“Nothing ever is, everything is becoming”
When I began my MA Power Participation and Social Change course, in 2019, I had planned to undertake my dissertation research in Uganda on health policy and the voice of older women in partnership with HelpAge International. Unfortunately, the pandemic put paid to this dream placement, I had to quickly consider other research options, and at short notice, there weren’t many. Luckily I had a plan B! On a walk with an IDS alum, discussing our nascent post-IDS plans, she mentioned her desire to “carry on the conversations with people who see the world through a participatory action research lens”. That was my aha moment!
Inspired by the experience, energy, and commitment to social justice of our fellow MAP cohort, I initiated a community of practice (MAPCoP) for all alumni from the MAP course, open to anyone who had taken the Design Critical Enquiry (DCE) module and were passionate about participatory action research (PAR). I imagined this to be a safe and brave space for dialogue, where MAP alumni could connect in solidarity to co-create a new ecology of knowledges (Escobar 2020) on issues of social justice and action research. MAPCoP was thus born and so was my new online research topic! “From Kampala to my kitchen”, I wryly noted in my reflective learning journal.
One of my key influences, Mary Brydon-Miller had written “how critical it is for us to create and sustain spaces…through which we support, nurture, and challenge action researchers” (Brydon-Miller, Greenwood and Maguire 2003:19). I had a vision of cultivating and nurturing such a dialogical brave space, a bridge between MAP cohorts, between the academy, and activism (Ospina, Hadidy and Hofmann-Pinilla 2008). Our first online gathering took place in the Spring of 2021, as the pall of the pandemic increasingly clouded our world and further fragmented our relationships with one another. The embargo on University face-to-face research however coincided with an increased normalisation of online spaces that afforded innovative new possibilities for global collaboration and dialogue to address lacunas in our knowledge. MAPCoP thus provided space for people to stay connected and learn from one another!
Dialogue is inherently wedded to a relational approach to life, seeking connectivity and places to understand difference. Opening up spaces for dialogue, whether that be in transformative networks, advocacy or increasing public awareness are, for me, central to addressing those concerns of whose reality counts (Chambers 2003). bell hooks eloquently described how dialogue generates “powerful moments when boundaries are crossed, differences confronted, discussion happens, and solidarity emerges…concrete counter-examples that would disrupt the seemingly fixed (yet often unstated) assumptions that it was really unlikely such individuals could meet across boundaries” (hooks 1994:130). MAPCoP dialogues foreground many unique ways “dialogue could serve as useful interventions” (ibid), “counter-examples” that created the boundary crossing opportunities for contact between people from divergent backgrounds. Dialogue is key to PAR and MAPCoP, elevating “the potential of dialogue as a practice, a space, a process, a possibility and invitation to full participation” (Santibañes and Ospina 2021).
Nurturing a community of practice, such as MAPCoP, “an arena for learning” and embracing the different lived experiences, “vivencias” as valorised by Orlando Fals Borda was key to my pragmatist action research approach (Greenwood 2014). The purpose of this “arena for learning” is to ensure “fair and safe” dialogue with “the aim of keeping the conversation going” as Richard Rorty also remarked (ibid. p3). MAPCoP generates, as Dewey championed, collective “continuous reflective action and experience” creating a revolving, pulsating “spiral of growth” (Harkavy and Puckett 2014) beneficial to all. Recently MAPCoP members have given presentations on PAR partnerships in India and Egypt as well as run methodology workshops on creative poetry and critical utopian action research.
My recent MA action research synthesis paper on the MAPCoP revealed that IDS alumni frequently felt isolated and the “action research lone star” in the various organisations they belonged to. They also experienced a sense of alienation in the international development world post IDS and sought solidarity, hope and connection to carry on the collaborations and open up new fields of possibilities with people who see the world through an inclusive participatory lens. One research participant opined:
“Since leaving MAP I have undergone a grieving process that the MAPCoP community, familiar faces, familiar language and sense of community has helped, enabling me to cope with the transition to post-IDS life, giving me hope.” - MAP14 alumni
MAPCoP has provided alumni with respair throughout these tumultuous times, offering a sanctuary of solidarity, for the future. In this unsettling era MAPCoP has thrived and alumni enthusiastically exchange ideas, stories, cross-pollinating practice across borders and time zones. There was evidently a need for such a pracademic space where change agents could meet up after leaving the IDS fold and collaborate together to improve inquiry, interventions and impact.
We now have 60 global members who represent all cohorts from MAP01 to MAP16, including course convenors, many are who actively involved in PAR activities in economically or otherwise disadvantaged environments. We wish to warmly extend the invite to be a part of MAPCoP to any IDS alumni who is interested in PAR and democratic methodologies. We meet monthly online (every last Sunday of the month, alternating between 11am and 5pm UK time) and have an engaging WhatsApp group where people network, post jobs and training opportunities and relevant resources, a MAPCoP webpage is in the pipeline. We visualise MAPCoP as a way of promoting innovation, developing social capital, facilitating and spreading existing tacit knowledge within our global group of action researchers.
However, over and above that, it’s our mini-IDS, a space to keep our learnings alive, to feel true belonging, to strengthen our voices, to feel nurtured and to co-create knowledge while we continue our journeys of self-actualisation across different parts of the world! MAPCoP has kept the flame of being participatory and taking continuous action burning in our hearts, as we navigate the not so participatory world.
We would love for you to join this community of learners and dreamers, who wish to effect positive social change.
Please come and join us, you would be warmly welcomed.
Contact Matthew Moors : email TheSmithsMaf@gmail.com
MAPCoP Wall of Love – comments from MAPCoP members on the monthly gatherings and online group.
Research 1.1: 9–28, http://doi.org/10.1177/14767503030011002
Chambers, R. (2003) Whose reality counts? putting the first last (Repr), London: Intermediate Technology
Escobar, A. (2020) Pluriversal politics: the real and the possible, Durham: Duke University Press
Greenwood, D.J. (2014) ‘Pragmatic Action Research’, in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research (Online, pp. 1–7), London: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Harkavy, I. and Puckett, J. (2014) ‘John Dewey’, in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research (Online, pp. 1–8), London: SAGE Publications Ltd
hooks, bell (1994) Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom, New York: Routledge
Ospina, S.; Hadidy, W.E. and Hofmann-Pinilla, A. (2008) ‘Cooperative inquiry for learning and connectedness’, Action Learning: Research and Practice 5.2: 131–147, http://doi.org/10.1080/14767330802185673
Santibañes, M. de and Ospina, S. (2021) ‘Section Introduction: Reflections on the Role of Dialogue in Participatory Research and Inquiry’, in The SAGE Handbook of Participatory Research and Inquiry (First, Vol. 1, pp. 355–364), Los Angeles London New Delhi Singapore Washington DC Melbourne: SAGE Publications Ltd
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