Friday, 30 November 2007
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
“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
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 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.
Friday, 23 November 2007
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
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
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!
Definitely worth checking out.
Thanks to Luigi for the lead.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
'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.
Monday, 5 November 2007
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
'In the capital of the Scottish Highlands, it is estimated that more than 50p inAnd 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.
every pound spent by the city's 66,000 shoppers ends up in the tills of one of
three local Tesco stores.'
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
'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 www.partnershiptool.ie for any partnership to use to
support its own assessment and development, and will be showcased at the event.'
'Participation can do without special methods and tools, but not withoutFor more information read here.
special attitudes and behaviour!!!'
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;