Reading on the train to Yogyakarta

Ali and I are on the train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta.

I’m reading the chapter Rigure in complexity in Robert Chambers’ 2017 book, ‘Can we know better?’ about knowledge and research in a development context—I discovered it in Miko’s (Open Data Lab Jakarta) twitter feed. I find it very relevant to design and civic tech.

There’s lots of interesting case studies and ideas. In this chapter, Chambers describes sanitation problems in rural India and the campaign to eliminate open defecation there. This complex and wicked problem defies top-down solutions leading to gridlock. He describes how an embracing complexity is leading to some change:

In this gridlock, the way forward included decentralization, encouraging innovation and diversity, and rapid learning and sharing. A large number of parallel initiatives and campaigns were launched. District Collectors (the administrative heads of districts) of India’s 643 rural districts were to run their own campaigns, drawing on a handbook of ideas for campaigns and them- selves being creative. Rapid action learning was advocated and authorized in the guidelines for the SBM-G [national campaign ‘Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin)’]. The term ‘action learning’ was used in its commonsense meaning of learning from and through action, rather than in the classical and historical sense (Revans, 1982; Pedler and Burgoyne, 2015). Inclusive rigour was sought through rapid learning from district collectors who were positive deviants and through bringing them together to share their innovations and experiences in workshops. These confirmed that there was a cornucopia of promising practices that could be drawn on, developed, and spread.

(Chambers, 2017, p.g. 110)

I’d like to follow this up and learn more about how local knowledge was shared between these District Collectors.

In our case, I’m thinking about what might be useful for the people in Indonesia, Australia, and elsewhere, running independent library projects to make all our efforts more sustainable. The insights we gain, relationships built, and knowledge shared, needs to be worth it to the people we’re meeting for the time they’re generously contributing.

Indras at the Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem library told us she’s keen to establish a membership and borrowing system at their library to make it more convenient for people. At Frontyard over the last few weeks, I’ve had brief conversations with Ali and Benjamin Forster, and this is a desire we share. This project seems like one potential thread to collaborate and learn together. Indras said she’d like to use the Slims library management software to manage this borrowing system, which seem like it could be a good direction for us to follow.

Another niggle in my head: It’s important we learn about why people are running libraries in their different contexts. We’ve flagged this as one of our questions, but haven’t had time to really sit in a space yet and observe it being used and talk to the people who use it. I have a hunch that mapping this need might be really useful to all us librarians.


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