Posted November 25th 2015 at 11:27 am by
in Participatory Action Research

PAR and International Development

Palmas Lab Team

In 2015, CoLab’s Inclusive Regional Development program expanded its collaboration with Instituto Banco Palmas, a community development bank in Fortaleza, Brazil that uses values of the solidarity economy to promote territorial development through the creation of local networks of production and consumption, micro-lending services, and circulation of a local complementary currency. The fifth talk in the participatory action research (PAR) series was about the complex process of co-designing a project with a group of youth from the Instituto Banco Palmas living in the Conjunto Palmeiras neighborhood in Fortaleza, Brazil.  Aly Bryson, Alison Coffey, and Jenna Harvey presented this PAR project, reflecting on each step of research from relationship building to collaborative knowledge sharing to question formation to data collection and analysis.

Em 2015, o programa de Desenvolvimento Regional Inclusivo do MIT CoLab expandiu a sua colaboração com Instituto Banco Palmas, um banco de desenvolvimento comunitário em Fortaleza, Brasil. Baseado em valores da economia solidária, o trabalho do Instituto Banco Palmas promove desenvolvimento territorial através da criação de redes de produção e consumo local, serviços micro-financeiros, e a circulação de uma moeda social. Entre outubro e novembro, o MIT CoLab organizou uma série de discussões sobre pesquisa-ação participativa (conhecido pelo acrônimo PAR em inglês). A quinta discussão nesta série foi sobre o processo de co-desenhar um projeto de pesquisa com um grupo de jovens que trabalham no Instituto Banco Palmas e moram no bairro de Conjunto Palmeiras em Fortaleza, Brasil. Aly Bryson e Alison Coffey do MIT CoLab e Jenna Harvey, mestranda em planejamento urbano no MIT, apresentaram o projeto, refletindo sobre cada etapa do trabalho em Fortaleza – inclusive a construção da colaboração entre o CoLab e o PalmasLab, o desenvolvimento de uma pergunta guia, o recolhimento de dados, e a análise.

Banco Palmas_Location of Fortaleza

During the summer of 2015, CoLab and Instituto Banco Palmas began a process of research co-production intended to build further research capacity at Palmas while exploring new methodologies to support community banks in holistically assessing, and intervening in, the changing social and economic dynamics of the neighborhoods where they work. CoLab worked with a group of young people at Palmas to co-design a methodology for exploring how residents of the Conjunto Palmeiras neighborhood experience, access and engage with the material and immaterial “wealths” and “poverties” within their neighborhood, and documented the experience through a reflective toolkit for community-led research at Palmas.

Entre junho e agosto de 2015, CoLab e Instituto Banco Palmas começaram um processo de co-produção destinado a aumentar a capacidade de desenhar e fazer pesquisa no PalmasLab, e ao mesmo tempo criar novas metodologias para apoiar bancos comunitários em avaliar e intervir de forma holística nas dinâmicas socioeconômicas nos lugares onde trabalham. O MIT CoLab trabalhou com um grupo de jovens no Palmas para co-desenhar uma metodologia para entender como os moradores do Conjunto Palmeiras experimentam, acessam, e se engajam com as riquezas e pobrezas materiais e imateriais no bairro. A experiência foi documentada em um guia de recursos para pesquisa-ação comunitária no PalmaLab.

Bryson began the talk by explaining that CoLab’s Inclusive Regional Development program believes that the traditional international development model in which outsiders (usually from the Global North) design and implement solutions for places in the Global South does not usually embrace the idea of the co-production of knowledge.  With this in mind, she explained that CoLab approaches international work with a very different collaborative philosophy, aiming to learn from and embrace community-based innovations.  Coffey and Harvey then outlined four guiding questions to present this PAR project with Instituto Banco Palmas.

Alyssa Bryson começou a fala explicando que o programa de Desenvolvimento Regional Inclusivo do CoLab acredita que o modelo convencional de “Desenvolvimento Internacional” que estrangeiros (normalmente do Norte Global) desenham e implementam para lugares no Sul Global normalmente não incorpora a ideia e a prática da co-produção de conhecimento. Em contrapartida, Bryson explicou que a abordagem do CoLab vem de uma filosofia colaborativa, que pretende aprender de inovações comunitárias e apoiar as mesmas. Jenna Harvey e Alison Coffey continuaram a apresentação baseada em quatro perguntas que guiaram a conversa sobre a parceria com o Instituto Banco Palmas:

  • What were the practical challenges of facilitating this PAR process? Quais eram os desafios práticos em facilitar este processo PAR?
  • Who brings what type of knowledge to a PAR process? Quem traz qual tipo de conhecimento a um processo PAR?
  • What is the importance of communities creating their own frameworks for measuring, understanding and visioning community development? Qual é a importância das comunidades criarem seus próprios modelos para medir, entender, o desenvolvimento comunitário?
  • What is the relationship between owning processes of knowledge production and owning a piece of the economy? Qual é a relação entre se apropriar de processos de produção de conhecimento e construção de uma economia mais justa?

CoLab and Instituto Palmas are now designing next steps focused on expanding platforms for Participatory Action Research in the periphery of Fortaleza and as a means to explore the relationship between democratizing knowledge production and democratizing the economy.

Neste momento, CoLab e Instituto Palmas estão pensando em próximos passos para expandir plataformas de pesquisa comunitária e pensar como esse processo pode ser um meio para melhor compreender a relação entre protagonismo de comunidades em processos de produção de conhecimento e construção de uma economia mais justa.

Introduction to Banco Palmas

“Banco Palmas is a great partner for us because they understand the economy as a social and political construct and so therefore as something that can be changed.”

Introduction to the PAR Research process

“At the forefront of the interest in starting this collaboration was a mutual commitment between CoLab and Palmas to think about the fact that there are very important insights that come from being on the edge of a system, on the margin of a system, or being on the periphery. “

Neighborhood Residents as Protagonists in a Process of Knowledge Production

“We really wanted the team who we worked with to be here today, and that wasn’t possible…but, it is really crucial for us that they are here talking to you all as well. So we sent them some questions and they sent us some video.”

The Importance of Communities Creating their own Frameworks for Measuring, Understanding, and Visioning Community Development

“The group concluded that the notion of wealths and poverties should really be considered as multidimensional… wealth and poverties are both material and immaterial. As we started listing some of what we thought of as the wealths and poverties—knowledge, security, leisure — the group realized that every wealth they were thinking of, could also be a poverty.”

The Process of Establishing a Research Question

“One of the key takeaways was around the tension between planning and flexibility. So often we felt this pull where we were like “we have to keep the group on track” because it would just go in so many directions. We had such little time to get to where we needed to go… But at the same time, so much of what you just heard [about establishing a research question] emerged when there was a break in that strategy that we were trying to hold.”

Co-Designing Methods for Exploring the Research Question

“After we developed this concept and research question there was a realization that all of that emerged within a group of 7-10 people…that represented something of a homogenous group. So we saw an initial need to source more intelligence from people in different spheres of community life.”

The Current Phase of Work: Developing the Survey

The idea of course is that the survey results will have impact for the group. That they will be able to use the survey results to share with the community and to take action through some of the opportunities they identified- influencing public policy, changing perceptions about the periphery and Conjunto Palmeiras. But for now, another thing that what we are seeing is that the process itself has a certain impact as well.”

Reflecting on Challenges to the Methodology Phase of Participatory Action Research

“A tension that really came through for me in the phase of thinking about methodology was really how to balance this desire to move towards a very rigorous research design, which they really wanted…[with] trying to create this very horizontal collaborative process with a group of young people [and] suddenly entering into a phase that is a little bit more technical.”

The Limitations of Frameworks and Tools around PAR and Community Development

“In a lot of writing about PAR, local knowledge is talked about as something that is very context bound, or praxis oriented or linked to practical problem solving…The friendly outsider… are the ones offering theoretical frameworks or conceptual frameworks that may help community researchers better organize their ideas or place them in broader context. We really found that it was these young people at Palmas who were 19-20 years old who were were bringing that theoretical knowledge to the discussion.”

Owning the Processes of Knowledge Production and Owning a Piece of the Economy

“This [what is the relationship between owning process of knowledge production and owning a piece of the economy] is a very open question for all of us at this point.”

Aly Bryson is the director of the Inclusive Regional Development Program at CoLab. Alison Coffey is a post-graduate fellow at CoLab and Jenna Harvey is a Master in City Planning candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Post by Aditi Mehta. Portuguese translation and images by Alison Coffey.

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