Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 2)

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager of the SFA Network

Today (Nov 7th, 2019) was the second opportunity for the emerging designers to engage with the experts in Sustainable Development & the Global South. For more information about the project itself, please read this post.
The students presented the concept scenario they had developed as a team, as well as their individual direction which is a specific aspect of the future world they have created. These individual parts will lead to the design of distinct, imaginative and interrelated products, services and experiences. While designing, the students must keep in mind who they are designing for – future workers/future citizens – with consideration for how Sustainable Development work might evolve to enable/afford/alter the dynamics of people, process and practice in the Global South.

As most of them have never travelled to a destination in the Global South, they largely rely on the experts’ lived-experiences to grasp the reality of those living in developing countries. I was pleased to realise that as the emerging designers broaden their research and interact/interview the experts, they also start integrating what working across difference means, that there is more than often no “right” or “wrong”, “bad” or “good”, “them” and “us”, which are too easy and simplistic labels used to describe the disparity between the North and the South. I notice that they all felt more comfortable exploring the grey zone between both worlds where ideas and concepts can emerge, instead of stagnating in a criticism loop. While they learn from our experience, we also greatly learn from their creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness which are skills that requires time and exposure to develop but which seem to be well built-in and natural for this group.


Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day1)

By Vanessa Duclos, lead Research Administrator of the SFA Network
David Gerow, SFA Intern and PhD student

This fall, the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network is collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Innovation School. Over the semester, the 4th year product design students will work on a project on the theme of “Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & the Global South”. During this 8-week project, the cohort will investigate future forms and functions of sustainable development work in relation to the Global South, ultimately developing a future scenario and designing the artefacts, services and experiences associated with it 10 years from now.

Today, contemporary product design is not only an industrial or production-focused occupation; rather, it is becoming an epistemological practice, which explores the future, generates new knowledge and formulates hypotheses about how people may live or work in the years to come. Whether they are designing an artefact, service or experience, it is fundamental for a designer to know how to understand what drives people, what their needs are and why.

Dr Mia Perry worked with Dr Kirsty Ross, lecturer at the GSA and final year coordinator, to build the structure of this project. Over the last couple of weeks, the students split into seven groups worked together to conduct research in the domains of Health, Energy, Mobility, Economies, Education, Societal Structures and Environment. Each of these domains was examined through various lenses: Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Educational, Values, Political, Legal and Ecological. Then, based on this research, the students mapped societal shifts and identified emerging themes or scenarios.

This morning, the students shared their initial future scenarios with “the experts”: academics and professionals working within the field of sustainable development in the Global South, and members of the SFA Network. By sharing their work, the students had the opportunity to validate certain aspects of their research, as well as the chance to ask technical questions and benefit from the experts’ real-world experiences to further shape their scenarios/designs. The team of experts will meet with the cohort of emerging designers throughout the duration of the project, which will culminate later this year in an exhibition of the designed future artefacts, services and experiences.

I was happy to be in the expert cohort, along with my University of Glasgow colleagues: Stewart Paul, Anthony Kadoma, Prof Jude Robinson, Dr Raihana Ferdous, Dr Neil Burnside, Prof James Conroy, and SFA Network partners Prof Sola Ajayi (First-Tech University, Ibadan), Andrew Vincent (Classrooms for Malawi and Nu Blvck), Diarmuid O’Neill (DFID), Prof Jo Sharp (University of St Andrews) and Dr Christian Micha Ehret (McGill University).

The initial research presented by the student groups was impressive both for its accuracy and for how it pin-pointed challenges related to sustainable development work. The students were genuinely interested in learning more about lived experiences and described how being exposed to this topic – and to the SFA Network by extension – had changed their perspectives on their roles as designers (progressing towards a more participatory approach with clients). I am certain that the expert team is also looking forward to the next experts input day, November 7th. It was a refreshing, inspiring, positive and thought-provoking experience for all, and a promising start to a successful collaboration.


Week of March 4th-8th 2019 – SFA Writing Workshop and Events on Campus

Realising the increasing awareness and experience of network members in carrying out global north-south partnerships that challenge paternalistic and neo-colonial models of collaboration and development, we realised we needed to find a way to share some principle ideas and practices to a wider audience. Initially, we imagined the audience of the GCRF UKRI, funders and researchers. In the week of March 4th-8th, we addressed this with a writing workshop co-organized by Dr Mia Perry and Prof Jo Sharp including SFA members and like-minded affiliates. The objective of the workshop was to explore ways of sharing the SFA network’s approach to research and partnerships in international contexts, while challenging the neo-colonial and often very narrow processes of knowledge creation, “development”, and collaboration. The group was interested in the theoretical tools that are required to do so, but also the practical tools (how to engage, how to inquire when clear power, historical, disciplinary dynamics are pervasive).

Events on campus March 4th, 2019

Two events co-organized by the SFA Glasgow hub took place on UofG main campus on March 4th. The morning event was a mentoring session for graduate students from the Global South. Masters students, PhD’s students and mentors (Dr Mia Perry, Prof Jo Sharp, Dr Brian Barrett, Ms Helen Todd, Ms Kevin Aanyu, and Ms Beatrice Catanzaro) discussed how students can translate their graduate experience in Glasgow to a career in the South. A very interesting conversation revolved around a question asked by Dr Perry: “Do you want to go back home after your studies?” The meaning of “returning home” for each student differed, and highlighted the very individual nature of it. For the majority, going back home wasn’t just about going back in their home country and getting a job related to their studies. It was also, and even more importantly, taking the knowledge, skills and expertise they acquired and using them to drive change and make impact.

The afternoon session was a panel discussion entitled: ¡Decolonise: the Debate! The event was organised by collaboration between The Sustainable Futures in Africa Network, the Glasgow Centre for International Development, the Equality and Diversity Working Group in the History Subject Area, and the Centre of Gender History. Prof Jude Robinson, a social anthropologist from the University of Glasgow, chaired the session.

The panel was composed of: Dr Mia Perry (University of Glasgow), Prof Jo Sharp (University of Glasgow), Ms Helen Todd (ArtGlo – Malawi), Ms Kevin Aanyu (Makerere University – Uganda), Dr Christine Whyte (University of Glasgow) and Dr Kate Law (University of Nottingham).

The discussions were centred on these three questions: 1) Why do we use the word ‘decolonialise’ when we talk about the changes we need to make to modern approaches to research and teaching? 2) Does use of the word ‘decolonialise’ reinforce a colonial narrative of Western supremacy? and 3) How can we translate ‘decolonisation of research and teaching’ and what does it mean for all of us who are engaged in it?

The panel discussed the use of term ‘decolonise’ to describe projects in universities which are challenging traditional practices that have underpinned international partnership building and collaboration, and the development of existing teaching curricula. They addressed language, technology, theoretical framing, and research methods from a global perspective.

Writing workshop at the Centre of Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow

All week, interdisciplinary participants met at the CCA in Glasgow to share thoughts and ideas around research and international partnerships to co-create the foundation of a notebook addressing the challenges arising from Global North-Global South partnerships. The targeted audience of the notebook is researchers working on international projects, especially the GCRF-UK funded one (Global Challenges Research Fund).

Some clear themes stood out over the week: time, money, capacity building, language and hierarchy in partnerships.

List of participants:

  • Dr Mia Perry (Co-PI – University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Jo Sharp (Co-PI – University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Kevin Aanyu (Makerere University – Uganda)
  • Dr Brian Barrett (University of Glasgow- UK)
  • Beatrice Catanzaro (Oxford Brookes University ­- Italy)
  • Viviana Checchia (CCA – UK)
  • Vanessa Duclos (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Dan Haydon (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Dr Heather McLean (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Oitshepile MmaB Modise (Botswana University – Botswana)
  • Maggie Ritchie (free-lance journalist – UK)
  • Prof Jude Robinson (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Dr Zoë Strachan (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Helen Todd (ArtGlo – Malawi)
  • Dr Shahaduz Zaman (University of Sussex – UK)

To illustrate the challenges of such partnerships, two participants could not join the group, due to UK visa restrictions (Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil and Kyauta Giwa).


Malawi Stories: Mapping an Art-Science Collaborative Process

Three SFA partners – Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil (Co-Director), Dr Boyson Moyo (Malawi hub Director) and Dr Brian Barrett (Glasgow hub Director) co-authored this open access article as part of SFA (published in the Journal of Maps in March 2019).

ABSTRACT

This paper outlines a project drawing together an artist working on creative GIS, a geomatics scholar, an NGO leader, a rural geographer and soil scientist, an environmental geochemist, and a political geographer. With a shared interest in the social and physical processes affecting people’s lives in Malawi, and the possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration, the team engaged in practice-based mapping of our data sources and respective methodologies. The project relates to two sites in Malawi: Tikondwe Freedom Gardens and the Likangala River. The paper details our practices as we shared, debated, and repurposed our data as a means of situating these practices and data. Using paper and pen, whiteboard, PowerPoint, and web-design software, we note here our effort to map a ‘space of experimentation’ highlighting, and reflecting on, our diverse disciplinary orientations, training, instrumentation, recording, and reporting procedures, as well as bodily practices that enable and give animation to these factors.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17445647.2019.1582440


Scots Join The Worldwide Effort to Help Africans Find New Ways to Rebuild Their Communities Shattered by Brutal Civil War

Article written by Maggie Ritchie – free-lance journalist who joined the Glasgow delegation traveling to Lira, Uganda in February 2019 for the 3rd SFA Annual Symposium. While in Uganda, she had the opportunity to meet with the communities involved in SFA activities through two partners: Apala Widows and Orphanage Centre (AWOC) and ECOaction.

https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/scots-join-the-worldwide-effort-to-help-africans-find-new-ways-to-rebuild-their-communities-shattered-by-brutal-civil-war-and-desperate-povertylife-was-very-difficult-it-is-better-now/


Dr Mia Perry | TedX Interview

Dr Mia Perry, SFA Co-Director, is interviewed at  TedX Glasgow about the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.

At TedX Glasgow the SFA Network brought a snapshot of its work to the event; this includes a public poll which questioned the approach that we take on research sustainability, engaging with the binary choice of ‘Giving v.s. changing your own practice?’ In this interview, Mia discusses the SFA’s work on collaboration across knowledge systems, exemplifying our work as ‘a community member working with an academic’. As SFA is a network focusing on ‘methodologies’, Mia shares how it is important to be able to share what that means in ‘real life terms’ which is at the heart of TedX – world changing ideas made accessible; she described the event as giving her a sense of ‘enthusiasm, motivation, passion and integrity’.

“More and more we realize that if we made good decisions about sustainability here in Glasgow, our colleagues in Africa would have half as many problems to deal with.”


Unpacking the Imaginary in Literacies of Globality

by Dr Mia Perry 

As global mobility and communications proliferate, ever-increasing exchanges and influences occur across cultures, geographies, politics, and positions. This paper addresses the practice of literacy education in this context, and in particular the nature of engagement across difference and the role of the imaginary in literacies of globality. Grounded in a theorisation of difference and the imaginary in spaces of learning and inquiry, the paper proposes a methodological framework for working across difference that acknowledges and engages with the inevitable but enigmatic resource of often conflicting imaginaries in literacy practices.

Read Here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01596306.2018.1515064 

Reference: Perry, M.  (2018) Unpacking the imaginary in literacies of globality. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education,(doi:10.1080/01596306.2018.1515064)


Reflections from Glasgow

Reflections from Glasgow

by Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil

I believe it was serendipity that lead me to work at the University of Glasgow this year. Two years ago, an unexpected e-mail from Mia Perry, a lecturer and leader of many projects at the University of Glasgow came into the mailbox of “Abundance” a non-profit organization in Malawi which I co-founded with some friends in 2016. She was searching for organizations working in Malawi and had stumbled across our website. Since then, Abundance became part of the “Sustainable Futures in Africa” network, an inter-disciplinary network of academicians and practitioners in UK and Africa working across disciplines for making research more relevant for the developing world.  Through this network, I got an opportunity to do a secondment at the University of Glasgow for a few months early this year, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The time I spent at Glasgow was filled with interesting meetings at the University. But I also could enjoy some solitude, which gave me a chance to reflect on my experience. During my reflections, I jotted down five things I learnt and I am happily sharing them with you:

  1. The leap of faith

I was fully aware that to some extend I was jumping into the unknown as I agreed to take up the consultancy and residency at Glasgow. I was to connect researchers at Glasgow with organizations and researchers in Africa and also shape their research to be more development oriented and appropriate for the developing country context. While I had worked in Africa for over 17 years, I had not done this kind of consultancy before. However, when I looked within, I had faith and the work “felt right”. I became conscious that this is the work I love and am passionate about, so saying “yes” was easy. Furthermore, the opportunity came through Mia, whom I trust. The work went smoothly, particularly because I was working with a fantastic colleague Lynn McCorriston who went out of her way to ensure that the work and meetings went smoothly and that my stay was super comfortable. I feel satisfied that I made a contribution and I learnt that it’s okay to take the leap of faith.

  1. The power of networks

The networks I have made in my professional and personal life have always supported me over the years. Because I spend so much time in my work, I find that my professional colleagues become my good friends and mentors. The LEAD Network is one such network where I have mentors and friends in Malawi and around the world. Indeed, during the consultancy, I linked the University of Glasgow with former colleagues, organizations such as LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa as well as members of the LEAD Fellows network, who, as a result, would be undertaking collaborative projects with the University of Glasgow in the near future. In some of the projects, I am involved too, hence I would get a chance to work with people I love, what an amazing blessing from networking!

  1. Making most of the circumstances

The period I was resident at Glasgow, I witnessed a once in 33 years snow storm called “The Beast from the East”. Some reports said it was the coldest month of March in 100 years in the UK. I had hoped to see some snow, but being snowed in for three days was not exactly what I wished for. It would have been easy to brood and indulge in some self-pity or cabin fever, especially for someone like me who is used to the moderate and sunny weather of southern Africa. But, I decided to embrace the situation and following the hourly weather updates, I took a chance to step out when it was safe and soak in the beauty of the snowy cityscape. As a result, I got some stunning photographs and videos. Lynn and I braved the cold and visited the People’s Museum and Botanical Garden, which was just spectacular surrounded by snow all around.

  1. Change work routines

At Glasgow, I got a new routine of walking about 40 minutes to work every day, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Leaving a bit early from my apartment to explore a new route every day, I got a chance to appreciate the architecture and the many historical buildings in Glasgow. I also enjoyed people watching at Kelvingrove Park which was en-route to work. The cute dogs are taken on walks by their owners, the students cycling, school children rushing to school, elderly taking strolls and, the statues and fountains made this a wonderful morning routine to cherish. The University of Glasgow staff were extremely friendly and helpful. As the campus is big and many departments were spread out and a bit distant from each other, we held meetings at café’s which were located conveniently for colleagues. I felt we got a lot of creative ideas and discussion flowing more freely when we stepped out of the office for a bit and enjoyed a coffee and a light meal, surrounded by cutesy artsy café décor. I enjoyed the chats over coffee and meals about research projects, art, politics and philosophy with many colleagues including Lynn McCorriston, Mia Perry and Carlos Galan-Diaz.

  1. The power of technology

Not to sound like a gushing fan of technology, I do have to say that it touches my life on a daily basis. I walked to work every day guided by Google Map’s navigation lady’s voice. Through Facebook, I connected with a Glaswegian friend and attended her birthday party. I also connected with a classmate of mine after 20 years through facebook and booked my bus tickets online to spend a weekend with his family at Aberdeen. For travelling within the city, I used Uber and an app that allowed me to buy bus tickets online. Most of my meetings with people outside the UK was through skype or Zoom or Go-To-Meeting. During the snow storm, we continued to work and had skype meetings. I don’t know what I would have done without my daily evening video chats with my family through whatsapp. Not to mention the many minutes I save every day from doing simple things like checking in online for flights, or ordering gifts online and planning my day according to the weather forecast. As much as technology has its problems, I realised that we can’t do without it and it makes our lives so much easier.

The beautiful city of Glasgow, its museums, café’s, friendly and humorous people and the rich intellectual atmosphere at the University of Glasgow was an inspiring experience for me. Through this serendipitous connection with the University, I have made new friends, new connections and become part of new and exciting collaborative projects. There is an old African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. I thank the University of Glasgow (Lynn, Mia and Molly in particular) for this walk together and making me feel part of a bigger team and a greater vision. Looking forward to the journey ahead!


Panel Event: Moving towards a new approach to development-related research

From the 26th to the 28th March 2018 the Sustainable Futures in Africa Hub Coordinators and Administrators from Scotland, Malawi, Nigeria and Botswana met at the University of Glasgow.

The following items were on the agenda:

  1. Successes and Challenges of running the administration/infrastructure of the SFA Network Hubs
  2. Open Panel Presentation at the University of Glasgow
  3. Harmonization of Administrative Structures of the Network
  4. Strategic Needs and Direction for the Network

For more information you can read the report: Report SFA Hub Coordinators and Administrator Meeting April 2018

Glasgow Workshop
SFA Hub Coordinators and Administrators, University of Glasgow April 2018

 


Panel presentation

Sustainable Futures in Africa: Moving towards a new approach to development-related research

The Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network brings together researchers, practitioners, and communities from the Global North and Global South in one platform for learning, partnerships, and new approaches to research and development. Network hub coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Botswana join us for a panel discussion on the evolving practices of the SFA. In particular, the presentations and discussion will revolve around the challenges and possibilities of working across differences of discipline, sector, and geography. We promise a lively discussion, open to many perspectives, contexts, and questions.