Sunday, 15 February 2015

Ali's introductory post

Like Chris, I'm still amazed that this project is happening, and that it went from an idea to reality in such a short amount of time. When I've told friends and colleagues about it they've all been really excited - there's definitely something about 'making a film' that grabs people more than my usual research approach of sitting quietly in the corner of a classroom. I thought the other day that you couldn't dream of such an amazing idea, and then I realised that's not entirely true, because, well, we have... and then I realised that it was the 'we' that was really grabbing me - I've just loved witnessing / being a part of the development of a collaborative idea that has been created with - I feel - a real sense of respect for and consideration of the strengths and needs of everyone in the core team.

So, for me, the teamwork aspect is something that's really exciting. I did a PhD, followed by a year of maternity leave peppered with solo consultancies, then the first year of my current job was pretty solitary (and still is - as anyone who has visited my little desk in the corner of a very big and empty office will testify) - my other main project involves long stretches in Ghana with really interesting fieldwork during the day, but then long evenings - more often than not in the dark as the electricity in Kokomlemle is (literally) 50:50 (12 hours on, 12 hours off) - with no one to discuss this really interesting fieldwork with. I'm so excited about not only working in a completely different way, but having a whole team to share and debate and reflect on this with each evening.

And finally, what Chris said about the stars aligning for him really rings true for me too. Over the past ten years I've worked mainly in academia, but dabbled in journalism and the NGO world. This is such a great opportunity to bring those three strands together. Collaborations between academics and NGOs are increasingly valued, but I feel there's a lot of work and thinking to be done about how these collaborations work and what the purpose is. I often review (and send back with major corrections) journal submissions from academics who have been commissioned to do research for an NGO (or state government, or something) and what they submit is simply a project report which could be (and often is) reproduced almost word-for-word on the NGO's website. I think (hope) that this pilot will be an opportunity to think more about how the data collected in collaborations can be theorised, or perhaps more simply, to think about what value academics can add to these collaborations rather than being a 'rent-a-data-collector' (because really there are companies who can do that much better than most academics can...). I'm really looking forward to spending more time talking to Olga and DAPP about what kinds of data and ideas would be useful / interesting, and then working together to think about how we can move towards this. 

I sometimes wonder if the challenge is communication - both in terms of both academics and project teams being able to properly articulate what they want and what they can offer each other, and then a second layer of communication challenges occur when trying to discuss what is happening - maybe it's hard for the two sides to share a discourse / language around this? For this reason I think the PV element of this project fits so well. I'm so, so interested to see how the film (and the process of making it) will serve as something for the team (and I mean the wider team which includes the teachers) to talk to each other about, and to communicate through.

I'm not a blogger and I'm not sure how to end these things but... I'm really looking forward to this. And I'm enormously relieved that the lodge is now confirmed and we have a lovely stoep to sit on in the evenings with a beer :)

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