Overcoming False Representation – Nurturing a shared understandings of concepts and opening up knowledge in cross-disciplinary research
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Overcoming False Representation – Nurturing a shared understandings of concepts and opening up knowledge in cross-disciplinary research

Hangout Recap by Kersti Ruth Wissenbach

Jaiksana Soro – Platform Africa & Stephen Kovats – r0g_agency
Picture credits rCC-BY-SA Pawel Ngei

On September 15, GIG hosted the 4th out of 5 hangouts, addressing pressing issues to enable inclusive, bottom-up Citizen Social Science practices in the most diverse contexts. The topics have been identified throughout a series of conversation formats with makers, citizen [social] scientists and activists from around the world. As we are co-creating a publication aiming to capture the critical understanding and gloCal perspective of inclusion in engaged research between civil society researchers and academic researchers, these hangouts also provide a space for questions and discussion for everyone wishing to share their experiences in this publication.

This time we discussed practices to overcome false representation in participatory processeswith a small, but disciplinary diverse, group of participants. We wanted to unpack the question what is required to fully open the black-box of participation and overcome the common practice of false representation.

Although the hangout was joined by very few participants, the discussion was quite representative for dynamics the project seeks to unpack, that it is very worth sharing.

Usually, we seek to bring together people from diverse contexts in order to reflect on our questions from as many different perspectives and experiences as possible. And the hangouts are usually attended by civil society actors, academic representatives having shown less interest in the conversation.

It was different this time…

The flyers for our hangouts always feature a quote from one of the members from the Global Innovation Gathering, a global community of makers, innovators, and activist shapers from all around the world. The quotes stem from an in-depth discussion we had around the topic of decolonalisation and inclusion in one of our annual community gatherings. The photos always feature one or more GIG members and introduce their local makerspaces or communities. For this hangout it was the co-founder and CEO of Ethiopia’s first innovation hub and tech startup incubator, established in 2011. The flyer featured the quote: ´participation is like a blackbox if people on the ground do not have access to the real knowledge of the project´.

Our discussion departed from the concern one participant expressed about the text announcing this week´s topic, alongside the chosen picture accompanying the announcement. It emerged from the hangout that the associations of terminology and imagery trigger entirely different associations. In the specific case of one participant, a female, white, academic researcher with a computer science background, it let to huge irritation and the impression of unbalanced, if not racists connotations. For Social Scientists and activist researchers, moreover those working in international socio-political change contexts, or affiliated with movement studies and related schools of thought, the chosen terminology relates to commonly defined concepts and seek to hold empowering and inclusive connotations. This showed us once more, and perhaps we tend to forget, that what is the common terminology of one community can be perceived as biased by others.

A critical concern was also addressed regarding the terminology which people from social science backgrounds are all too familiar with. One of the participants noted that, as a Social Scientist, she always had a problem with the ease of handling deeply complex situations through certain terminology in the discipline. Reference was made to the notion ´people from the ground´, which is typically associated with local communities, locally embedded action, context sensitive activities, etc. She has experienced rather elitist attitudes with leftist, progressing, ad action oriented civil society groups struggling to get their participatory methods acknowledged by Social Science disciplines, experiencing rather elitist, protectionist attitudes.

So what are the lessons to take away from this unexpected encounter?

Working in coalitions that cut across different communities and disciplines demonstrated us the crucial need to prioritize an inclusive approach to a language and use of concepts that everyone can identify with as a precondition for collaboration. As a minimum requirement, cross-disciplinary collaborations should practice a very sensitive negotiation of language and awareness creation about the common terminology in each respective context.

In addition, an inclusive Citizen Social Science approach should consider to make the opening up of research a precondition. This relates to a number of practices, including to make the opening up of methods, research instruments, data, and results a common practices. Advocating for and supporting the vibrant open knowledge community should be a useful practice, especially for academia to catch up with all that is already out there!

Bottom line, this hangout has shown that listening and shaping common understandings when striving for diversity within collaborations is key. It has also shown that diversity is key so that more communities engage in cross-disciplinary collaborations that trigger knowledge exchange and learning, escaping each of a kind blackbox that hinder more inclusive processes.