Regenerative economics for secondary schools funded by Doughnut Economics Action Lab

In 2023 LearnJam carried out a design sprint, in collaboration with Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) and Jennifer Brandsberg-Engelmann, to create and test a proof-of-concept for a course in Regenerative Economics – to challenge existing mainstream courses at secondary school level.

It is our belief that the current economic systems and the endless pursuit of growth are the foundation of many of our social and environmental issues. We were therefore extremely energised to work on a project that aligned so strongly with our mission of helping people imagine radically better ways of being on this planet.

Why regenerative economics

The economics that young people are taught today does little to question the exploitative, extractive features of neoliberal economics. There is no mention of planetary boundaries, the commons or unpaid labour carried out in homes everywhere, every day. There is no questioning of the damage being done to people and planet through the pursuit of endless growth. Each year, tens of thousands of young people around the world learn about economics in a way that leaves little room for the exploration of alternatives to the dominant systems of today, thereby propping up these systems and making real change more difficult.

Questions we explored

When LearnJam joined the project, lots of thinking had already been done towards developing the course, but there were still many questions to explore. For example: 

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is the value proposition of the course?
  • Is the intention to focus on the Global North, or was the intention to focus on the people and areas most affected by climate change and extractive economic systems? 
  • What is the role of the teacher in this course?
  • What are the principles that will guide the development of this prototype?
  • What learning design features are the best fit for the context?
  • What is the role of hope in the learning design?
  • Are we trying to develop young activists? 

What we did

LearnJam co-created and facilitated a ‘design sprint’ inspired series of sessions so that we could take some of the ideas that Jennifer had for this programme, and further develop them into a concept. We then created a ‘proof of concept’ that allowed us to put the concept into practice, test assumptions, and test our ideas with stakeholders. What we learned from testing the proof of concept helped determine the overall course design and fed into the development of the initial prototype.

These outputs informed a more detailed project proposal that successfully secured funding to build out the full course, which is now in development.

You can view the prototype course here.

“Working with LearnJam really clarified our ideas about the Regenerative Economics learning materials. The team set up an efficient process for developing the concept and learning design principles that are perfectly aligned with the course content and purpose.
Following our work together, I was able to quickly and confidently write a prototype that informed a full project proposal and helped us secure funding. I also appreciated their intrinsic interest in our work. It was great to collaborate with an external team driven by the same goals.”

Jennifer Brandsberg-Engelmann, Regenerative Economics Project lead

What guided us

During the project, we worked with the metaphor of wildflower. Our collective hope was that the Regenerative Economics course acts like a wildflower, taking root in even the smallest of cracks and spreading seeds to change the way economics is understood by young people around the world.

We developed the following set of principles that guided the work we were doing and the course itself:

  • Facilitate change from the ground up: We recognise the urgency for change in our current systems and believe that change cannot wait for official approval. This course is designed for students that want to change their futures; not for institutions and exams.
  • Cultivate local awareness and action: The materials aim to be globally relevant, while providing guidance and space for exploration of local contexts. The activities prioritise autonomy and choice, emphasising place-based learning and lived experience; allowing ideas and action to emerge in local contexts.
  • Orient towards the sun: Rather than focusing on criticism of current economic systems, the materials aim to be inspiring and irresistible through a hopeful, positive and playful approach to learning about and engaging with economic systems.
  • Nurture interconnection: The materials values diversity and interconnectedness and seeks co-creation, and cross-pollination with diverse educational ecosystems. The materials and assessments nourish systems thinking, conceptual connection, and collaboration to help students make sense of and engage with the dynamic complexity of social and environmental systems to strengthen positive relationships between humans and the more-than-human world.
  • Prioritise form that follows function: The hyper-modular materials aim to be flexible enough to grow through the cracks in the rigid surface of mainstream economics courses.
  • Practise generosity: The materials are open-access, shared with the CC BY-SA 4.0 creative commons licence. The hope is that everyone who uses or is inspired by the materials pays it forward.

The Regenerative Economics course has secured funding and is now in development; a sample can be seen here.

If you also believe we need a course in regenerative economics, we invite you to sign the open letter.

“This collaboration was a great opportunity to contribute towards the change that we need in our quest to transition to thriving futures. LearnJam created a safe and intimate space for all of us to bring in our diverse views on ‘what it could be’ successfully. Feeling very inspired. It was a real pleasure to learn from each-other and we are excited to see where we go next!”

Carolina Escobar-Tello, Schools and Education Lead, Doughnut Economics Action Lab