d) to the development of our worldview, attitude and values.

One is clear, whether it be employment for all, eradication of poverty, creation of a circular economy and 0-waste society, ensuring quality of education for all, or other goals – these cannot be achieved in isolation – a systemic or “circular” approach is needed.

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