Theatre during the ‘Council of children,’ 2016, Call of the Mountain, Putumayo, Colombia.
Initial processes of engagement
The lead researcher, Thomas Macintyre, and coordinator, Martha Chaves, have been active members of the CASA network since its founding in 2012, participating and organising national events such as El Llamado de la Montaña, conducting research in member communities, and holding organisational roles. Both researchers have gradually become part of the very fabric of the organisation, accepted and trusted by other members of the network.
A strong focus of the network is on personal growth, spirituality, and transformation through action-based projects. Previous research into the CASA network into good life narratives of buen vivir have blended into the focus on radical learning-based change, which is the focus of the International T-Learning project. During El Llamado de la Montaña of 2016, the Colombian T-Learning project mapped out the different initiatives participating in the event, with a special focus on initiatives with possibilities for transformative learning. Through this process, four initiatives were approached and asked if they would like to participate in more depth in the Colombian case study as co-researchers – investigating their own community processes within the framework of the case study (these initiatives are described on the Colombian page of the T-Learning website). This signified a change of relations from research subjects to active researchers in the project.
Participatory action research and the scoping of matters of concern
This change of relations between ‘researcher’ and ‘subject’ is an important aspect of the Colombian T-Learning project, whereby the methodology used is Participatory Action Research (PAR), a research approach based on participation of communities and researchers on action based projects – in this case, the ‘action’ of PAR being transformation labs (T-Labs) held in each community. Learning is fundamental to this process which involves iterative planning-action-reflection cycles, with a special focus on the shared commitment to fundamentally disrupting conventional hierarchies of knowledge production.
This decolonial approach appreciates that in an accelerating world of uncertainty, complexity and vested political interests, there are no unbiased matters of ‘fact,’ with the ways we understand the world being saturated in values which help determine our views and behaviour. For this reason, an important concept for the T-Learning project is that of ‘matters of concern,’ which appreciates the risks and contested nature of knowledge.
In terms of scoping matters of concern, it was important for this research that communities themselves determined what their concerns and needs are, at the same time as identifying their own resources and what they can offer to others. Many of these initiatives have actively been working on social and environmental issues for many years, and many have a focus on environmental education in informal settings. What the T-Learning project has attempted to do is provide a learning framework around transformation and climate change, whereby each co-researcher can explore their own processes from the lens of a researcher as well as a community member. The job of the lead researcher is then to bring these different but interconnected narratives together in a way that demonstrates forms of learning with transformational potential.
Following initiatives mapping their own matters of concern through group zoom discussions, and filling out a format made by the lead researcher, a team building workshop was held in the Indigenous community of Atánquez (see blog here) where these concerns were shared within the team. These concerns ranged from issues of water conservation, sustainable community building, ancestral education and eco-tourism. What quickly became apparent was how all these concerns were interlinked through a deep commitment to bringing to the surface what the ecovillage Aldeafeliz call ‘silent knowledge’ within a context of peace reconstruction in Colombia. This nexus issue of silent knowledge might go by other names such as Indigenous or traditional knowledge, deep ecology, spirituality or buen vivir (the good life), but is expressed in all the initiatives through the importance of opening up to other ways of learning and expressing ‘what we know and don’t know’ in our relations with Mother Earth. The following are examples for the initiatives: the power of song and dance to connect with other human and non-human entities (Initiative Nuh Jay); the sacred nature of water and its connection to territory (Ecovillage Aldeafeliz); the role of developing one’s own personal myth in formal education (Colectivo Talanquera); building community through non-violent communication techniques among marginalised communities (Bioregion Caribe); and exploring the potential of agroecology as a social movement through its principles of deep connection to sustainability practices (bioregion Quimbaya).