Learning from differences: first steps in a collaborative project

27 September 2014
SERIES Articles and Opinions

The most unusual thing in the On Think Tanks Exchange so far has been that 7 am (Lima)-2 pm (Bratislava)-3 pm (Kyiv) – 7 pm (Jakarta) is the only feasible time-scheme for conference-calls our Communication Mapping team participants. Our project team brought together researchers from three different parts of the world – Latin America, Europe, South-East Asia. Before the project started, the time difference was the biggest challenge for collaborative work that I anticipated, but I could not imagine that the time-zone stretch would be this big.

In reality, time difference proved to be a minor disadvantage. Weekly conference calls in spite of the stretched timing turned out easy-going and productive. A shared Dropbox folder made our collaborative work across the continents even faster than some of my collaborative work on local projects in Ukraine. In fact, time difference mattered only in times of tight deadlines, which have been rare so far. Collaborative work on the proposal has been surprisingly smooth.

Apparently, the reason was for this smoothness has been a clear project image that we developed during the kick-off meeting in Lima in March 2014. Francesca Uccelli from IEP, Peru, Radka Vicenova from CENAA, Slovak Republic and myself came up with the idea to conduct a self-study of communication practices and to exchange with these self-studies. Ermy and Chitra from Article 33 Indonesia joined later but supported the idea of the project.

We shared the inspiration to learn from each other’s think tanks communication practice, especially due to differences in the areas of expertise and organizational models of our think tanks. The idea behind the project is to map what we do in communication, reflect on whether it works well, and then to share our customary practice with each other. We assumed that some routine activities of one think tank could turn out to be a treasure for another one in a different context. We also came up with the idea of including a learning-by-doing component in communication activity of our think tanks in order to try out something new learnt during the exchange project.

Elaborating the detailed proposal has been both hard and easy. It was easy, because the idea of the project aims and activities was clear for us from the beginning. At the same time, it was hard to put it in writing to be as clear for others as it was in our heads. However, we managed to fulfil the project structuring requirements and the project is now set. The face-to-face meeting in Budapest organised in the last moment before the deadline was indeed helpful. We checked once again our commitment to this idea of the project and made sure that we have a common understanding of our motivation and plans.

It is intriguing to see what we will come up with. Whether our assumption about the value of learning from differences in communication of think tanks will prove to be productive. Regardless of the outcome, the process of our collaborative self-study and exchange promises valuable insights on its way.