Catalysing Dialogue in Third Spaces: Reflections on Knowledge Exchange Partnerships
Andrea Bullivant was Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator for the Northern European Knowledge Exchange Partnership (KEP); one of three such partnerships across the Bridge 47 network. Here she reflects on the experience of the KEPs from the perspective of Liverpool World Centre, the organisation in which she is based.
Liverpool World Centre (LWC) is a Development Education Centre (DEC) and part of the Consortium of DECs in England. DECs mainly support and deliver Global Learning with schools and communities. Whilst locally based, they also work nationally and internationally, whether supporting attempts to advocate for SDG 4.7 in the national education system or working with European partners. More unusually for a DEC, LWC has developed significant experience in working within and between universities and civil society organisations, for example through leading TEESNet, a network devoted to bringing university teacher educators together with CSOs and schools. This experience aligned well with co-ordinating Bridge 47’s Northern European KEP, where the aim was to facilitate knowledge exchange between practitioners and academics through a series of seminars. The experience of co-ordinating the KEP informed an ongoing process of reflection on the role of organisations like LWC in working between the spaces of practice, theory and research. These tentative reflections are shared here across three themes:
Catalysing ‘shadow spaces’
Historically, CSOs like LWC have operated on the margins of mainstream education and institutions. On the one hand this places them in quite a vulnerable position. On the other, it can be seen as part of their raison d’etre in challenging some of those more powerful institutions and agendas. I like to think of this marginality as being part of what Skinner and Baillie Smith have identified as CSO’s ‘in-between-ness’, reflecting their role between the mainstream and more political and radical spaces. This also resonates with Selby and Kagawa’s  suggestion of catalysing across ‘shadow spaces’, where individuals and groups come together across formal organisational structures. It is this sense of in-between-ness and the potential for CSOs to facilitate or catalyse the spaces between groups, between the formal and informal, and between practice and theory, which, I would argue, LWC attempted to bring to co-ordinating the Northern European KEP.
Linked to CSOs catalytic potential, is their use of participatory approaches in facilitating spaces and dialogue between groups. For LWC, like many CSOs, these approaches draw heavily on Freirean concepts and methods they have influenced, such as Training for Transformation. Whilst these approaches were used deliberately to promote the skills and values for critical Global Citizenship Education (the focus for knowledge exchange in the Northern European KEP) and to encourage all voices to be heard, they were an implicit part of the facilitation process. Reflecting on the dialogue which took place through the KEPs and the concern to move beyond dominant knowledges and theory-practice divides, it may have been helpful to recognise these approaches and their contribution more explicitly, and the extent to which they form a body of knowledge within CSO communities.
Hybrids, Scholar-Activists and Third Spaces
Reflections so far have focused on CSO’s potential to facilitate and catalyse spaces between groups, coupled with the need to recognise how CSOs contribute beyond an emphasis on narrow ideas of practice. The latter issue also arose in the Bridge 47 KEP process, where the term ‘hybrid’ emerged as a way of some practitioners locating themselves across practice/research boundaries. Similarly, academic colleagues (those based mainly in universities), also sought to locate themselves across theory-practice-action divides through identifying themselves as ‘scholar-activists’. There was recognition of the need for a kind of ‘Third Space’ in which CSO, university and other colleagues could, through dialogue and interrogation of power, work together across the formal organisational boundaries and structures for their work. Whilst, from the perspective of LWC, such a space would still need careful attention to the way power operates to marginalise practitioners and practice knowledge, the KEP process offered a good starting point.
‘Academics’ is used here to distinguish colleagues based largely in universities, where their work might include teaching, research and collaboration with external individuals or organisations
Skinner, A., Baillie Smith, M. (2015) Reconceptualising global education from the grassroots: the lived experiences of practitioners. Brussels: DEEEP-CONCORD DARE Forum
Selby, D., and Kagawa, F. (2011) Development education and education for sustainable development: Are they striking a Faustian bargain? Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review. 12, Spring 2011, 15-31
Hope, A. and Timmel, S. (1999). Training for Transformation: A handbook for community workers. Warwickshire: Practical Action
Bhabha, H. K. (1994) The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge