Wednesday, 7 September 2016, and the stage was being set for FRACTAL’s first learning lab event: a large circle of participants (40 or so) filled a workshop room that was void of tables and computers. A “safe space” for knowledge co-production was being created as participants expressed their requests for freedom of speech, creativity, honesty and trust. The order of the day had been adjusted substantially, based on reflections from participants on the inception workshop the day before, which was relatively structured and formal. The anticipation of what lay ahead for the day was palpable…
Although the design of the learning lab event process had been given much careful thought, the content of the day was open for interpretation and steering by the participants. A call for “burning themes” near the very beginning of the day inspired a number of people to come forward and express the concerns at the forefront of their minds related to resources in Lusaka. These concerns were then fleshed out in smaller groups (hosted by workshop participants) with two main points in mind: i) to unpack the issue in terms of causes and impacts; and ii) to brainstorm potential leverage points. This process, was given as much time as possible, but still could have been longer had the day allowed, as conversations were rich and flowing. After report backs and discussions on these burning themes (spilling over into lunch time), the issues were synthesized and distilled into fewer, FRACTAL-relevant burning issues by the FRACTAL team (as representatives of the theme discussions). Thereafter, these burning issues were offered back to the group. Through a “voting barometer” process (i.e. moving around on an imaginary spectrum in the room to express their opinion), and a somewhat heated debate to understand fully the scale of the burning issue, participants came to an agreement on what this issue should comprise. Bits and pieces of discussions, thoughts, debates and activities of the morning and part of the afternoon solidified into a burning issue related to the causes and effects of water security in peri-urban areas, within the broader city system of Lusaka.
Once the burning issue was identified, an appetite for climate-related discussions was facilitated by imagining a “future Lusaka”. What will the headlines be 20-30 years from now, particularly in these peri-urban areas? Will the city be facing three-year droughts? Will floods have taken the lives of community members? This creative thought process was followed by a few questions on climate science. The way forward for the city learning process in Lusaka was then carved by a plenary discussion on what participants are expecting to see stemming from the first learning lab event, what they could offer to contribute to the objectives of FRACTAL in Lusaka, and identification of the next concrete step (including a meeting in Lusaka in early December 2016). The final session allowed for reflection from participants, particularly related to most enjoyable sessions/parts of the day, and those areas that could be improved on. These ideas will be captured in the learning lab report and guidelines for facilitating a process for FRACTAL learning labs.
It’s not possible to adequately capture the learnings from the day in a blog such as this. However, for a taster before the full report and guidelines become available, a few main points come to mind. Firstly, most of the Lusaka FRACTAL team committed as active participants, immersing themselves in the discussions during breakaway groups and taking part in all activities. This enabled a trusting environment, in which all are equal knowledge holders except for the facilitator. Secondly, the social time outside the workshop room was precious, with very real, human relationships being built. Thirdly, the influence of the calm and flexible facilitator was evident in the very emergent process of the learning labs. As an insightful colleague of mine expressed during the reflection session, there is a need to “trust the process”. This adaptive process does, however, need to be carefully crafted while being open and sensitive to the characteristics of the participants.