Academia-practitioner links: encouraging developments

Much of my time is spent on practical projects where I'm on a steep learning curve. When I'm learning-by-doing I want to reflect on what I'm learning, and I don't want to do all that reflection alone.

The need

I always want to fit my practical work into a wider theoretical framework. I want to get insights from people who've had time to explore the areas where I'm working. I want to know about relevant thinking. I want to talk through issues that are puzzling or troubling me. Equally I want to check out ideas and insights that are inspiring or exciting me. I want to connect with other thinkers and practitioners so that I can get better insights into what is really going on, and the problems that need to be addressed. I also want to be able to find examples of good practice easily, so that I can connect with the people involved and learn from them.

I want the right environment for my reflections, somewhere to make appropriate intellectual connections and personal connections, to find inspiration and refreshment of approach, to see my work in a wider context, to accelerate my understanding, and to increase my competence. I want it to be easier to meet with my peers.

Looking for a one-stop-shop

I would like to be able to turn somewhere, some ideal "one stop shop" for that combined "knowledge base and connecting point" that I crave. At present I have either to work in isolation, or to spend huge amounts of time seeking out relevant thinkers and practitioners and creating my own distributed networks of knowledge.

I'm always on the lookout for a mixture of deep intellectual approaches and practical training. Regarding practical skills I already know I could be doing some things more effectively and yet I continue to "do it the hard way because it's easier for me". This is one of the many down-sides of working too much alone, as many innovators have to do.

Is it academia?

I have wondered if academia could be the right place to find my "one-stop-shop" (or maybe I should describe it as a kind of "base camp" and refreshment point). This "base camp" would be a place where it would be worth investing my time for a while because it would take me to new levels of understanding and competence.

However, although I do connect with some academics, I have yet to find the kind of connections that I seek within institutional academia. I don't know where in academia to start looking. To date I haven't even been able to find appropriate partnerships for collaborative research where there is obvious overlap between practical work that I'm doing and specific academic disciplines.

After years of failing to make connections I have almost stopped looking, but I'm slow to completely abandon hope and sometimes I give it another try. That's why I still follow up some of the links I see on the internet, and connect with the ICT4D online community online and through Meetups and it's how I came to be at a couple of meetings today.

A postive step forward

Today was an encouraging step in the right direction. I spent the morning at the Engaged Futures Visioning Workshop which was exploring the idea of "the engaged university in 2025". My impression was that most of the people at the workshop did know academia well, and many were working within its walls or closely associated with it.

Most of the future scenarios that people offered were of institutions that are more fluid, open and collaborative than the current reality and I could imagine connecting with these new institutions far more easily. This short article provides a simple summary and possible futures video from the University Alliance which organised the event. My future reality falls firmly in the collaboration area because it is already the main reality.

Another overlap

As we broke for lunch I was pleasantly surprised to find Nikki Fishman coming into the room (see Nikki's blog Adieu for now! and my blog Appreciating Nikki, Collaboration, Collage and Dadamac) Nikki was there for a UK Community Partnership Focus Group meeting.

Nikki and I knew we were both attending meetings today, but hadn't realised the two were at the same location and closely connected. In fact the focus group leaders had been acting as participants in the morning workshop. Several other workshop participants were already registered for the focus group. I was invited to join them, and Nikki and I appreciated the opportunity to participate together.

Not just a talking shop

In a way the workshops today reminded me of the Planet Earth Institute's event "Africa's Scientific Independence; How do we get there?" which I blogged about last week Appreciating PEI's "Africa's Scientific Independence" The events had the feeling of trying to be more than a mere talking shop. There was a sense of the organisers tapping purposively into the wisdom in the room with the intention of applying it in some practical way.

There is always a difference of personal investment in such events, because some people are there as part of their salaried work, while others attend in their own time. These relationships to the time invested give very different perspectives.

My hope is that, in the long term, such meetings will lead to new approaches which are beneficial to all concerned - exactly what that "looks like" is something to explore in more depth later.

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