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Local Agenda 21: Planning for the future, changing today

Xavier, Luciana Yokoyama, Jacobi, Pedro Roberto, Turra, Alexander
Environmental science & policy 2019 v.101 pp. 7-15
citizen participation, decision making, issues and policy, learning, planning, questionnaires, social capital, social structure, stakeholders, sustainable development, Brazil
Agenda 21 is a globally coordinated action plan to promote sustainability and social empowerment. Outcome evaluations of Agenda 21 show a failure both to provide results with a long-term orientation and to promote public participation, the latter of which is essential to the management process. Studies indicate that to achieve sustainable development, the quality of public participation in management processes is more important than quantity. Such quality may be the result of a process of social learning, the joint and collaborative learning among different stakeholders that, through interaction, increases their capability to perform joint tasks related to environmental problems and build social capital. Thus, social learning can foster Agenda 21 implementation, improving the quality of processes and their results. To test whether social learning can occur in an Agenda 21, we analyzed an Agenda 21 process carried out in a coastal bay in São Paulo (Brazil). Through process observation and collection of questionnaire data, social learning changes were identified in a group of participants in the process. The results showed evidence of the acquisition of new information, increased perception of the system’s complexity, development of social skills (such as the consideration of other’s needs and interests in decision making), change in social context and in social structure with empowerment of local community. These changes, related to how the process was designed, led to social capital crucial to Agenda 21 continuity. This demonstrated the importance of conducting the Agenda 21 processes considering the potential to promote social learning in the search for more democratic and sustainable management practices.