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Lessons for Global Collaboration: South African and European Perspectives (Part 1)

Published Date: 14 November 2019

This is the transcript of a panel facilitated by Josiane Smith, our Partnerships and Growth Manager, during the final symposium of the Common Good First (CGF) project in October 2019 in South Africa. Common Good First was a three-year-long Erasmus+ funded project which brought together academics from twelve European and South African institutions to conceive a digital network which identifies, showcases and connects social impact projects, and supports community changemakers to develop e-skills and digital storytelling for engaged scholarship and social change.

The panel was structured around three sets of questions, the discussions around which will be published in two parts. 1) What was your role in the project? What did you learn from participating in this project? 2) What did you find hard? How was your perspective and approach challenged? 3) What are your lessons for global collaboration? What would you have done differently?

 

And in short, the takeaways are that 

  • Participants were seeking to change and challenge something but finished the three-year project changed and challenged themselves

  • Keeping the final goals of the project in mind throughout the design and delivery would have encouraged different questions, choices and behaviours from the start

  • There were unforeseen barriers in this project, like infrastructure, language and familiarity with the requirements of this fund, that emerged as the project took shape

  • The field of social innovation has taken off in the last two years in South Africa, in terms of publications, media reports, postgraduate studies, and this project served to strengthen those efforts alongside other efforts around building digital literacy

  • The network was shaped over three years but is open and willing to explore how to invest in its continuation and legacy going forwards.

What was your role in the project? What did you learn from participating in this project? 

 

Marina / Reykjavik University

We worked on mapping the digital landscape in South Africa, and we were also responsible for picking the subcontractors and used a local supplier to build the platform and local partners to manage the platform. There was lots of testing, breaking and fixing and in the process, I learned a lot about South Africa as well as how to do this project properly - Common Good First is about enabling not dictating. 

 

Leona / University of Western Cape

We participated in the Digital Landscape Study and the platform development and I personally focused more on the user perspective - looking at whether it was accessible and engaging on a daily basis.

What I found surprising was the importance of infrastructure for the success of this project (on the level of having proper mobile phones and data, let alone laptops or internet). But more than that, I realised the scarcest commodity is time - the social innovators were required to invest time in this. On the one hand, we invited them to share their stories which they wanted to share, but on the other, they experienced time constraints because they had to work to be able to survive. We could all see the ultimate benefit of participating in the process but I learned that we had to meet participants where they were at.

Within our consortium, more than building a robust network, we discovered one another as human beings; we took one another seriously for where we are each coming from. There was an openness to listening and sharing - rather than telling.

So when we first started, some of the deliverables did not make sense to us in South Africa - it was clearly done from a European perspective, designed with a small country mentality, whereas South Africa is a large country with a lot more diversity. When I raised this, I happily found that there was an openness and flexibility to adjust to the local context and redefine the criteria.

 

Chris / University of Johannesburg

We did the Social Innovation Landscape Report which scanned up until 2016 and then did a comparative landscape report which looked at the period 2017-19 to see how the field has evolved. Our findings show that it has taken off in the last two years - in terms of publications, media reports, postgraduate studies…

I think I learned most about managing expectations going into this project - everyone has a different viewpoint on digital storytelling, whether from a community engagement perspective or through the use of technology. We have a different viewpoint going out as we did going in - as a business department, we saw it as a tool for business not necessarily as a tool for good.

 

Guadalupe / University of Alicante

We were in charge of monitoring the quality and implementation of the project, as well as doing risk management. We also coordinated the advisory and evaluation committee.

We learnt that universities here engage in local communities a lot. For instance, community managers within university institutions help their universities to become an agent for social change. This is very different from Spanish universities. Another learning is that the difference wasn’t just between European and South African universities - even amongst the European partners, we are very different from each other.

 

Nils-Petter / University of Norway

Our approach is of the social work tradition; we are a university that has been using digital storytelling as a tool for many years to engage with communities… But I’ll have to admit, we didn’t quite understand what this was all about at the start. Then we did a pilot and saw how storytelling is a tool that may be used in very different cultural circumstances - it’s not dependent on living in one type of society.

Our institution has practical experience of digital storytelling in education in terms of methodology and content. We have been using this as a tool for critical reflection in our studies, but we learned how to compare our work to the African storytelling tradition, using oral storytelling and story circles. It’s quite amazing to witness how an individual story goes through the round of feedback so that it can evolve and become a better story.

So we went back and invited refugees living in our town to make digital stories - to share some of their experiences but to use digital story as a way of presenting themselves to the community and to potential employers. This project has evolved more than many of our other projects. 

 

This is the transcript of a panel facilitated by Josiane Smith, our Partnerships and Growth Manager, during the final symposium of the Common Good First (CGF) project in October 2019 in South Africa. Common Good First was a three-year-long Erasmus+ funded project which brought together academics from twelve European and South African institutions to conceive a digital network which identifies, showcases and connects social impact projects, and supports community changemakers to develop e-skills and digital storytelling for engaged scholarship and social change.

 

This is the first part of a two-part series.