Reimagining Development Education for a Changing Geopolitical Landscape

Autumn 2012

Call to Action: A European Development Education Strategy

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Rilli Lappalainen


It is ten years since the Council of the European Union approved its resolution on Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR), and yet the European Union (EU), one of the biggest DEAR funders, still does not have a strategy for development education (DE).  Considering the ongoing negotiations for the multiannual financial framework and the values which the EU has been built upon – dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice - it would be reasonable for the Union to take stronger action committing to DEAR.  The European Commission (EC), Council and the European Parliament should build on recent successful processes and set up without delay a European DEAR strategy, based on the DE Consensus, the EC DEAR Study and its follow-up discussions.

Back in 2005, the European Union agreed in the European Consensus on Development that the EU would pay particular attention to development education and raising awareness among EU citizens (Council of the European Union, 2005).  Seven years later we can acknowledge that member states, the European Parliament and the Commission as well as civil society have indeed paid greater attention to DEAR.  Concepts that are closely linked to DEAR, like global learning, active global citizenship and education for sustainable development, have gained importance both nationally and regionally.  This can be seen in the increasing number of national as well as organisational strategies (CONCORD, 2009) and European initiatives (European Commission, 2010) that have been formulated in recent years.

The European Commission is funding DEAR through the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities (NSA-LA) in development framework as well as funding mechanisms beyond overseas development assistance (ODA) such as Youth in Action.  However, unlike a growing number of its member states, the European Union still does not have an explicit strategy for development education and the opportunity to develop such a strategy has never been better than today.  This article argues the case for a DE strategy and its potential benefits to development stakeholders.


Are there real commitments to development education?

The need for a DE strategy is already underlined in a growing number of existing commitments like the 2001 resolution on DE issued by the Council of the European Union which underlined that:

“[...] Given the global interdependence of our society, the raising of awareness by development education and by information contributes to strengthening the feeling of international solidarity, and also helps to create an environment which fosters the establishment of an intercultural society in Europe. Heightening awareness also contributes toward the changing of lifestyles in favor of a model of sustainable development for all” (2001: 2).

Taken into consideration the challenges of intercultural understanding, sustainable lifestyles and international solidarity, the Council called for increased support for development education in 2001 (Ibid.).

Just one year later in 2002, the participants attending the Maastricht Global Education Congress organised by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe, agreed a European Strategy Framework for improving and increasing Global Education in Europe to the year 2015 as the final declaration of the conference (North-South Centre, 2002).  This Congress was a good example of how to bring a range of actors in DE together in common cause and the outcome report is an important reference document that reflects the diversity of representatives from state- and non-state actors that committed to the strategy.  However, this paper was not politically binding and lacked systematic implementation through action plans and monitoring mechanisms, leaving its application to each individual actor’s will and capacity.  Thus, the need for a coordinated ‘strategy framework’ was recognised by a broad range of actors, including member states, the European Parliament, the Commission and civil society representatives.

The next step to systematise DEAR efforts at a European level was the reaction to the commitment to pay particular attention to development education in the European Development Consensus.  The European Development Education Multi Stakeholder Process was created at the 2006 Helsinki Development Education Conference and it led to the European Development Education Consensus, unveiled by (then) European Development Commissioner Louis Michel at in Lisbon in 2007.  The consensus outlines principles, objectives and challenges for DEAR and contains recommendations for various actors (Multi Stakeholder Group, 2007).  A broad range of state- and non-state actors such as national development agencies and ministries, international organisations (Council of Europe, OECD) and civil society platforms participated in the rolling out of this document, which became a reference framework for the whole sector.  The recent Portuguese and Czech national development education strategies refer to the European Development Education Consensus (IPAD, 2010: 16; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, 2011: 31).  However, the ‘DE Consensus’ does not have any legally binding character so is no substitute for a properly endorsed DEAR strategy for the European Union.

In parallel to all of these developments, the interest of the European institutions in a DE strategy increased.  The European Parliament stressed the importance of raising awareness of development issues and called for an overall communication and education strategy, underlining that development education for the European public has been a constant priority for the [development] committee and recommending the inclusion of global/development education within all fields of education (European Parliament, 2008: 1; 2009: 2; 2010: 7).  The European Commission, after a general evaluation of DEAR actions funded over ten years, made development education an integral part of the structured dialogue on the involvement of civil society and local authorities in EC development cooperation (European Commission, 2008: 88).  The ‘concluding paper’ recommended that:

“The EU Member States and the European Commission should strengthen their strategies for Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR), outlining concepts and objectives, and addressing questions of coherence, complementarity, coordination and the added value of different DEAR actors” (Structured Dialogue, 2011: 21).

The concluding paper of structured dialogue also specified that the EC should use results and recommendations from the DEAR study as the basis for developing its strategic policy statement (Ibid.).  The DEAR Study was one of three supporting initiatives to the process, and produced a comprehensive overview and analysis of DEAR policy and practice in the 27 EU member states by the European Commission.  Based on this research, 55 short- and long-term recommendations to the EC were formulated in order to improve its activities in the field of DEAR, including one to develop and endorse a strategic DEAR policy statement based on the core recommendations and intermediate objectives suggested in this report.  The time was never better to actually do so.


Why a European DEAR strategy?

Many leading European Union institutions have stated the importance of DEAR and the need for it to be supported and strengthened.  So why are we still lacking an EU strategy for DE?   Conversely, you might ask why the European Union should go through the difficulty of formally adopting a ‘strategic DEAR policy statement’, when documents such as the DE Consensus and the DEAR study already provide detailed guidance on concepts, objectives and implementation of EC DEAR activities.  There are five reasons outlined below why I believe a European strategy should be implemented.  They are: conceptual clarity, legitimisation and recognition; long-term directions; creating synergies; and coherence between actors to improve the quality of evaluation and learning. These strong arguments for a formal strategy have come from a national level within EU member states. 


1. Conceptual clarity

Development education concepts are in steady evolution.  While, for example, public relations might have been considered part of DEAR some years ago (and unfortunately still are for certain actors), there is today a consensus that DE is not concerned with charity, organisational publicity or public relations exercises (Multi-stakeholder group, 2007: 7).  On the other hand, concepts like global learning, active global citizenship, education for sustainable development and DEAR as a global endeavour have evolved.  The EU should be able to state clearly its concept of DEAR.


2. Legitimisation and recognition

Institutional recognition of DEAR as a policy field is crucial to ensure that DEAR policies are consistently delivered over the long term supported by the provision of organisational and financial resources.


3. Long-term direction

A strategy would allow the European Union to outline a long-term perspective for its DEAR activities, beyond the EC Annual Action Programmes of the Development Cooperation Instrument, which reduces DEAR to a minor activity within civil society ODA funding.


4. Creation of synergies and coherence between actors

While objective 2 of the EuropeAid NSA-LA programme is among the most important funding sources for DEAR, the scope of development education goes beyond ODA.  For example, activities related to active global citizenship are already implemented through a range of EC programmes under Directorate General (DG) Education and Culture or DG Environment.  A strategy would have the potential to operationalise cooperation between different EC services, but also clarify roles and complementarity with other non-EC actors such as member states and civil society, and possibly reinforce the role of the European Development Education Multi Stakeholder Process.


5. Quality, evaluation and learning

A dedicated EU DEAR strategy, including evaluation procedures and an action plan, would allow for the systematic monitoring of the effectiveness and impact of actions and enhance organisational learning.


What should the EU DEAR strategy look like?

A good basis for an EU strategy would be the European DE Consensus, in particular its sections on the role, principles, objectives and target groups of DEAR.  The Consensus has been widely agreed, and it has been used as a reference document by a broad range of state- and non-state actors which is proof of its value.  Building on this, the recommendations of the DEAR study, and in particular its ‘core recommendations’, could form the more operational part of the strategy, particularly that concerning EuropeAid’s DEAR activities, but also beyond this particular budget line.  It could outline the EU’s overall objective in development education, and clarify the following aspects in specific objectives, which are comprehensively treated in the DEAR study:

·         Coherence and coordination, including synergies within the EC services and complementarity with member states, through a multi stakeholder mechanism (ideally based on the existing multi stakeholder process);


  • ·         Quality and learning, including monitoring, organisational learning and knowledge management;


  • ·         Global perspectives, including involvement of non-European actors and global initiatives in DEAR;


  • ·         Grants and administration, including general EC grant management, the introduction of mini grants, and structural support mechanisms;


  • ·         Management of DEAR within the EC, including staff roles and structures, role of grant assessors and information provision.

Clear indicators should be attributed to each specific objective.  The strategy should cover a seven year period, accompanied by a three year action plan.  After the first three years, a mid-term review of the strategy should take place and result in possible adjustments.  The figure below outlines a possible structure for an EU DEAR strategy.


We need the strategy now more than ever

Cite article as: Lappalainen, R (2012) ‘Call to Action: A European Development Education Strategy’, Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 15, Autumn, pp. 74-82