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Author's note
What is E S D?
Reorienting Education
Localizing the Global Initiative
Challenges and Barriers to E S D
Community Sustainability Goals
Case Study: Toronto, Canada Board of Education
Managing Change
Public Participation
Concluding remarks
Tools to Introduce the Concept of Sustainable Development
Tools to Create Community Goals
Tools to Reorient Education to Address Sustainability
Tools for Managing Change
Web resources

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Participants learn about communication strategies that hinder effective group work.


To recognize communication patterns and strategies that prevent progress. Note: this exercise focuses on obstructive communication strategies. The authors realize that while this is a negative focus, it is a realistic one, because proposals for change often meet with resistance.


For a closer examination of these and other barriers to change, use the exercises Recognizing Values in Action, Steering Around the Barriers, and Examining Assumptions.

Group size

1 or more participants - for attendance at town or community group meeting. Extension exercise: 2 or more participants.

Time Needed

Length of town or community group meeting (typically 30 minutes to 1 hour).



  1. Read Description of Communication Strategies sheet to understand different types of communication strategies that can slow or prevent progress. These strategies are common at meetings, especially meetings about complex issues or issues for which solutions are difficult to find.
  2. Read the Recognizing Communication Strategies worksheet to familiarize yourself with the terms and descriptions.
  3. Attend a community meeting on a local sustainability issue.
  4. When the first person begins to speak, listen for his or her name. Write the first speaker's name at the top of the column labeled "Speaker 1." Write the names of additional speakers at the top of the additional columns. Listen to each speaker carefully, analyze his or her remarks, and mark all "communication strategies" that you recognize. Repeat this procedure for each speaker until the meeting concludes.
  5. After the meeting, review your worksheet notes. Consider the following questions:
    • Which strategies were used to impede progress on the issue being discussed?
    • Who used these strategies most often?
    • Discuss whether any of the following communication strategies were observed at this meeting: - The focus shifts from attending to the problem itself to alleviating the symptoms of stress. - Speaking up so often or for so long that other participants cannot talk to the group.
    • Were strategies used that facilitated progress on the issue (e.g. putting aside minor differences of opinion in order to foster cooperation on an important issue?)
    • What were they?


  1. These strategies may be subtle and the speaker may not be conscious of using them. Imagine different ways people could act out these strategies. To gain experience and skill in identifying the different strategies listedon the "Recognizing Communication Strategies" worksheet, practice acting out the different strategieswith another participant.


The worksheet for the exercise Identifying Communication Strategies is combined with the worksheet for the exercise Recognizing Values in Action. It can be useful to do both exercises simultaneously.

Sources: Heifetz, Ronald A. 1994. Leadership Without Easy Answers. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ramsey, John M., Harold R. Hungerford, and Trudi L. Volk. 1989. A Science-Technology-Society Case Study: Municipal Solid Waste. Stipes Publishing Company. Champaign, Illinois.

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