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Social Learning Through Environmental Risk Analysis of Biodiversity and GM Maize in South Africa


  • Genya V. Dana,

    Corresponding author
    • Conservation Biology Graduate Program, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
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    • Disclaimer: This article was written prior to the author's employment at the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.

  • Kristen C. Nelson

    1. Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
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Genya V. Dana, Dana & Sharpe Risk Associates, 1600 North Oak Street, Arlington, VA, USA. E-mail:


Environmental risk analyses (ERAs) can benefit from participatory methods that enhance social learning, whereby diverse participants share knowledge and perspectives to learn about complex socio-ecological systems, develop a collective understanding of the risk problem and build support for specific solutions. We used surveys and interviews to investigate social learning among 22 stakeholders during a participatory ERA workshop to evaluate risks of genetically modified maize to South African biodiversity. The ERA process incorporated methodologies designed to enhance social learning, such as open communication, constructive conflict and extended engagement. We observed that social learning occurred as participants understood new information and perspectives, began thinking systemically and transformed their impressions of other participants. In this workshop, they did not develop a shared understanding of the ERA process or priority risks. However, the ERA workshop did engender social learning about other stakeholders, socio-ecological systems and risk, creating a foundation for longer, iterative engagement needed to build shared understanding of complex problems and solutions related to biodiversity governance. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment