Written by: Subrata Majumdar (CDHI), Pulak Mishra (IIT) and Niladri Shekhar Bagch (IIT)
Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) underpins the core of the SIAGI approach which has evolved over time extending through the inception (at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur campus in March 2016) to the review meetings in Kolkata campus of IIT Kharagpur (October 2016) and Khulna (February, 2017). The approach, iteratively, has been practiced and modified before it was finally adopted. SIAGI considers ECE essential to collaborate with the farmers and other stakeholders respecting their wisdom, insights, perception and practices. Adopting the approach has definite challenges – unlearning of the conventional extractive research approaches, developing sensitivity to the farmers and other stakeholders and also developing necessary capacities and skills.
Being aware of these challenges, SIAGI underlined the need for a capacity building event. CDHI, one of the project partners, has been practising this approach and has shown credible evidence of its impact in not only accessing information but also in taking collaborative initiatives with the farmers and other marginal communities to empower them and turning the collaborative initiatives transformational. CDHI offered to facilitate and coordinate the event.
Discussions on ethical community engagement
Teams deep in reflection on their experiences of community engagement
The ECE reflective workshop
The reflective training workshop on ECE was organized collectively by the SIAGI partners and facilitated by CDHI in Jalpaiguri during May 11-17, 2017. Right from working on the conceptual framework to preparing the course compendium and organizing the workshop a high level of collaboration was demonstrated. The workshop used participatory reflective pedagogy, combined with field exposure and interactions with the farmers – both male and female. Role plays, scenario analysis and story building and telling were some of the important tools applied during this workshop. The workshop discussed and reflected around practical insights/scenario brought from the respective fields by the participants.
Some Important Issues of Discussion in the Workshop:
- The first thing a researcher must understand is the feeling of togetherness while working with a community. Every member of the community must feel that they are working ‘with’ each other and not ‘under’ anybody.
- For deeper understanding of what the community wants for their development, one must respect their values and culture. Nothing should be imposed upon them; rather everything should come out from equal participation of all.
- One of the major reasons why communities lag behind is different forms of discrimination they face – social, religious, caste, colour and others. The participants portrayed different forms of discrimination through play, storytelling and songs. Researchers must understand these discriminations and try to overcome these barriers to come close to people. The project team must initiate steps to spread awareness in order to eradicate such discrimination from the society.
- There was a debate on the issue “Person first, environment later vs. environment first, person later”. The arguments presented by both groups in for and against the issue were very intuitive and thought provoking.
- The theory of people and environment by Albert Bandura and Kurt Lewin was discussed. The theory explains the role of responsive and enabling environment in achieving self-efficacy.
- Based on the work by Paulo Freire, the concept of the oppressed and the oppressor was demonstrated. It was reflected that, in order to create equal rights, the oppressed class must unite and create a big pool of assets and then challenge the oppressors. The success of such movements depends on – unity, strategic plan, discipline and leadership.
Engagement with the community at Uttar Chakowakheti
Workshop Outcomes for the SIAGI
The workshop enabled thinking through reflections on multiple perspectives on development and pedagogies and preferred to settle for ethical community engagement. Several of the workshop sessions witnessed these reflections and commitment in enthusiastic participation of the members. The visit of Christian Roth, SIAGI Project Manager and Wendy Merritt, SIAGI Coordinator to the fields, both in Bangladesh and India, following the workshop, and interactions with the partners confirmed growing preferences and applications of the approach. Back home some of the partners have reported positive impact of the approach being practised in their field works.
Note about the authors:
- Subrata Majumdar is Executive Director (Programs) at CDHI and coordinator, SIAGI project. Subrata has been a strong proponent of the ECE approach and has extensively used this approach in water management programs of CDHI. Subrata also coordinated the workshop at CDHI.
- Pulak Mishra is an Associate Professor at IIT Kharagpur and coordinator, SIAGI. Pulak has been quite proactive and has used the perspective in his study and analysis of the value chains. He also offered valuable inputs during pre-workshop preparations and logistic supports during the pre-workshop consultations at their Salt Lake campus.
- Niladri Shekhar Bagchi is a Research Assistant (SIAGI) and Ph.D. Scholar at IIT Kharagpur. Niladri was one of the participants in the workshop and has shown commitment to the approach. He, together with Pulak, used the approach in their value chain study and analysis.