Millions for research on the impact of sustainability and climate change education



A large consortium led by Utrecht University has been awarded a 5 million euro Horizon Europe grant. The partners will develop an assessment framework to map the impact of sustainability and climate change education. The number of initiatives in this field has grown enormously, but due to a lack of insight into their quality, there is a great need for impact assessment. The IMP>ACT project started in January and will run for four years.

Opportunities for education about sustainability and climate have been plentiful since the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Educational institutions and other organisations have increasingly more options to choose from when it comes to educational methods that seek to raise awareness of climate change and promote sustainable actions. Teachers want only the best for their students, but how do they make the right choice? How do they know if a certain method will indeed build their students’ competence to act, and think differently about climate change?

Fierce competition

The European Commission’s major Horizon Europe fund sees this large increase in initiatives as a positive development. However, it wonders how we can get a better grasp on their quality. The fund therefore invited European consortia to propose research to develop an impact assessment framework. After fierce competition, IMP>ACT emerged as the winner. Coordinator Jelle Boeve-de Pauw still finds it hard to believe. “There were many applications from other consortia, and chances were slim”, he says. Boeve-de Pauw is an assistant professor of science education at Utrecht University’s Freudenthal Institute. “It’s great that our efforts have been rewarded and we can now engage in this.”

Beyond standard testing

The goal of the project is to develop a set of tools that allow different users to map out the impact of sustainability and climate change education. Assessing that impact is still in its infancy, which is partly because the learning outcomes of this education are complex and go beyond standard testing. It involves learning outcomes such as knowledge of opportunities to act, the motivation to act, and confidence in one’s influence to support combating climate change. With the results of IMP>ACT, users will soon be able to assess these learning outcomes.  

Direct try-outs

The project consists of several phases, including a theoretical phase in which the researchers explicitly define what students should learn and how this can be measured. Another important phase consists of six case studies to test the impact assessment framework with different users. During this phase, organisations that provide sustainability and climate change education will assess their impact using the tools that were developed. 

Customised tools

Utrecht University leads the consortium, and research institutes from Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Serbia, and the Czech Republic are partners. In addition, organisations engaged in sustainability and climate change education, such as an educational association and a scout organisation are participating, as well as a government agency responsible for policy in the field. “We chose our partners very strategically,” Boeve-de Pauw emphasizes. “They are a reflection of potential users of the framework we are going to develop. This way we can directly take into account differences in their needs.”

Gut feeling

Schools and other educational organizations play a crucial role in addressing climate problems, Boeve-de Pauw believes. They help educate citizens who are willing and able to contribute to a sustainable future. Boeve-de Pauw emphasizes the need to make educational decisions, often guided by gut feelings, and more informed by insights from scientific research. He states: “It is the responsibility of universities to make sure that these insights are readily available.”

IMP>ACT partners: Utrecht University (Freudenthal Institute and U-Talent), Karlstad University, University of Vechta, University of Antwerp, Masaryk University, INVALSI: National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education and Training System, Centre for the Promotion of Science in Serbia, Keep Sweden Tidy, DG HochN: German Society for Sustainability at Higher Education Institutions, Flemish Government: Sustainable Education Hub, Scouting Institute in Czech Republic.