Friday, 30 November 2007

Why is the conference such a bad place for learning?

The Development's Futures 2007 conference has come and gone and as hoped it proved an excellent forum to find out about the who and what of international development in Ireland.

Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the NUI Galway and conference organisers for an excellent and informative weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and the opportunity to meet new colleagues. It also provided an opportunity to explore Galway city in more detail, especially the excellent Crane Bar (more below).

Secondly, I would like to point out that the chosen title for this particular posting is not a comment specifically on the Development's Futures conference itself. More my own personal feelings about conferences in general and the need for more analytical and participatory spaces to explore the types of issues and challenges that conferences often reveal.

Enough of that, back to Development's Futures. Participants at the conference were fortunate to have the opportunity to witness two fine speakers of international repute; Mr Palagummi Sainath and Mr Michael Edwards, both of whom had many important and relevant things to say; Mr Sainath about the dramatic negative impacts of current development models on the livelihoods and wellbeing of the poor, and Mr Edwards about the need for new approaches to and institutional forms of learning in the pursuit of better and fairer development models. Both speeches were well delivered and thought-provoking. The content of the parallel sessions was also excellent and I certainly learned much, especially about current initiatives in areas related to development education in Third Level Institutes ( TLIs) in Ireland.

Unfortunately (like most conferences) there were limited opportunities to meet other practitioners. However, overall the conference was exceptionally well organised and we were looked after extremely well.

However, having coming away from the event, certainly much the better for having participated, I could not help but reflect that conferences in general are poor places for effective learning. To me they seem to miss and avoid opportunities for improved analysis and dialogue and hence learning. And by that I mean 'conventional' conferences in general (in the same way that Dennis O'Hearn feels that Universities in general are poor places for learning). I think this conclusion is especially important in relation to conferences that deal with international development as opposed to other academic disciplines or subjects. With the livelihoods of the world's poor at stake it is critical that we get the analysis, debate and dialogue just right so that we move forward with improved learning and primed for real and positive action for transformation.

I fully understand and appreciate how difficult and challenging these events are to organise to the satisfaction of all participants. As far as I am aware this is the only national gathering of its kind that addresses international development. So when almost 200 development practitioners attend it provides an excellent opportunity for in-depth analysis and dialogue on issues that might lead to new and improved forms of learning. Personally, I felt that there was insufficient time and space created to explore many of the topics and issues in real and effective detail and was often frustrated as a result of this. I could have done without so many sessions (or at least more streamlined presentations). I am not sure the best way around these problems but I couldn't help thinking that opportunities had gone-a-begging. For all I know (which is limited!) there are other appropriate and relevant avenues for practitioners to inform policy and practice which I am not aware of.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the sessions related to Education & Learning and Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. I was left wondering how experiences and lessons learned by practitioners in these fields might be shared on a more regular basis. If anyone has information about any networks, conferences, meetings or other activities related to these topics I would be keen to know how I might participate.

For those particularly interested in exploring more relevant approaches and paradigms to education and learning for sustainable development especially at Third Level, there are two interesting international meetings coming up. UNESCO is hosting a conference titled, Reinventing Higher Education: Toward Participatory and Sustainable Development, later this month. Early next year the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) is hosting the 4th International Conference on Higher Education.

For anyone interested in participation, participatory approaches & methods and participatory learning in general there is a comprehensive list of resources available here.

Anyway just a few thoughts and suggestions on what was a thoroughly enjoying and rewarding weekend.

Please read the other 13 entries below on other aspects of the Development's Futures conference.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell

Palagummi Sainath quite rightly pulls no punches when he describes the impact of the current global economic development model on the livelihoods of the poor in India (and elsewhere). One hundred and fifty thousand farmer suicides in India since 1995, in a period which saw the number of millionaires in Mumbai alone rise to 23,000. And he doesn't have much time for those of us who sit in our 'sand boxes' tinkering with our 'lego sets'. In fact, he much prefers to throw down the gauntlet and challenge us to get more proactive, 'engage with the street' and to not 'disconnect with reality' through applying ourselves to theory and abstraction. Sainath is one of the few journalists analysing and documenting the effects of the unprecedented rise of corporate power on rural dwellers in India. His words in this plenary session certainly back up the powerful images in his photographic exhibition, Visible Work, Invisible Women.

Thus Spoke Michael Edwards

Being at the back of a packed O' hEocha lecture theatre it was at times hard to keep up with Michael Edwards as he talked passionately and with conviction on Global social transformation and the co-creation of Development's Futures. It was certainly worth the effort though as he actively engaged the audience on his vision(s) of multiple pathways and multiple conclusions for development. Commencing with the post-September 11 'throwback attitude' of the 'Can Do school' (including our very own Bono and Geldof and their colleague Jeffrey Sachs) and their counterparts at the opposite end of the spectrum, the 'Can't Do school' (lead by none other than William Easterly), Michael finally settled down to address 'what should we do?', or as he called it, the Should Do school. An acceptance of there being no blueprint or magic bullet for 'development' being the basis of this school of thought (multiple pathways, multiple visions, all valid in an a contested context). One that is not in sync with many of the technocratic and elitist approaches somewhat still prevalent in some international development circles. In calling for the need to nurture new 'institutional forms of learning' to support the Should Do school, Michael cited the examples of new democratic spaces being opened up in Brazil and the International Community of Women Living with Aids coalition. I would also like to add to this the new participatory spaces being opened up within higher learning institutes (HLIs) by initiatives such as the Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) group, housed at IDS, which are attempting to create new forms of collaborative and social learning that challenge institutional resistance and technocratic and elitist approaches to learning and development practice.
A full transcript of Michael Edwards keynote address can be found here.

Cross border partnerships for International Development, do they exist?

The Development's Futures conference provided some, but limited, opportunities to network with development practitioners from north of the border. Maybe calling it networking is stretching it a bit far. I had already met Stephen from the Belfast-based Centre for Global Education on a few earlier occasions and was aware of the great work that centre is doing to promote international development issues. However the only other person I met was Ann who is now based in Galway and had just recently returned from doing some interesting and challenging work in Darfur. I was a bit surprised by the lack of representation from Northern Ireland-based Third Level institutes (TLIs) at the conference or any visible cross border partnerships between TLIs on international development issues. Maybe I just didn't search hard enough or maybe TLIs in the north are more aligned with partners in the UK and with policy from DFID.

One important thing I did learn recently (not at the Development's Futures conference though) was that an All Party Group on International Development has been set-up within the Northern Ireland Executive. I can't find much information about this All Party's mandate and agenda though. So if anyone out there knows what the group is up to and hopes to achieve (and how it is tapping into local expertise) please feel free to share with us. For example, how will the group align itself with international development policy coming from two directions. What are the long-term policies for international development within the NI Executive?

Further I would like to know if there are any plans for NI based universities to link with other counterpart institutions in Ireland to undertake research and capacity building aimed at tackling global poverty. Such partnerships would appear to be an area that Irish Aid would like to support.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Development Education Resources and Methodologies - Centres

This session commenced with a presentation by Deidre O'Rourke with the promise 'to practice what we preach, in a workshop type activity, we will show how PLM works!'. Sadly no such workshop type activity eventuated maybe a result of the layout of the lecture hall or limitations of time. However, Deidre did elaborate on an interesting approach to participatory learning approaches in her presentation, Development education and participative learning methodologies (PLM) at Third Level. Deidre and her colleague's biggest challenge seems to be how to integrate PLM into large student group settings. By large group settings here we are talking about 200 students! Certainly a challenge indeed. Deidre highlighted something that I have come across many times when I talk to teachers or lecturers and that is the 'resistance of students to participatory methods and approaches'. But is it really 'student resistance'? Very often I have found that such student resistance can be easily and quickly overcome but then again I am often dealing with much smaller groups. Having said that I am more inclined to think that it is more the resistance of Third Level Institutes (TLIs) to participatory and collaborative forms of learning that is the problem (see Why is the university a bad place for learning?). Coupled with this is an educational system which from day one militates against any substantial forms of collaborative and critical learning. So until TLIs stop placing emphasis on knowledge banking and regurgitation, with appraisal and assessment based around this, then of course students are not going to see much value in the types of learning that PLM try to encourage. Deidre also highlighted another interesting issue in the general student body. That of using the terminology that is expected by the lecturer. Kind of mirrors the behaviour of many development practitioners who are equally guilty of using the terminology expected by the donor!

It was great to listen to Deidre and the efforts she and her colleagues are making. The challenge is considerable and one that is being taken up elsewhere. As I have posted on many times before the Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) initiative is trying to address similar challenges and constraints that Deidre is facing at Third Level. They have collated a number of experiences and case studies, from the global north and south, that demonstrate how these challenges can be overcome but more importantly how innovative and novel collaborative and participatory approaches can improve student and TLI learning (emphasis on the latter). It would be great to hear from other lecturers at Third level in Ireland trying to grapple with similar issues regarding PLM.

Research Partnerships

Tom Crowley's presentation, Degrees of freedom: applied development research in Ethiopa through a south-north partnership programme, highlighted the impact of a joint MSc Rural Development programme offered by UCC and Mekelle University. Apparently this is the first programme of its kind in Ireland which I found surprising. It is certainly an interesting partnership, built on a strong history of collaboration. The programme certainly appears to be responding to an identified need and one which seems to be diversifying as there is a growing trend in students coming from NGO sectors. The programme combines a mixture of distance education methods and face-to-face sessions. The partnership hopes to develop this further into web-based learning.

It is great to see such partnerships developing. I often wonder why there are not more such partnerships developed between Irish universities and counterparts overseas (maybe with Minister Kitt's recent announcement there will be). I also believe that distance education modes of delivery for courses such as rural development are areas where Irish universities can compete with their counterparts in the UK (such as Wye, now Imperial College), Europe and Australia.

From the research perspective such partnerships can be very productive and add significantly to the capacity building and enhancement component. In fact both go hand-in-hand as Tom pointed out, although his presentation focused on the capacity building component. I have been involved in such research partnerships myself and have seen the incredible synergies that can be obtained by bringing national, regional and international resources and staff to bear on important problems. The TaroGen Project I believe is an excellent example of such a research partnership which explored and found sustainable solutions to a critical agriculture problem facing the Pacific region. While addressing this problem it also made important strides in building capacity in respective countries and contributed to the development of relevant postgraduate courses at the regional University of the South Pacific.

Mary Manandhar described an interesting participatory PEER research approach that was used in her work with partners to research and strengthen advocacy and action for maternal survival in Zambia. I imagine such an approach would be of interest to many other practitioners.

Agriculture and Communities, Inclusion and Exclusion

It was a tight squeeze in room 107 for this session but I managed to get in to listen to two presentations. The first was a presentation by Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, Lessons from two contrasting organic growing systems - Chiapas, Mexico and Cuba. While there was much of interest in this presentation it would have been interesting to know more about how farmers learned about new methods and approaches for organic agriculture in Chiapas. Where there any attempts to undertake farmer field school (FFS) or farmer participatory research approaches to empower farmers to learn more about organic agriculture systems. Approaches which have been reasonably successful in other places where outreach or extension services have been dismantled, allowed to deteriorate or non-existent. And given the problem which Micheline highlighted regarding pesticide use in Chiapas FFS would seem a suitable strategy to help farmers learn about the dangers of pesticides and how they impact on a farming system. While the Zapatista's who control the Chiapas region have shunned neo-liberalism and globalisation, which has been embraced by the rest of Mexico, there was no discussion of how this might affect farmers from the Chiapas region who might want to (or need to) embrace such markets beyond the current confines of the Zapatista autonomous controlled region. Stephen Onakuse's presentation, Livelihood systems and rural linkages in Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, highlighted the dramatic negative impact of oil companies on agriculture in the region and how environmental degradation is seriously undermining livelihood strategies. Seemingly massive changes and transformations are required if issues of resulting poverty, environmental degradation and livelihood insecurity are to be addressed in this particular region. Issues that the Nigerian government and the international community up to now have largely turned a blind eye to. Interesting and challenging!

Wine, a woman and song

Eithne Ni Chathain provided some lovely playing and singing during the wine reception which brought the first day of the Development's Future conference to an end. Eithne, who has played with Kildare musician Luka Bloom, can be heard on her MySpace website.

The wine reception was the first chance to draw breath and finally meet some of the interesting people attending the conference. Alas all too short as people had to rush off to meet up with friends, family, lovers.

Charlie Byrne's Books

This is probably the literary equivalent of the Crane Bar. An amazing diversity of book titles and a place I only came across during an exploratory walk of Galway city on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately I had to rush off to catch the bus back to Dublin.

Minister Kitt announces a further €6M for University partnerships

Minister of State for Overseas Development, Michael Kitt announced a further €6M funding for Partnerships between Irish & African Universities to carry out research and knowledge sharing on development issues. This amount increases the total budget for the five-year Programme of Strategic Cooperation between Irish Aid and Higher Education and Research Institutes (2007 – 2011) to €20.4 million. Minister Kitt made the announcement at the Irish Aid Third Level Conference ‘Development’s Futures’ at the National University of Ireland Galway during his speech in the O' hEocha Theatre. Making the announcement he said:

“Higher education institutions clearly have a pivotal role to play in research
on issues that can accelerate social and economic progress as we know from our
own experience here in Ireland. The increased allocation will allow us to
maximise the benefits of the research and knowledge from the Programme in
fighting poverty and exclusion in some of the world’s poorest countries. It is
also underlines our commitment to our partnership with the third level sector to
advance this work”.

A Copy of Minister Kitt's opening address can be found here.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Development Education Resources and Methodologies - Schools

I enjoyed the four presentations during this last session on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, I missed the Strategic Landscapes: Research and Education Strategy presentation by Austin Gormley, Irish Aid earlier in the morning so probably missed much of the overarching framework and strategy for development education in Ireland, something which I am still learning about.

Timothy Murphy's presentation, Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry (OSDE): Toward Enhanced Democratic Practices explored the potential of OSDE as a tool for engaged discussion and action about democratic policies and practices in the educational system of the south of Ireland. Thanks to Timothy for bringing this methodology to my attention. I wasn't aware of such an initiative but it would appear to have much to offer as a methodological tool for improving learning and teaching about local and global issues. Incidentally, the OSDE website has an extensive range of resources available for download.

The second presentation in this session was Mella Cusack. Mella's presentation, The 3 Ds: Curriculum Development, Teacher Professional Development and Development Education, reported on the outcomes of the joint Citizenship Studies Project between Trocraire/City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee Curriculum Development Unit. This is another interesting initiative aimed at supporting and improving the development of citizenship education at secondary level in Ireland. Part of this initiative is aimed at producing a 45 hour Transition Unit examining the coverage of development issues in the media in the hope that students will enagage in better analysis and action. Mella quite rightly highlighted that any such initiatives and developments, such as curricula development, requires as much commitment to capacity enhancement and continuing professional development for teachers in schools.

Next up was Patsy Toland, from Self Help Development. Patsy described an interesting collaboration between Self Help and Christian Brothers schools to support development education approaches that emphasise student participation, local and global awareness and an action agenda. The prgramme has been well received and is undergoing expansion with additional partners and schools coming on board in 2007/2008. Patsy higlhighgeted some interesting points including the need for a coordinated strategic approach by NGOs with long term aims. Like the previous presenter Patsy highlighted the critical need for capacity enhancement of teachers. This programme highlighted interesting links between schools and local communities that provided spaces for all to discuss issues related poverty, gender and sustainable environments.

The final speaker in this session was Julia Franz from the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg. Julia presented on an intergenerational learning approach for sustainability which posed the question - can this kind of learning which takes place in families take place in educational institutes? Julia described a process that involved people ranging in ages from 4 to 90 years old! One such activity involved groups working together to explore issues surrounding energy and sustainability which involved a visit to a hydroelectric plant, a global networking game, story telling and investigations of local energy use. The activity culminated with the preparation of an exhibition based around the issues the explored and debated. Julia reported intense interaction between the different groups, the diversity of interests of different groups and the problems that this presented in terms of facilitation.

Certainly some interesting work going on in the area of development education in Ireland.

I would be grateful to know if there are any networks or initiatives in existence that attempt to coordinate and monitor the development education activities underway in Ireland.

The Crane Bar

Thanks to Ann Masterson at the conference for pushing me in the direction of the Crane Bar and far from the madding crowd in Galway. Superb pub with great music. I was only in the dowstairs for the one night but the multitude of talent that was on display was very impressive indeed. And it wasn't confined to the musicians in the session. There was many a rousing song from some of the patrons standing at the bar. Great stuff!

Visible Work, Invisible Women

I think it was the large photograph of the two young girls from a rural area in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh that caught my eye the most. They were bent over in hard labour concentrating on finding one of the many red hairy caterpillars that would help them earn about 20 cents for a days work. It takes about one thousand of the pests to make up the kilogram that will result in the pay of 10 rupees. Nice work if you can't get it! This exhibition, Visible Work, Invisible Women, of Palagummi Sainath's photographs graphically illustrated the exploitative nature of women's work in rural India and the poor treatment that they receive at the hands of landlords and how undervalued women's work is compared to that of men. Often the excuse being that the work of men is more technical, more demanding which this exhibition highlights is not the case. But Indian landlords are not the only ones who undervalue the work of rural women. Economists and statisticians ignore and undervalue it too! This photographic essay clearly highlights that a life in the day of a rural woman in India is one filled with constant work in the home, in the field and in the market. It is a strategy of livelihoods very much dependent on local resourses such as non-timber forest products that will guarantee a minimal inclome to help look after the family. And with the growing privatisation of land in rural India access to ponds, pathways, firewood, fodder and water is becoming more difficult and therefore undermining many livelihoods and basic welfare.

The Visible Work, Invisible Women exhibition has been viewed by well over half a million people in India. Add to that the many thousands who have now seen the photographs overseas. For more information on the exhibition and its history, click here.

Not only is Mr Sainath an excellent journalist and speaker he is a very talented photographer. More importantly, he seems to be one of a very small group intent on capturing the realities and hardship of rural life in less wealthy countries.

Are we beyond redemption?

And that was the end, as the Development's Futures 2007 came to a close. As I reflected on the weekends events I couldn't help but be reminded of something that Dennis O'Hearn had said in a lecture a week earlier at Queen's University Belfast. During that presentation Dennis posed the question, 'are we as western societies beyond redemption?' Having listened to Palagummi Sainath outline the impacts and effects of unprecedented globalisation, corporate growth, greed and mass consumerism (and the mass apathy and the ability of the rich world and its inhabitants to disconnect from mass reality) it is not too hard to feel this way or identify strongly with what Professor O'Hearn is saying. This has been an ongoing thought churning around in my head every day of my professional life and probably more so now that I am back home! But as a card-carrying member of the 'Should Do School' I need to think that there is a way forward to a more just and fairer world, one that is beyond redemption.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Why is the university such a bad place for learning?

Given my interest in alternative learning and learning for transformation I was very much drawn to Denis O'Hearn's inaugural address as the new Professor of Social and Economic Change at Queen's University Belfast. In fact, when I came across an email notice highlighting the lecture I was excited to learn that there was someone within Queen's willing to challenge the role and effectiveness of higher learning institutes (HLIs) as places of learning. And so I set off on the bus from Cookstown for what was an interesting, stimulating an all too short presentation. After briefly covering many of the institutional constraints (elitism, hierarchical structures, social control) that contribute to poor learning within universities Professor O'Hearn moved on to describe a couple of alternative education models. Models that had as their main goal the nurturing and empowering of citizens capable of effecting change and transformation for a better society as opposed to the goals of most HLIs of producing citizens simply for the market and jobs. Some of the examples provided were very interesting and included the Highlander Folk Schools initially established by Myles Horton (for more information check-out the Highlander Research and Education Centre website) and a schooling system in Chiapas based on the Zapatista education system. Finally, Professor O'Hearn described an education programme that was evolved by prisoners in Long Kesh during the troubles. This programme went on to equip many prisoners with the necessary and relevant skills to become leaders and mobilisers for development in their own communities upon release. All case studies described effective bottom-up and participative approaches as useful models for achieving effective education for transformation and which overcome many of the pitfalls in conventional approaches.

Unfortunately the lecture finished all too early and there was no time for discussion (or is it a case of tradition in 'inaugural addresses' not allowing for this?) and I was left with may thoughts and unanswered questions but it was good to know that there is at least one person at QUB embracing alternative approaches to learning.

Having worked at HLIs and encountered many of the limitations and constraints highlighted by Professor O'Hearn I have been involved in programmes that include university students in collaborative and participatory learning with academics, researchers but most importantly the communities where they will work. I have seen first hand the dramatic changes that such collaborative learning can make to those students who eventually become rural development workers and agents of social change. So I suppose the question I wanted to ask most was whether there are any initiatives that involve QUB students (not just from the sociology discipline) as collaborative learners in such programmes.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the work that the Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) initiative, which I have posted on many times before, is involved in. The programmes Professor O'Hearn described appear to have much in common with the LTT. The LTT has documented many examples, from the global south and north, that demonstrate the impact on social change that alternative, more collaborative and participatory educational approaches can have. The LTT has many useful models that HLIs like QUB could use to improve student learning. And then there is the Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI) at NUI Galway which on paper would appear to be involved in exploring more collaborative and community-based approaches education and learning but unfortunately I do not know much about that programme. If there is anyone reading this and involved in the CKI, maybe they can shed some light on their work.

At the end of the night, I was left with much to think about. I was delighted to know more about Professor OHearn's work. If there are others involved in similar programmes maybe they can share their experiences.

Readers of this post might be interested in my other posting 'Why is the conference such a bad place for learning?

Friday, 9 November 2007

New PhD positions available at ICERTS

The Irish Centre for Rural Transformation and Sustainability (ICERTS) at NUI Galway have 5 new Phd positions up for grabs. Deadline 30th November 2007. Criteria and more information here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Effective facilitation, have you got what it takes?

A good facilitator is essential for the development of successful participatory process. A massive industry of trainers, consultants and information providers has grown up around facilitation and those who can guide community and stakeholder engagement. Here are some online resources that you might find useful if you find yourself in the role of facilitating groups or meetings or trying to initiate and plan partnerships.

The University College Dublin (UCD) Adult Education Centre has excellent online resources and tips for those working with adult learners. The resources include tips for The Role of the Facilitator and Effective Facilitation. The site also includes additional useful material on other aspects of adult learning.

The Harvard Negotiation Project has an online Facilitation Handbook which has tools and tips for facilitators. Although working in conflict resolution the principles are basically the same. The handbook can also be downloaded as a pdf file.

Student Life at the University of Guelph has some clear and simple tips for Effective Facilitation, as does the University of Michigan.

The Human Rights Education Handbook has excellent sections on The Practice of Facilitation and Strategies for Effective Facilitation.

The Thiagi Group has alot of useful resources that might be valuable to facilitators. It has many freebies including Tips for Facilitators. There is also a section on the Secrets of Successful Facilitators.

The Mental Health Promotion Unit of Canada has a Train-the-Trainer manual that lays down the law in terms of what is required for Effective Facilitation.

Finally, this Training Workshop might be useful for those preparing people to undertake facilitation.

Here are some useful Icebreakers and Energizers that you might use as part of your facilitation.

Of course there is no substitute for getting stuck in and learning from practice and experience.

Here is a quick checklist and 'to do' guide from the FAO that you might want to read before taking the plunge!

People and Participation - the website

Involve run a very useful online participation tool that will answer many of your queries regarding participation as well as provide some useful resources. There is much information here on participatory methods, case studies, news and events, as well as a participatory library that gives you access to many of the resources available online. Definitely a useful resource for those using participatory approaches in community or rural development in the Irish context.

People and Participation - the handbook

The organisation Involve has produced this excellent handbook, People and Participation. Its aim is to help people work through the various issues that surround participation and decision making and would be relevant to those facilitating or working with participatory processes in Irleand or the UK. The handbook discusses what is meant by participation, how to go about it, issues and concerns and planning for participation. The handbook concludes with an excellent introduction to the various methods of participation that you might consider using. Some of the methods are similar to those covered in the Community Planning Handbook. Examples of methods include Appreciative Inquiry, Citizen Panels and so forth.

Definitely worth checking out.

Conserving European agrobiodiversity

Jeremy over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog has posted a couple of articles recently regarding the complexity and limitations within the EU that surrounds 'efforts to conserve, document and promote the kind of diversity that gardeners and small farmers find most valuable.' There are good links for anyone interested in following this important dialogue.

Hare today, gone tomorrow

There is an interesting story on the BBC about the impacts of agri-environment and countryside management schemes on biodiversity in the NI countryside. A researcher at QUB maintains that the schemes have contributed to population explosions of potential pest species such as foxes and rabbits by favouring their habitat preferences at the expense of other species such as the hare. Read more here.

Thanks to Luigi for the lead.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI)

I recently came across this interesting initiative at NUI Galway. It is known as the Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI) and
'supports and promotes the ethos of civic engagement among students, staff and the wider community. Through partnerships with community groups and organisations, CKI helps the University share with, and learn from, civil society. Whether supporting volunteering among students, integrating community into teaching or researching social needs – the aim is to reinvigorate the civic mission of higher education in Ireland by engaging with the wider community.'
The CKI would appear to have much in common with the Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) initiative which I posted on earlier and which works towards meeting the challenge for education in a globalising world through discovering and exploring forms of learning and teaching that promote the emergence of civil societies and which are relevant to their own social and cultural settings. Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs), through teaching, training and research, play a pivotal role in the social, political and economic change necessary for sustainable development. But such change will only occur if it is responsive to the needs of the wider community. Initiatives like the CKI and LTT are obviously well placed to build collaborative learning partnerships that ensure capacity building and research is relevant to the wider community.

The CKI has recently been involved in the publication of Higher Education and Civic Engagement – International Perspectives

ICERTS, promoting rural transformation and sustainability

The Irish Centre for Rural Transformation and Sustainability (ICERTS) at NUI Galway has a long tradition of research, teaching and consulting/studies in rural development and is supported by substantial funding from local, national and international levels. The Centre also coordinates undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in rural development and most recently launched a BSc degree in rural development delivered through distance education mode.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Where is Ireland's IDS or ODI?

Obviously Ireland is very well placed to provide leadership, guidance and innovation for international development issues. We have a major donor programme and status, active national NGO community with extensive links to partners in the global south and a range of universities and institutes doing good work in many areas releated to development policy and practice. Ireland is also well placed to provide an alternative perspective to international development having shared many similar experiences - colonisation, famine, migration - to less wealthy countries in the south. I spent the best part of the day wading through the considerable amount of information on the internet in relation to Ireland's international development programme, including research and teaching. Starting out with Irish Aid and working through Irish NGOs to universities and development education teaching it took up the best part of 6 hours. But at the end of it all it was hard to get a handle on who was doing what, or where 'centres of expertise' might exist. Where would I go for information on good governance, citizenship, environment sustainability, gender, aid effectiveness etc.? Where is the one-stop shop for information and knowledge on Irish development which provides the analysis of Ireland's development programmes and policies?

When I was working overseas in development in capacity building, teaching and researching in sustainable agriculture and rural development, and as an English speaker, my first point of contact for up-to-date and innovative information on policy and practice in many of these areas was the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Overseas Development Institute (ODI) or the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). These institutes and think-tanks, working cross-sectorally, are one-stop information shops with a high profile and reputation for excellence among development workers overseas. They provide excellent analysis, examples of good practice and very often the tools and resources to improve implementation and practice. These are portals that can put you in touch with relevant information and expertise in a matter of seconds. These links run wide and deep to draw out the best of information and expertise that exists within a wide range of partner organisations. So where are their counterparts in Ireland? Who would qualify as the relevant independent think tank on development issues in Ireland? Who provides the research and policy analysis that drives Ireland's aid programme? Who is responsible for pulling all this information together and communicating it to the relevant individuals and organisations?

Friday, 2 November 2007

As if we need more!

'In the capital of the Scottish Highlands, it is estimated that more than 50p in
every pound spent by the city's 66,000 shoppers ends up in the tills of one of
three local Tesco stores.'
And if the Competition Commission get their way it is likely that even more will end up in the pockets of the big 4. Instead of grappling with the issue of the growing power of supermarkets and their impact on local producers and sellers the recent Competition Commission's report look like it will make easier for them to expand their operations and the negative impacts these have on local communities. In the UK two new supermarkets are opening each week while 2000 local retailers go out of business each year.

Of course there are plenty of options to by-pass the bully boys. There are a growing number of organic producers who are willing to deliver quality, locally produced vegetables, fruits and meats to your doorstep anywhere in Northern Ireland. Click here for more details.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Partnership Evaluation Toolkit

The Institute of Public Health in Ireland are about to launch a Partnership Evaluation Toolkit.
'A Partnership Evaluation Tool (PET) has been developed to help multisectoral
partnerships to monitor their development, to assess emerging benefits and to
identify areas for further development. Developed as a web-based resource, the
PET will be available on for any partnership to use to
support its own assessment and development, and will be showcased at the event.'

Participatory workshops, 21 sets of ideas

Anyone involved in running participatory workshops and consultations can only benefit from reading Robert Chamber's book, Participatory Workshops; A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities. Some sections of the book have been placed on Google and can be accessed here. It will give you a flavour for the book, I hope.

Participation, as simple as ABC - attitude and behavioural change

'Participation can do without special methods and tools, but not without
special attitudes and behaviour!!!'
For more information read here.

The Community Planning website

This is an excellent resource which I have delved into before for ideas and tips. With the growing numbers of residents and communities becoming involved with professionals and planning agencies in shaping their local environment, the Community Planning website is as good a starting point as any for everyone concerned. The site includes information on general principles, methods (including the future search conferencing which I posted on earlier), scenarios, case studies and other sources of information. All this information is easily accessible and in a very practical 'how-to-do-it' approach and is of international scope and relevance.

Participation on the internet

There is a seemingly endless source of participation-related information on the internet. Obviously no posting of this sort can ever be exhaustive, the web grows like a vine, like mile-a-minute! But the links below are a good place to start. Some of it good, some of it more relevant to rural development than others. Here is a selection of some of the sites I have found useful. Please contact me if you know of additional sites especially those relevant to the local rural development context.

The Participation Group at IDS, University of Sussex supports participatory approaches to development. Their major focus is in supporting South-South sharing workshops, exchange visits and information exchange between practitioners, local people, government workers, NGO and donor staff. The Participation Group also convenes action research projects, disseminates writing, provides training and catalyses and supports participation networks around the world.

The Learning for Sustainability website is a useful resource for rural development practitioners, NGOs and other community leaders working to support multi-stakeholder learning processes to guide sustainable rural development activities.

The University of Wageningen portal on Participatory Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation is a useful source of information and tools on most areas relevant to participation.

The Methods and Tools section of the World Bank Participation Sourcebook is a good introduction to the strengths and weaknesses of various participatory approaches, including PRA.

The Participatory Toolkit is a growing group of civil society (NGO) and local government organisations from all over the world, working together to promote participatory local governance.

The FAO Sourcebook on Participatory Processes is a good starting point for anyone interested in participation, why it is important and how to go about it. It has useful modules on: Preparing for Training and Facilitation; Introducing Participatory Approaches - Methods and Tools; Introducing Skills and Techniques to Promote Group Formation; and Introducing Skills and Techniques for Alternative Conflict Management.

For those looking more information on specific tools or approaches click on the links below:

Participant observation; Rapid rural appraisal; Participatory rural appraisal; Participatory Learning and Action;

Happy reading!