Communication, Participation & Social-Ecological learning (CoPSEL)

Transition processes for sustainable futures

Contemporary transitions responding to climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity require shared visions on a sustainable future. The research group Communication, Participation & Social-Ecological learning (CoPSEL) aims to contribute to transition processes for sustainable futures by exploring processes of communication, participation and social-ecological learning in regional, national and international contexts. The recent advice on the role of the central government in the transition to a sustainable economy of the Council for Environment and Infrastructure refers to this in the recommendation formulated as “Transitions require a coherent future vision on a sustainable society despite the uncertainty on how this future will develop”. Also, the recent IPCC report recommends to work towards a wider understanding of the anthropogenic character of climate change to be able to act on mitigation and adaptation. It is further stated that “Limiting the risks from global warming of 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication implies system transitions that can be enabled by an increase of adaptation and mitigation investments, policy instruments, the acceleration of technological innovation and behaviour changes.” These recommendations emphasise the relevance of a multi-stakeholder and system approach while working on assigned responsibilities in which short term interests and prevailing paradigms conflict with long term ambitions, ‘social-imaginaries’ and desirable governance practices.

The CoPSEL group works in arenas of knowledge co-creation, participatory and deliberative governance focusing on projects and partnerships in configurations such as living labs where private sector, civil society, knowledge institutions and government collaborate. Applying a perspective of experience capitalisation highlights the interest of the group to document and share outcomes of value creation in societal, professional and academic spaces.

A transdisciplinary and cross cutting research group

CoPSEL is a transdisciplinary group with an integrative way of working; cooperating with diverse research groups on both VHL University of Applied Sciences (VHL) campus and other (international) universities. The research group contributes to education of diverse VHL bachelor (Land and Water Management, Management of the Living Environment, Coastal and Marine Management, International Development Management, Forestry and Nature Management) and (international) master programmes (Management of Development, Agriculteral Productiona Chain Management, Innovative Dairy Chain Management and River Delta Development).

Getting in touch with CoPSEL:

Dr. Loes Witteveen – Professor [email protected]
Dr. Jan Fliervoet – Senior researcher [email protected]

Involved lecturer – researchers:
Brechtje Horsten (T&L)
Judith Santegoets (ML, BNB)
Karen Tuason (APCM)
Leonoor Akkermans (IDM)
Marcel Rompelman (LWM)
Dr. Pleun van Arensbergen (MoD)
Suzanne Assink (KZM)


Researchteam CoPSEL
Researchteam CoPSEL

Examples of CoPSEL research, projects, and partnerships

VPA Rhine River branches

The Visual Problem Appraisal ‘Rhine River branches’ develops strategic guidance for the complex, multi-stakeholder setting of sustainable river management for the river Rhine and its branches in the Netherlands. The VPA creates a tool to support innovative governance as it shapes processes of participation and social learning, creating social imaginaries of sustainable resource management and policy platforms to communicate about sustainable river futures.

VPA Rijntakken ‘The Making of’

VPA Rijntakken trailer         

Dutch version

English version

VPA Kerala’s Coast

Heavy rainfall in the Monsoon seasons in 2018 and 2019 led to major floods in the south Indian state of Kerala. It was reported that more than 483 people died, at least a million people were evacuated from their homes, and damage accounted over US$5.8 billion. According to the Kerala government, one-sixth of the total population of Kerala had been directly affected by the floods and related incidents. This context motivated the development of a remake of the VPA Kerala’s Coast, which has been produced in 2003 – 2004 by an inter-disciplinary team from Cochin University of Science and Technology and Aurora studio in India, in cooperation with staff from Delft University of Technology, Wageningen University and VHL in the Netherlands. The goal for developing the VPA Kerala’s Coast 2.0 is to contribute to problem analysis, policy design and social dialogue in a context of participatory governance. The visual documentation and comparison of the perspectives on climate induced risks, climate change and adaptation in Kerala now and 15 years ago also relates to the Dutch themes of Delta management. VPA Kerala’s Coast 2.0 is a contemporary tool for education and training, and allows a longitudinal research perspective on climate change, community resilience and adaptive governance.
VPA Kerala’s Coast 2.0 trailer:

Living Lab Delta East (in Dutch: Living Lab Delta Oost) and VPA Dutch Delta

Living Lab Delta East, covers the urbanized river area of Arnhem and Nijmegen where the river Rhine splits into the Waal, Lower Rhine and IJssel. In this area many interests come together, like shipping, mineral extraction, agriculture, urbanization, nature and recreation. And making the river area climate proof so that it can cope with the extremes in water regimes. Living Lab Delta East provides an arena where complex water related issues of the urbanized fluvial area link to an array of governance, knowledge and communication challenges and the quest for sustainable futures. The challenges in this river area are so complex that no organization or institution can solve them alone. Within the Living Lab approach knowledge institutes, companies, governments and citizens work hand in hand on Innovations. The Riverine landscape and sustainable river management are characteristic for the Dutch Delta and thereby contribute to the Dutch identity of land below sea-level and associated struggles since centuries. This Dutch identity and water expertise finds a proud expression in an article published by the New York Times with the quote “It is not just a bunch of dikes and dams, but a way of life.”

The Living Lab Delta East has a strong methodological focus on aspects of communication and participation in transition processes for sustainable futures. Innovation is conceptualized with due respect for diverse aspects as addressed in the model of orgware, hardware and software to unravel, predict and develop pathways for transformation. The Living Lab Delta East, in the context the European project INVEST, creates and opportunity for international students to engage in contemporary multi-stakeholder settings.
Aligned with the VPA on sustainable river management it is envisioned to develop a VPA Dutch Delta as a learning methodology for international water communities portraying the Dutch water system and the governance context.

Living Lab Enrekang: Digital Farmer Field School

As climate change increase the challenges on sustainable agriculture in Enrekang district, Indonesia, different institutions joined hands in a living lab configuration to work towards an integration of agricultural and environmental knowledge systems covering the mountainous rural areas. COVID-19 added to the felt urgency for a distance education and rural communication platforms. The regional government and the University of Muhammadiyah Enrekang (UNIMEN) invited the CoPSEL group for a series of exploratory activities for their DFFS expertise obtained during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. The DFFS Enrekang is a tablet based digital learning platform aiming to provide an alternative for farmers to access information on sustainable agricultural and environmental practices. The local design team of the DFFS Enrekang, composed of a transdisciplinary team from relevant government institutions and research institutions is currently trained by the CoPSEL group, funded by NUFFIC. The training on user experience and user interface design has resulted in a series of deliverables such as seasonal calendar, user stories book, established design principles and an elaborated vision on inclusive and responsible approach towards knowledge exchange.

Lia Nurdahalia at the International Conference on Assessment and Development of Agricultural Innovation. ICADAI July 2021. Bogor. Indonesia.
Cocoa Training in Times of Ebola Sunday Morning Reflections of Mohamed Fofana

The Philippines VPA Climate Change Adaptation

In cooperation with the professorship Circular Economy and Water Resources Management. Local approaches to supporting agricultural productivity and managing impacts of climate variability and change in indigenous communities in Aurora Province, Philippines. VPA Climate Change Adaptation Philippines is a partnership with Reading University (UK).

Public participation in climate adaptation, The Netherlands.

In cooperation with HZ university of applied sciences, Rotterdam university of applied sciences and Hanze university of applied sciences we developed a series filmed interviews as a method for mediated participation. The documentation how citizens experience their garden reveals options for citizen climate adaptation.

Carbon Connects (EU Interreg North-West Europe)

The CoPSEL group is developing a web-based interactive, learning environment with the (working) title: Peat Experience Activity Territory and Peat Experience Activity Town (PEAT). PEAT will be offering opportunities for diverse activities of diverse users with knowledge elements which can be compiled by education providers in units for vocational training and bachelor units. Envisioned users are young farmers who have an interest to explore new business models, crops and experiences from other land use options; students who eventually visit the ‘town’ as an integral part of their curriculum in relation to climate robust land use and young people with an interest in climate or environmental activism in search of a better understanding of peatland and greenhouse gas related issues.

Key publications

Witteveen, L., Arensbergen Van, P., Fliervoet, J.M. (2021). Design and development of mediated participation for environmental governance transformation. Central European Journal of Communication CEJoC. (Publication under review)

Smits, A.J.M., Straatsma, M.W., Fliervoet, J.M. (2019). Co-creative river landscapes (in Dutch: Co-creatieve Rivierlandschappen). Landschap, 2. (

Witteveen L., Lie R. (2019). Visual Communication and Social Change. In: Servaes J. (eds) Handbook of Communication for Development and Social Change. Springer, Singapore doi:10.1007/978-981-10-7035-8_55-1

Witteveen, L., Lie, R. (2018). Visual Problem Appraisal. An educational package, which uses filmed narratives. In S. Griffith, M. Bliemel & K. Carruthers. Visual tools for developing student capacity for cross-disciplinary collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship. & A. Rourke and V. Rees (Series Curators), Transformative Pedagogies in the Visual Domain: Book No. 6. Champaign, IL: Common Ground Research Networks.

Witteveen, L., den Boer, J. (2018). River Flows – An Artistic Approach Towards Community Resilience, Participation and Social Learning in Natural Resources Management. 2018. Chapter in Nico Carpentier (ed.) (2019) Respublika! Experiments in the performance of participation and democracy. Limassol: Neme

Witteveen, L., Lie, R., Goris, M., & Ingram, V. (2017). Design and development of a digital farmer field school. Experiences with a digital learning environment for cocoa production and certification in Sierra Leone. Telematics and Informatics.

Van de Fliert, E., Sam, S., Cooper, T., Witteveen, L., Lie, R., Torres, C., Tirol, S., Dagli, W., Hambly, H., Pereze, M., Cardey, S., Acunzo, M. (2017). Inclusive rural communication services - Building evidence, informing policy. Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations FAO. Rome. 101 pp.

Fliervoet, J.M., Geerling, G.W., Mostert, E., Smits, A.J.M. (2016). Analyzing Collaborative Governance Through Social Network Analysis: A Case Study of River Management Along the Waal River in The Netherlands. Environmental Management, 57 (2), 355-367.

Witteveen, L., Eweg, R., Smits, S., Voskamp-Harkema, W. (2016). Design principles for Living Lab’s aiming at sustainable development. The role of higher education in Living Lab’s. Paper presented at Competence 2016. Wageningen

Kasim, K., Witteveen, L., Sirajuddin, Z., Durani, H., Chavez-Tafur, J. (2016). Resilience: Touching a Colourful Sky: Breaking the Mould of Linear Models of Innovation and Creating Innovative Learning Spaces for Social Change of Resilient Small-Scale Farmers. Journal of Culture, Society and Development. Vol.18, 2016

Jobse, J.C., Witteveen, L., Santegoets, J. & van der Linde, D. (2015). Educating the next generation of nature entrepreneurs. In: A. Watson, S. Carver, Z. Krenova & B. McBride (comps.). Science and stewardship to protect and sustain wilderness values: Tenth World Wilderness Congress symposium; 2013 4-10 October, Salamanca, Spain. Proceedings RMRS-P-74. (pp. 28-34). Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Fliervoet, J.M., Van den Born, R.J.G., Smits, A.J.M., Knippenberg, L. (2013). Combining safety and nature: A multi-stakeholder perspective on integrated floodplain management. Journal of Environmental Management, 128, 1033-1042.