Heads out of the sand

16 Nov 2016 - 13:30

Daniel Morchain explores learning through multi-stakeholder collaboration.

By Daniel Morchain, Co-Principal Investigator, Oxfam GB

Image credit: Tamar Assaf

One thing ASSAR can be credited for is helping us get our heads out of the sand. I am exaggerating for the sake of a headline, but I do think we all suffer from this syndrome to an extent. ASSAR has forced us to work with one another even when we haven’t always believed in or felt fully comfortable with the approaches others have taken. We have all shown patience, made efforts to build trust, and finally are finding ways to work together in a new, common space. It’s been a clash of personalities and organisational cultures, but I think we’re navigating the waters and broadening our horizons.

I personally am pushing myself to interact more with researchers and different-minded organisations, both within and outside of ASSAR, to try to learn about new ideas, digest them and bring them to Oxfam in a way that challenges our ways of thinking.

At the same time, the Oxfam team and other non-academic project associates in ASSAR keep promoting stakeholder engagement processes that aim to make the project’s research and its findings more representative, impactful and longer lasting than if we followed a more traditional research project approach. For me, the learning is straightforward: we need to be humble and let our rusty assumptions be put to the test.

The other aspect of getting one’s head out of the sand is about putting our money where our mouth is. It’s easy to preach the values of multi-stakeholder collaboration and interdisciplinary work, but it is so tough to do it at home. Like when a health and safety consultant once visited the office I worked in to check and certify its compliance, and as he gave us his presentation of best practices he tripped and fell on the extension cord he himself had used to plug the projector. Or when a few weeks ago we used PowerPoint slides to advise a group of practitioners on their final project presentations – one specifically instructing them: “Be creative – do not use PowerPoint”.

ASSAR has stressed on many of us the need to walk the talk and be transparent, and also to be realistic whilst not holding back on trying to initiate or contribute to processes of change. Things are brewing here and there…

ASSAR, and actually CARIAA, have also served as platforms to get to know smart, generous, influential people working in the same sector through very different entry points. This has been enriching and has already led to collaborations beyond ASSAR.