Last week, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/AI) hosted the second TALEARN Annual Workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia. The event was a space where donors, researchers and practitioners working on transparency and accountability (T/A) issues could gather to discuss key questions and challenges in the field. In addition, the workshop served as an invitation for participants to think about areas in which coordinated and/or collaborative actions would allow those present to address some of the issues raised in ways that would be prohibitive for individuals, through the TALEARN community of practice. What follows is a rough description of what we did and a few thoughts on the workshop and way forward. As I look back more systematically over the outputs of the workshop, I’ll offer some further reflections.
The workshop was spread over 4 days and fell into roughly 3 phases. The first day and a half were devoted to raising questions and proposing ideas. This involved significant small group discussion, several panels, and a presentation from Twaweza, an East African organization that has been very open about its own process of grappling with a set of questions and challenges around its work (including being highlighted in Duncan Green’s blog). T/AI will be making workshop content available very soon.
The remainder of the second day and entire third day opened a space for participants to consider what kinds of collective actions were being sparked by their engagement with the previously raised issues and with their fellow workshop participants. A number themes emerged around which people clustered themselves, including:
- Theories of Change
- Research and Evaluation Needs and Planning
- Social Movements and Accountability
- Organizational Learning
- Role of Citizen Engagement
- Incentives that Enable and Constrain Learning
Each of these groups thought through a few actions they could take collectively that would add value to the work that they themselves and their organizations are doing, and which would address, in more modest or ambitious ways, some of the challenges that participants had identified earlier in the workshop. Examples of actions proposed included organizing virtual clinics to examine theories of change, webinars to address learning practices and incentives issues, and learning from cases of social movement activism around government accountability. Look for a more complete report on these groups and their plans soon.
On the final day of the workshop, groups of participants visited one of three of the Jakarta-based organizations that had been involved in the event (FITRA, AJI and ICEL). These visits gave participants further opportunity to engage with local organizations and understand their context and approaches. Furthermore, it allowed local organizations to draw on the collective knowledge and experience of participants to get some new ideas on the challenges they face.
Here are my first impressions of the workshop:
- The workshop attracted a very interesting and diverse group of people, and any added value from this workshop is really a product of the great ideas of those present and their commitment to engaging with challenging issues. My only real regret from the workshop is that I didn’t get more time to talk with participants and hear about the work they are doing.
- Related to this, there seemed to be a lot of connecting going on (we designed our workshop to feature many spaces for this to occur) and I am betting that some very interesting future collaborations may have had their genesis at this meeting. Several people have noted to me the collaborations that have been born of previous TALEARN events and processes, and its something we try to cultivate.
- In my opinion, there were some great questions and challenges raised in the first half of the workshop (some of which I noted in an earlier post). Some of these issues lent themselves better to action and others receded into the background.
- Related to this point, participants crafted interesting and realistic (a point we emphasized) action agendas to take some of the work forward. I think these will yield some concrete outputs that should add value to individual organizations and more broadly. However, I’m not yet sure if the actions proposed, even if they are all carried out, address some of the key issues that participants identified as relevant to the T/A field. This is a point I need to think on a bit more and go back to my notes on the questions raised and the actions proposed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We highlighted that this workshop, and TALEARN more broadly, are spaces to both grapple with big questions and challenges and to find collective ways of organizing to add tangible value to people’s work (something we have called ‘productive selfishness). My role may well be to think about how to support the tangible actions individuals and groups proposed, while looking for ways to connect them to the bigger issues that were raised (and/or opening some smaller spaces to keep a dialogue around those questions and challenges alive).
- Finally, the workshop reinforced, in my mind at least, that the experiment that is the TALEARN community of practice, is a worthwhile one. A little over a year ago, a group of individuals came together to form TALEARN. Our recently completed workshop featured a number of people from the original meeting, a further set of individuals who had come into contact with TALEARN over the past year, and (the biggest group) people who had no prior engagement with the community of practice. Yet despite these differences, the group grasped the value of both dialogue on bigger challenges and of more tangible collaborations around specific issues and objectives beyond the space of an individual workshop. At T/AI, we are still thinking about how to best support and leverage TALEARN to generate more impact in the T/A field, but that the community adds value, on different levels and in a diversity of ways, seems clear.
- And last of all, a very big thanks to all the workshop participants (especially our presenters, panelists and knowledge marketplace contributors) for their enthusiastic engagement, and to my T/AI colleagues for helping me pull this off!
Look for more thoughts on the workshop as well as materials presented there very soon. And if you want to know more, and maybe get involved, drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org).