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Operation Urban Exploration

A Model of Environmental Education Workshop for HospEx-inspired Communities

Berlin's Activity Journal

  • Google Map Here!
    Posted Oct 19, 2009, 5:17 AM by Manuel Lombardi
  • Gathered flyers.. In Prenzlauer Berg TIC - General cultural AgendaMuseumsverbund Pankov - Energie aux Wilhelmsruh - Geschichte eines Berliner Industriestandortes (30/01/2009-31/05/09)Miteinander-Füreinander Selbsthilfebegegnungsstätten - Senior organisation, seem interesting! Have ...
    Posted Mar 15, 2009, 5:40 PM by victoria@projectvolunteering.net
  • Preparation for 2009-03-14 - Review self-assessment and corrections from my activity report, and find what needs to be discussed within the group (anick) This is still on my to do list on these ...
    Posted Mar 9, 2009, 11:31 PM by victoria@projectvolunteering.net
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So here it is: you've got a small community with you, maybe you're planning on living together or are already living together. You know that you want to learn from each other and find alternatives. Alternatives to the roof-on-your-head-type of flat sharing. Or maybe to the 9 to 5 life that frightens you. Or even only to loneliness or boredom. You want to LIVE - WITH PEOPLE. 

Thing is, you gotta live somewhere, right ? 
Now, where is (or going to be) this somewhere ? 

What is there around there

When moving to a new place, there are a lot of things around to 
discover. It might be this little park where you can lie down and read on the grass... or this little green path where you can cycle. What type of trees are there ? Where's the community centre ? What can you do there ? How can you relate to it ? What in there is different from the other places around ?

I'd like to introduce this as a quest, a treasure-hunt. As the game-master, I hid nothing: all you will find are treasures already there. Hopefully, you'll share those treasures with people passing by. You'll find the best sandwich-maker around, the closest recycling bin and the second-hand store to find new shoes. Maybe you'll notice what type of tree grows around the place, maybe you'll notice this advice-centre three corners further.

This collectively-built activity is about appropriating yourself the space. Maybe you'll find yourself developing feelings for the area, the building, the closest swimming pool, the dog you always hear barking when going through that back alley.

And what you feel something for, you care for.

Welcome home.

The Activity

The activity is divided in two phases: exploration, local itinerary, local action. The second and third part come logically after the first part, but there is no limitation in the amount of times the area can be explored. You can go again with a newcomer in the community and explore again and again ! You can also do it on your way back home after a day in school/at work. 

Area Exploration

This part is a collective construction. Try to give yourself about an hour outside, altogether. Plan to put about an hour of time to record your discoveries when coming back.

  1. Get proper material: a pen and paper, a camera if you have one, a printed map of the area. Bring something to play with (juggling balls, frisbie, poïs, etc).
  2. Research a bit before: but only if you'd like to. What interests you ? Have you heard about something peculiar in your area ? Have you noticed something but never took the time to take a close look at it ? Where are the walking/cycling paths ? Where do they lead to ? Here are ideas for sources of knowledge:
    1. The area itself: observing the landscape, the nature, the buildings...
    2. The people: meet, ask, listen, observe them..
    3. Documents: at the local library, on the Internet, in local offices/government, in public spaces, in local organisations...
    4. Knowledge of the group: share and enjoy !
  3. Agree on an itinerary: looking back at the maps, try to trace an itinerary that covers what you like the most or what you think of most interest in your area.
  4. Go meet it: alone or in small groups, walk around the area where you live. Try to be aware. Try to notice. Take notes. Stop taking notes. Enjoy. Take pictures. Go further. If you meet people, why not try and talk to them ? How are they ? If there is a centre, a city building, an organization office, why not get in, say hello and collect some flyers ? Observe and try to find things you never noticed before. Try to go a different way than planned, if the group feels like it.
  5. Feel it: take a deep breath and spend 5 minutes just looking around, or closing your eyes, and feeling a spot in your surroundings. Play a bit with the material you brought !
  6. Record your impressions: Take a few pictures or draw, or write a short paragraph or an haïku. Why do you like this area ? What do you like about this area ?
  7. Talk about it !: Exchange impressions with others (in your community meeting, on your online forum/blog). Try to make your own opinion about what you've seen, to go further than the first impression, to integrate what you've learned. What determines the quality of your area ? What is a positive aspect ? What are the downsides ? What worries the people, culturally ?
  8. Share with others: Leave a trace of what you've found. There are several ways to do it. You can either add it to the website here, or contribute to well known contributive-websites. See the list below for more inspiration. In any case, please mention it in the log so that members of your community can benefit from what you found. Sharing is caring :) Consider adding your itinerary through a Google Map. What are the things you noticed along the way ?
Psst ! What's the most direct environment ? The flat ! The building ! The street ! Are there treasures hidden there ? What goes in and out ? Water, energy, air, food, waste.. How is it organized ?

Contributive Websites

  • Wikimapia: WikiMapia is a Web 2.0 project to describe the whole planet Earth inspired by Google maps and Wikipedia. 
  • Wikitravel:Wikitravel is a project to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliableworldwide travel guide. 
  • Couchsurfing Wikiproject to gather useful information about places and travelling for CouchSurfers. It is not a general travel guide. However, if it's worth mentioning if there's a bar that is frequented a lot by CouchSurfers, i.e. regular meetups, or if you want to guide people on a museum tour, you can mention that (and add a link to your profile).
  • Google Maps: you can use this tool to create maps to be shared with other people on other websites/platforms
  • Hitchwiki: collaborative website for gathering information about hitchhiking and other ways of extremely cheap ways of transport.
  • Wikipedia: free, multilingual, open content encyclopedia. 10 million articles in 253 languages
  • Wordreference: A serie of dictionaries, but there are forums where you can help contribute to help people translate some expressions. Commercial website.
  • Directories (Please add to this list)
Local Action

 - This section has not been tested yet, and would benefit experience to get improved.

This part takes root in the weekly meetings and/or the forums/blog.

  1. Problems: Have you noticed any problems in your area ? What is the nature of the problem (environmental, social, cultural, etc.). 
  2. Dream: What would be the ideal situation in regards of these problems ? Who could solve it ? Would there be an original way of doing it ? A radical way of doing it ?
  3. Inventory: What could YOU possibly do ? Does it solve/contribute to solving the problem ? What impact could it have ?
  4. Select: a realizable activity/project that will improve/solve the situation. Try to make it : 
    1. Easy: To carry to a result is more motivating, although we love processes...
    2. Fun: An opportunity to spend some fun time together, to bond, to feel proud, to enjoy the outdoors
    3. Involving: Invite people from the local HospEx community to participate/contribute. Look for ideas, resources, presence
    4. Structured: You would like to see it done, right ? So take some time to think about the steps to take, the resources you need, go and get them, give tasks and share responsibilities..
    5. Together: As a group, you learn more, have more fun, keep the motivation high, acheive more, inspire more people... Is there a way to involve people outside your little group as well ?
  5. Plan: Organize the course of action, share responsibilities, think of B plans, resources, etc.
  6. Realize it !: Come on baby you can do it ! Well, it means putting in action what you planned: guerilla gardening, waste collection, association with a local organization.. who knows ?
  7. Debrief it!: Evaluation is a critical part and should never be underestimated. It allows you not only to measure the results and assess any follow-ups needed, but also to learn as much as possible from the experience. It would be useful to write a log entry about it, and keep your action documentated. You want to repeat actions when they are cool and efficient, you want to avoid the ones that were not and LEARN from what went wrong/right. 
  8. Rectify, if possible. Try to keep track of what you tried, how you corrected it and if it worked. It's a type of research you are doing.

Theoretical aspects

  • Conception of Environment

    Environment is firstly seen here as a shared living area to know, to organize. It is centred in the place of living, the house, the neighbourhood. It's where people evolve daily. The core values are the feeling of belonging, conviviality. The exploration tool is a map of the area. Then, it becomes a community project to involve oneself within, to exercise democracy, to cooperate, to participate.

    For the second part, depending of the points of view of the different participants, the conception of environment might take other shades: some might see it more as nature, others as resource, or in a very systemic, biospheric or problem-orientated fashion.

  • Conception of Education

    The conception of education is constructivist and based on learning communities created on places where daily life is lived. Projects are significant for learners. Extra care & value is put on context and culture to rebuild the link to the world. This vision of education is based on a view of society where people, communities, society and nature are fundamentally united, inter-penetrated.

    Education is based on experience and interaction as a mean to gain knowledge. It aims toward social transformation.

    EE is seen as an individual and collective development process within fundamental education. It's a global & transversal education continuum.

    Its aim is to bring up changes in values, attitudes and behaviours within the relation with others and the biophysical environment, guiding people into awareness, knowledge & competencies acquisition, proper attitudes, conducts, values and active participation to improvement.

    It educates to BE, to KNOW-HOW, to WANT-TO-ACT and to CAN-ACT in relation to Oïkos, the shared house/universe.

  • Values:

  • Social Values: Cooperation, dialogue, deep transformation, interrelation/interdependence/unicity, solidarity, responsibility, ethics, self-management, self-expression, self-reliance, leadership, sharing, involvement, sense of community.
    • Environmental Values: Appropriation of the environment (make it yours, make it personal and care for it), participation, respect for life, matter, diversity, harmony with the environment.
    • Educational Values: integration - systemic vision, holism - globality, curiosity, equality, co-education.


Integrate an environmental dimension to the process of forming/participating in a sustainable & dynamic learning community, both off-line & on-line, in the context of hospitality exchange by creating links between the community and its surroundings.


Knowledge of...

Our direct living area, biophysically and socioculturally, its environmental history and future perspectives

Ecological, social and cultural stakes related to environmental problems in our area

Know-how (cognitive, strategical or technical abilities)

Develop curiosity, critical thinking and awareness and reflection in action
Experience collaborative learning, appreciate its positive aspects and promote it as a mean of sustainable education
Combine intellectual activities and practical experiences
Experience a multidisciplinary approach and integrate knowledge and values.

Research, transform & improve means of communication and educational practices of collective learning in an on-line community perspective

Awareness of:

Environment as a global, contextual & complex shared reality
Social identity & relations between individuals, society and environment,
Wealth and resources of environment, and how we're using them
Social values and their impact on environment
Environmental problems and their relation with social problems

Attitude & Values:

Appreciate positive aspects of environment and increase motivation to act. Feel the importance of the different elements of the environment. Explore the meaning associated with it.
Encourage introspection
Understand and improve the relation, respect, feeling of belonging and responsibility towards the place of living.
Develop awareness and critical attitude towards social values and our very own value system.
Choose deliberately the values we live by and live consequently.
Consider alternative ways of living and thinking

Knowledge to act

Commit to a permanent & autodidact learning process towards the indivual – society – environment relations network
Inspire community project and participate to them


Trends Inspiring the Project

Humanist: The area where one lives seems to be a very good anchoring point for an intervention on the this type of community. The first attempt to define Permanent Hospitality Berlin (PHB) was putting a lot of emphasis on the sociocultural aspect of the initiative, mentioning many activities and the desire to link the traveller with the local community. As newcomers in a specific area of Berlin, participants have everything in front of them to be discovered, and would probably do it by themselves, as they need it, unconsciously. The activity is somehow an exploration catalyst and an opportunity to think, but also to inspire participation.

As travellers, participants are used to land in a completely new world and make themselves home. In this activity, the exploration is systematized, shared and constructive. Also, the humanist trend explores the question of meaning, allowing individuals to act on their values and to exercise critical thought, thus being in phase with the usual "quest for meaning" the traveller is often on. Finally it respects the diversity of individual interests within the group, allowing each of us to find a starting point that is ours within the process. It is appropriate at a community scale and integrates popular education.

Ethnographic: HospEx communities are not only a cultural melting-pot, but also a "place" of openness, it felt natural to me to integrate this trend. Travellers experience constant identity self-questioning and must frequently reassess their cultural values and integrate new experiences. Cultural interactions allow to deepen the relation to the area and to clarify our own values.

Bioregionalist: This trend completes harmoniously the humanist trend in the context of area exploration, especially regarding developing the feeling of belonging. It allows a transition towards the second phase of the activity, the development of projects related to discoveries from the first phase. It orientates the activity towards co-responsibility and co-management of the shared space.

Eco-education: This trend inspires the activity on the "awareness" level. Identity is not the central theme, but considering the constant multi-cultural interaction, identity is constantly questioned and redefined. Exploring the environment and confronting different points of view collectively is a way to approach and develop the question of meaning. Multiplicity of the group's different quests, as well as their dynamical aspect make "alternation" method appropriate, respecting individual rhythms. The activity can't be with fixed terms, where everyone starts and finishes at the same time, due to the nature of the group.


I associated two approaches for the major part of the activity, mainly in relation to learning processes and linked to the nature, values and objectives of the community.

The cooperative approach dominates the activity, consistently with the project's social values. It is inspired from a socio-constructivist vision of education, and puts emphasis at all stages on the individual contribution to the collective knowledge via on-line tools and contributive websites. The strength of this approach lies within the participants' integration of experiences, knowledge and cultures, taking advantage of the wide diversity within the community.

It was also not possible for the PHB group to consider a pedagogical approach in which the agent would not have been equal to other members of the group (external agent). The collaborative approach respects this fundamental criteria of intervention. It's an approach that can be very well integrated within the "living area" conception of environment, with an emphasis on the "shared" aspect and collective responsibility.

The experiential approach is closely associated with the cooperative one, as the environment and its biophysical & socio-cultural components are the main educational agents. The experience is first lived through a perceptive, affective encounter, and is then analysed, criticized, internalised individually and collectively (conjugated with a pragmatical and reflexive approach) within on-line tools (blogs, forums, groups, website) and group discussion. Experience eventually leads to the creation of new projects, which is linked to the global pedagogical approach of project-based learning, integrating a praxis-based approach (with the active search for meaning). It also underlines the contextual aspect of environment, and the "awareness" objectives of the activity.

The reflexive approach is also incorporated within every debate constructing the activity, within the experimentation and the collective contribution. Each of them leads to reassessment, to a different point of view and, if needed, to rectification, correction, improvement of collective knowledge. Ultimately, we can involve members of the enlarged community into mobilizing projects.


Framework: Learning Community

Main Strategy: Environmental Exploration

Other influences:

- Environmental Interpretation
- Free Play Time (to help let go, build affective bonds and prevent excessive rationalization)
- Documentary Research (as a potential starting point of the area exploration)
- Inventory (when documenting the activity)



Community-based evaluation, inspired by critical, cooperative and praxis approaches. It is integrated in research-action, within a learning community.

Essential principles:
- Participant's equality
- Collaboration
- Transparency
- Quest for a shared, corrected, reflected knowledge
- Diffusion of results in relevant networks/websites
- Dialogue
- Participative self-evaluation
- Co-evaluation
- Rectification as a mean of learning

Logs or activity journal
Contributive websites
Real-time & real-life discussions (debriefing)
Evaluation cheat sheet (needs to be drafted)
General community site.

At the end of each phase of the activity, less than two weeks after its realisation.

What: The activity and its appropriation by all participants.

By whom: All participants

Why: Reflect on action in order to improve it, to integrate a reflexive dimmension and make the activity more relevant, meaningful and appropriate for the specific context.

How: Debate offline/online, chat, contribution to the activities' journal.