Management: teaching collective action for ecological transition


In higher education, many voices have called for an ecological revival before the Covid-19 crisis. It is a question of students being able to understand in their training the challenges of the ecological transition imposed by climate change, the depletion of resources and biodiversity.

More than 30,000 students signed the first call launched in 2018. A second collected more than 8,800 signatures, including those of 160 school leaders and 1,200 teachers. Then more than 80 deputies signed a bill , tabled in September 2019 in the National Assembly by Delphine Batho, Matthieu Orphelin and Cédric Villani.

In the short term, students need a knowledge base on global warming . In addition, their courses must integrate these issues. Some initiatives are being taken in this direction by several institutions. Institutional support and incentives are needed so that institutions can become more involved, and in greater numbers.

In management, student training is part of what it means, that is, in a pragmatist approach , “the capacity of an organization to conduct collective activity”, as Philippe Lorino, professor emeritus at the ‘ESSEC.

To contribute professionally to the ecological transition, management students must therefore be trained to develop the collective activity of their future organization in this perspective.

They will have to situate themselves as one of its stakeholders and work more or less directly with the others. These will be external, including experts, representatives of public authorities and recipients of the activity. They will also be internal, employees having the expertise and experience essential to the implementation of a legitimate and relevant ecological transition across their organization.

Collective actions and participatory decisions

The Covid-19 crisis has (re) highlighted the necessarily participatory dimension of complex decision-making processes. Many experts regard the involvement of civil society in the management of the crisis as a societal emergency, including Jean ‑ François Delfraissy , president of the scientific council.

Eight women academics have distributed a text , signed by more than 5,500 teacher-researchers internationally on June 3, 2020. They identify the issue of the democratization of businesses as one of the lessons to be learned from the current crisis.

The conditions (principles, authorities, guarantees, processes, postures) of the development of such collective intelligence have been tested for a long time in spatial planning. It is a question of implementing an (also) participative democracy which leads to more socially relevant and legitimate decisions thanks to the taking into account not only of varied expertise, but also of experiences lived in the territories.

Territorial consultations have led their actors to enter the black box of participatory decision-making processes. Likewise, organizations engage or will have to engage in reflections with a view to collective actions to design a way out of the crisis inscribed in the ecological transition in a relevant and legitimate way, at the level of society as well as their own. .

Action-level training

To be able to contribute to this transition once in office, management students must experience reflections with a view to collective actions during their training. Because we learn to position ourselves as a stakeholder by taking sides, through experience.

To do this, teaching devices (courses, seminars, projects) offer students the opportunity to position themselves as stakeholders in collective learning based on structured exchanges – with the teacher, between students and, as the case may be. where appropriate, with other researchers, or representatives of organizations or territories – and informed by readings proposed by the teacher or students.

Exchanges with a number of ESSEC students show that they wish to understand the variations of the ecological transition in the different dimensions of their life – current social and future professional – by understanding:

  • the role of public authorities at different scales;
  • that of public and private organizations;
  • problems that this transition poses and current or future developments in sectors as varied as mobility, construction, food, NICT, energy production and distribution or product distribution circuits;
  • economic, environmental, social and territorial challenges of these activities.

At the same time, representatives of organizations and local authorities expect students to make recommendations on some of these subjects.

In these teaching devices, students are supported in the problematization of these themes on the scale of the action to which they can contribute – either territorial or organizational situations involving a plurality of actors.

The types of collective actions carried out are varied. They range from writing a document for an internal or external audience to the establishment to recommendations made for representatives of an organization, including the choice of a project or an option within the framework of the simulation of a participative decision process.

Postures of students and teachers

These teaching devices aim at an evolution of the posture of the students, stakeholders of their learning. They also involve a change in the teachers’ posture.

If a professor cannot “master” the multiple disciplines to be mobilized for the ecological transition, his knowledge is shared, as is that of the students, during the exchanges he or she leads. He or she offers them methods and angles of analysis according to their questions. And submits them new subjects for reflection by accompanying them in learning through research.

It is not a question of reducing knowledge to a utilitarian role in helping decision-making, as a quick critique of the pragmatist approach could do. The acquired knowledge and problematization capacity can then be mobilized in other reflections, with or without action.

It is also not a question of placing management students in a posture of illusory omnipotence , by promising them a radiant planetary future through their actions.

Students are increasingly concerned by the gap between emphatic discourse and insufficient acts in terms of ecological transition. Many are both curious and worried, even anxious about the future.

In this context, certain teachings must offer them the opportunity to share their curiosity and fears. And offer them knowledge and methods, as well as the conditions, to think and act with other actors in favor of the ecological transition within the framework of their future organizations and professions, whether these already exist or not yet.

The experience of such a collective commitment and the prospect of being able to act professionally constitute in themselves a source of energy, essential knowing that much remains to be done.

Author Bio: Laurence de Carlo is Professor of spatial planning, management and planning at ESSEC