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Dr Andrea Berardi

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Profile summary

Professional biography

Andrea Berardi has more than 20 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for enabling sustainable communities. After achieving qualifications in ecology (BSc), nature conservation (MSc) and environmental science (PhD), he has taught at the London School of Economics, University College London, Royal Holloway, and The Open University. His work has engaged communities from the Borneo and Amazonian rainforests; the floodplains of the Mekong and the Guianas; the savannas of East Africa and Latin America; and the coastal regions of southern Italy and Wales.

His main interests lie in facilitating grass roots approaches to ecological sustainability and social justice using an action research and learning process. The aim is to enable communities to collaboratively learn from their own practical experiences using local resources.

His work has pioneered the development and application of the concept of ‘community owned solutions’: practices that are conceived, developed and successfully implemented within communities, by communities, and without major influence from external stakeholders. As part of this, Andrea is the co-director of the Cobra Collective - a UK-based social enterprise launched in 2016 aimed at translating academic research into practical interventions for directly supporting communities in facing up to current and emerging challenges. The Collective blends environmental science, accessible information and communication technologies, and traditional knowledge using highly participatory methodologies and action learning, ultimately aimed at building local capacities so that communities can implement their own solutions with minimal ongoing external assistance. Since its launch, the Collective raised over £780,000 for community-based projects.

Research interests

Andrea’s role at The Open University is now entirely focused on research and project delivery in community development, environmental management and systems thinking. His approach uses holistic, accessible, visual and participatory methodologies. Andrea’s transdisciplinary research activities develop socio-technological systems for supporting and promoting ecological sustainability, social justice and community development. Notable funded research projects include:

  • Co-Investigator, Increasing the resilience of biodiversity and livelihoods in Colombo’s wetlands, Sri Lanka (£344k) Darwin Initiative, DEFRA/FCDO, 2020-2023: The project aims to sustain and restore Colombo's wetlands, which are fundamental to the well-being of 2.3 million people, particularly urban poor.
  • Principal Investigator, Landscape Sensor-based Monitoring Assessment using Remote Technologies – SMART Project (£399k) UK Space Agency, 2021-2022: aimed at launching a new global service aimed at providing accessible surface water monitoring tools using remote sensing technologies.
  • Principal Investigator, Integrated Space Technology Vector Control for Enhancing Community Health and Resilience Against Escalating Climatic Disruptions – DETECT Project (£381k), UK Space Agency, 2020-2021: The project co-designed, through participatory action research, a community-based vector control service with Indigenous communities in Guyana.
  • Co-investigator, Co-producing a community-based mental health improvement programme in Guyana through interdisciplinary participatory action research (£50k), British Academy, 2019-2020: In collaboration with Guyanese communities and stakeholders, the participatory action research project developed, implemented and evaluated a capacity building and intervention programme for strengthening community mental health resilience.
  • Co-investigator, Community Owned Best practice for sustainable Resource Adaptive management in the Guiana Shield, South America - COBRA Project (€1.9 million) EU FP7, 2011-2015: COBRA studied the impact of new funding sources aimed at addressing emerging challenges, such as climate change, on Indigenous communities in Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil, and investigated how civil society organisations are able to work with marginalised communities in order to respond more effectively to these new funding opportunities.

Teaching interests

Andrea has been involved in capacity building activities and courses in Guyana, Brazil, Italy (linked to research projects) and the UK (for The Open University, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and students at Schumacher College). This includes developing materials, organising and implementing training courses in participatory methods, community engagement, systems thinking and practice, ecological and social indicator development, ecological monitoring techniques, participatory video, GIS, data analysis, and stakeholder engagement. He has extensive experience as a course facilitator for local communities, mature students, institutional staff and scientists, and government officials.

Andrea has supervised several PhD students whose work examines participatory methods and community engagement to achieve environmental and developmental outcomes. 

Until July 2021, Andrea held significant responsibilities in the development, production and presentation of OU Environmental Management and Systems Thinking modules. 

Impact and engagement

From September 2016 to March 2021 Andrea was the lead for Research Impact in The Open University’s Development Studies Research Excellence Framework (REF) Unit of Assessment. This involved coordinating the development of REF impact case studies, including a case study based on his own research impact activities.

External collaborations

Member, UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Panel College, 2020 - present: A £900 million fund aimed at attracting talented early-career individuals in order to ensure a vibrant environment for research and innovation in the UK.

Awarding panel member, ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), 2019 - 2021: Making decisions on funding for a wide range of Knowledge Exchange activities in order to enhance the impact of excellent social science research within universities.

Member, ‘Learning from Consortia’ Academic Advisory Board, 2020 - 2021: The ‘Learning from Consortia’ programme was an initiative designed to learn from £142 million UK Aid Connect programme funding and the consortia delivering these programmes. The Academic Advisory Board provided expert input, advice and validation of the research process throughout the duration of the programme. Andrea's focus was on community engagement, which culminated in the publication of this resource

Andrea also acted as the external examiner for Schumacher College's MSc in Holistic Science.

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Open Systems Research GroupGroupFaculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology


Externally funded projects

Research partnership for an agroecology-based solidarity economy in Bolivia and Brazil
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator31 Dec 201931 Mar 2022AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

Agroecology-based Solidarity Economy in Bolivia and Brazil (AgroEcos) Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), 2020-2021 Over the past decade, Latin America has had a greater convergence between solidarity economy (economia solidaria) and agroecology, here called EcoSol-agroecology as a short name. This convergence builds short food-supply chains (circuitos curtos) bringing agroecological producers closer to consumers, thus building solidaristic relationships. The various means include: public procurement for school meals, farmers’ markets and regular box schemes, sometimes organized as Community-Supported Agriculture. Research questions The project originally planned to investigate two main questions: • How do EcoSol-agroecology networks develop collective capacities for solidaristic circuitos curtos? • How can participatory action-research help to identify and strengthen those capacities? We had planned to investigate our research questions through in-person workshops using various cultural methods (e.g. narratives, art, social cartography, music, etc.). Given the Covid-19 pandemic and its hygiene restrictions, we had to postpone that plan. Moreover, EcoSol-agroecology networks faced new obstacles to their close relationships with consumers. So we added more research questions, for example: • How do these networks extend their previous practices and capacities? • How do they convert difficulties into opportunities? • How do they overcome obstacles, construct learning and conceive new strategies? To explore those questions, we have used online methods, especially webinars here. Partners and their case studies Open University, UK, coordinates the project. Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), São Paulo, investigates two territories: • Baixada Santista, in partnership with the Fórum de Economia Solidária da Baixada Santista (FESBS). • Bocaina (Costa Verde), in partnership with the Observatório de Territórios Sustentáveis e Saudáveis da Bocaina (OTSS) and the Fórum de Comunidades Tradicionais (FCT). Comunidad de Estudio Jaina, Tarija, Bolivia, investigates the Valle Central in partnership with the Bioferia agroecological producers. English-language outputs Pandemic context AgroEcos Boletim no.1 (trilingual bulletin) December 2020 ‘Return to normal’ from the COVID-19 crisis? , May 2020 Participatory Action Research during the Covid-19 pandemic: methodological aspects (March 2021), Pre-pandemic context Agroecological innovation constructing socionatural order: Two case studies in Brazil, Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society 4(1): 1-29 Socio-environmental justice: traditional communities renewing musical cultures in the Bocaina, Brazil

Developing a community-based mental health improvement programme in Guyana through inter-disciplinary participatory action research
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Feb 201931 Aug 2020BRITAC British Academy

In August 2018 a week long scoping exercise assessed the mental health training needs of multi-disciplinary health practitioners in Guyana. From this, we developed an innovative research strategy and commitment to develop a community-based mental health improvement programme capable of being adopted by Guyana and other Low- and Middle-Income Countries with similar socio-economic conditions. Our approach focuses on promoting community mental health resilience through participatory digital technologies that build on The Open University’s global leadership role in distance learning. The research and development phases will address embedded cultural attitudes and norms that frequently prevent healthcare practitioners implementing successful and sustainable interventions in such environments, while promoting existing positive practices. Our research will: 1. Establish a baseline of social, environmental and mental health status within three case study communities; 2. Co-design with community members, practitioners and agencies a capacity building programme for community-based mental health improvement in readiness for a period of engagement within the three case study communities focusing on improving mental health resilience through our ‘community owned solutions’ approach. 3. Support, through a process of action research, the practitioners as they apply and evaluate the resilience/‘community owned solutions’ approach within the case study communities, and monitor intervention impact with respect to baseline state. 4. Apply lessons learnt to strengthen the practitioner capacity building programme for major out scaling within Guyana (through the University of Guyana's BSc in Mental Health Nursing) and in other LMICs. By aiming to establish a BSc honours degree in Mental Health Nursing as an outcome the project, we have a clear exit strategy for our research which will enthuse and motivate engagement across Government, Public Health and Education sectors. It will build on and develop existing practices to create a pathway towards the aspiration that will excite both innovation and education amongst practitioners and policy formers.