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What we learned from the first cohort of the Decoding Injustice Learning Lab

In 2023, CESR's Decoding Injustice Learning Lab welcomed its inaugural cohort, who explored our innovative research toolset designed to advance economic, environmental, and social justice. Our recent survey and interviews with participants reveal significant insights into the Learning Lab's impact, from enhancing community-based methodologies to fostering diverse connections across movements. Here's a glimpse into what we've learned and our aspirations for future cohorts.

By: Dirk Slater, CESR’s advisor of over five years on facilitation and building collective power.

The Decoding Injustice research toolset is an iteration of CESR’s methodological work, expanding on the OPERA framework. The Learning Lab is a way of disseminating and understanding how Decoding Injustice benefits and provides value to activists and allies. It also allows CESR to connect with new groups and actors while facilitating peer learning, enhancing its role as a ‘learning organization’ and its visibility in providing action-oriented research methodologies. It also raises CESR’s ability to convene across movements.

We surveyed and interviewed several of the participants to learn more about what was valuable about their experience and get feedback on how we might improve the experience of future cohorts. They told us:

“What was significant about the workshop for me was the opportunity to share different methods of gathering data and overcome data-gathering challenges with other activists.”

“You have your preconceptions about different actors' perspectives on a specific problem, but OPERA forces you to reflect on and question those preconceptions” 

“The participatory format made us feel we were co-creating knowledge while using the OPERA framework”

In short, members of the 2023 cohort expressed that the benefits they’ve gained from participating are:

  • The ability to apply Decoding Injustice methodologies and exercises in their communities.

  • New ways of approaching and analyzing systematic social problems.

  • Rethinking their approaches to conducting research.

  • Connecting to and learning about similar efforts.

The Learning Lab’s strength is using the Decoding Injustice framework to identify and pinpoint systemic issues in a social learning setting. Even for organizations already doing practical research, exposure to different perspectives and approaches helped them evaluate and reconsider their research methodologies. Many participants reused the exercises, such as the problem tree, from interacting and engaging with them during the workshop. We also saw participants learning from each other and taking the opportunity to understand their different contexts and begin to build solidarity. 

In our next cohort iteration, we aim to overcome scheduling challenges and shorten the duration of the cohort so we can maximize momentum. We also hope to overcome language barriers and use interpreters in small group sessions, and we will also explore mentoring. Stay tuned for more information on what's next with the Learning Lab!