Participation is now a central consideration of policy discourses at EU; national and local levels, particularly in relation to environmental resources. As it becomes a social expectation so the form, meaning and purpose of participation has diversified. While Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation (Arnstein, 1969) revealed that much ‘participation’ does little to broker a reassignment of power, this paper argues that it is perhaps time to jump off the ladder. In doing so, we suggest that an emphasis on social learning constitutes a paradigm shift in the thinking and practices of policy-making.\ud Our rationale is based on findings from several research projects on social learning for water resource management in the EU and UK. These suggest conventional policy responses to environmental problems (regulation; fiscal instruments; information) are only effective where there is pre-existing agreement on the nature of the problem and its resolution. In practice, many resource management issues are best described as ‘messes’ (Ackoff, 1974), with high degrees of interdependency; complexity; uncertainty; and multiple stakeholding.\ud These characteristics challenge notions of participation because no single group can pinpoint with confidence the nature of the problem and its solution. We explore how the term social learning rather than participation more accurately embodies the new kinds of roles, relationships and sense of purpose which will be required to progress complex, messy issues. The discussion leads to the conclusion that social learning can be understood as an emerging governance mechanism to promote concerted action, thereby enabling transformation of complex natural resource management situations
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.