Reflections on #dadamac 2015 Jan 10th-16th

As I woke up today (January 17th) I realised that it was exactly one week since our event "Africa-UK Connections  in Practice - New Approaches for 2015"  so I began this blog. Thinking back at all that has happened I recalled that exactly this time last week (nearly 8.30 am) John Dada and I (the "Dada" and "mac" of Dadamac) were on our way to Hub Westminster.

I pressed save.

Then I went away to think about it....

Preparations and expectations

On Friday 9th January. Nikki Fishman, Steve Podmore and I met John Dada to welcome him to London and update him on preparations for the event. Nikki and I had arranged it. Steve was to chair it. John's work was the proof of concept on the African side. The whole thing stretched back to work that John, Nikki and I had done together and separately for more years than we care to remember.

The idea was to explore "Africa-UK Connections  in Practice", and offer a model for "New Approaches for 2015". The plan for the day (and the subsequent year) was to:

  • Share insights about ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) based on our experience in Dadamac.
  • Offer the insights through a simple model of change.
  • Do so in a way that can be seen to be a combination of macro and micro approaches i.e."glocal" - local realities in a global context.
  • Put glocal vision in the time context of our event date - 10th January 2015. i.e. 2015 is half way between 2000 and 2030, January is the start of the year.
  • Enable discussion so that people could consider how their own experience related to the model.
  • Get feedback
  • Illustrate the model in practice with reference to the work of Dadamac
  • More discussion and feedback
  • Let people self-select to leave after the discussion or to stay on to explore practical, collaborative, ways forward.

 

Participants' expectations

The booking form had said:

This will be a very participative event with a clear focus, tightly tied into reality and with an action plan agenda afterwards for anyone interested in involvement.

  • Come to listen

  • Come to share your experience

  • Stay to get involved in the next steps at "After-Event"......

 

#Dadamac 2015 - Connect Communicate Collaborate

An early working title for "Africa-UK Connections in Practice - New Approaches for 2015" was "#Dadamac 2015 - Connect Communicate Collaborate". The event was organised by Nikki Fishman and me, of Dadamac. We were connecting people, organisations and ideas. We were giving participants the opportunity to communicate with each other, and to feed back to the organisers. We were inviting people to collaborate with us afterwards during 2015.

If you use twitter then #dadamac will get you to the ongoing story.

You can see more about the emergence of our ideas for the event and for 2015 in other blogs including 2015: Happy Connected New Year (and Africa-UK Connections in Practice) .

We knew we had an ambitious agenda for January 10th, made more challenging by the ways we had purposely assembled a group of people with very different perspectives. No matter. That is typical of Dadamac - huge vision, small steps towards achieving it, and constantly "learning-by-doing"

John responded during the preparations update with a reference to the fable of The Blind Men and the Elephant , so I've included it below.

Summary of The Blind Men and the Elephant (from Wikipedia)

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

The stories differ primarily in how the elephant's body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved.

(for more see Wikipedia full explanation)

Looking back I see what John meant. Throughout the day we all brought our own individual perspectives, and we have yet to see the whole elephant. I hope that the day helped all of us to see more of it, and that by the time we have #dadamac 2016 (or whatever we call a follow up event) we will all have a clearer idea of what we have got hold of.

The morning

The morning was the macro picture. Professor Tim Unwin gave the keynote speech. It was recorded and we hope to share it online before long. Then Steve emphasised the 2015 context of the Millennium Development Goals giving way to the Sustainable Development Goals. My own concern was for the way that ICT (Information and Communication Technology) can kick the whole top-down model of development sideways, so that there can be two-way flows of information and true collaboration.  So already we had a variety of perspectives.

We offered some questions to the participants, and asked everyone to discuss them. There were feedback sheets to help us collect individual comments, and at the end there was a summary from each group, so by lunchtime more perspectives were emerging.

The afternoon

The afternoon was an attempt to illustrate that the model of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) we were suggesting Is based firmly in reality.

ICT for D....isruption

In Dadamac we know that ICT can alter the information flows between Africa and the UK. ICT isn't just a technological "add on" for "International Development as usual". It's much deeper than that. Well resourced and targeted ICT can enable development projects that have true communication, collaboration, and transparency. That shifts power. As we see it in Dadamac ICT4D = ICT for Disruption (of the status quo) in Development.

T = "Technology" and "Tools for Talking" to each other

In Dadamac we've been working on the practicalities of Information and Communication Technology for Africa-UK collaboration in practice for many years. A core part of our work is the weekly UK-Nigeria meetings online (now held on Skype, previously held through Yahoo). These meetings have been possible thanks to Fantsuam Foundation's (FF's) pioneering work in providing rural connectivity:

We know that, given the political will, the technology could be much more widely available. However the technology only provides the "tools for talking to each other". That's just the beginning. More is needed.

C = "Communication" and "Communities of people who need to Communicate with each other"

The "tools for talking" enable us to create online communities.  For real communication and collaboration to happen people need to feel confident as contributors within the online community. Nikki Fishman emphasised the importance of building that community of trust and actively addressing cross-cultural barriers.

I = "Information" and the "Issues and Initiatives of Interest" to the Community

So, once you have the "tools for talking" and the online Africa-UK community what about the information? What issues and initiatives are of interest? There was no hope of covering that in any detail. John Dada came to the front to respond to questions about the local needs, opportunities and challenges that he and the team at Fantsuam Foundation address in their programme of integrated community development - see Fantsuam Foundation website

We were concerned that people might think Dadamac is only interested in Fantsuam Foundation and the surrounding area in North Central Nigeria. We want to support other changemakers as well (see www.dadamac.org) if we can attract sufficient resources to do so.

Elfneh Bariso of Ahead, in Ethiopia, joined John to demonstrate there was wider relevance to what was being said. Julliet Makhapela of Diversity in Kenya Communities spoke up for Dadamac's relevance to her work. Olalekan Lawal told of his connection to our work in SW Nigeria. There are many more people, organisations and locations we'd like to include. We connect with other projects in English speaking sub-Saharan Africa directly through the Dadamac network. We connect indirectly with a wider group through Kabissa - Space for Change in Africa and through the newly formed RSA UK-Africa Network. Dadamac's work with John Dada and his team at Fantsuam is proof of concept.

Discussion, introductions and time for tea 

By tea-time we were running out of time for the set agenda. There had been more discussions. People needed to know better "who was who" before we all went our separate ways. The session ended with everyone who waited to do so introducing themselves to camera and explaining their interests. I rashly relied on the video recordings to tell me all the details, not realising that the camera batteries were running low, so only the start of what people said was recorded. The stick mics had also let us down so the sound was not all it might be. I'll try to invite everyone to send me details of what they said in their introductions, so that we have that information available to share.

Looking forward

Judging by the various face-to-face conversations, emails, Skypes and tweets I've had this week, communication is continuing beyond the "space and time boundaries" of the event itself. As John predicted in his fable of the blind men, there are many different perspectives. Some perhaps seem contradictory, but all reflecting truths from different viewpoints. I anticipate that they will all make complete sense as time passes and we learn from each other and come to understand each others' perspectives.

I'm already seeing different interest groups emerging and I'm getting useful feedback, suggestions and support from various directions.

Some of the suggestions are already being acted on. We agree the benefits of rebranding the Africa-UK work with a "non-Dadamac" name that will demonstrate it has a wider reach than "John Dada, Pamela McLean and other friends-helping-friends. "Africa Changemakers" is the current favourite. 

We've had a directed donation so that Nikki can be paid for a while into 2015 to explore ways of continuing and developing what has been done so far. I'm happy to continue with my voluntary work, as long as I'm not working alone. We have several people willing to give us some of their time and skills in 2015. We also have a suggestion for finding funding, and we have one regular donor committed to giving us £10 a month. We have no other regular income or support. The future of our work genuinely depends on what comes out of the January 2015 event.

Appreciation and #dadamac 2016

Many thanks to everyone who gave up their Saturday to join us and put their energy, ideas and experience into making the day as lively and energetic as it was. Additional thanks to everyone who contributed to the thinking or doing that made the event possible. I'm already reflecting on what we learned, and looking forward to continuing the work in 2015 and inviting people to connect, communicate and collaborate again next year at #dadamac 2016