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May 6, 2009 / zanzi

Day Two

Day Two, the 5th of May, was quite different from the opening day. The previous evening saw the first of the group activities, with each participant filling up cards highlighting details about one’s academic background, work experience, social and cultural skills, hobbies, family and a place with which one associates a sense of belonging. We each stuck these creatively on to charts with our photograph on them and put these up on display boards. Each person came up and talked the others through each of the cards on their chart. Though it made for a long session, it considerably hastened the process of acquainting us with each person in the group. Which is why the second day was different to begin with.

The morning debriefing session featured a comment on how informal learning constitutes more than two-thirds of our overall learning. After the first day’s exhaustingly long but fun proceedings, people had spent time over dinner and afterwards sitting together in small groups, chatting. I walked up to the main road to get the lay of the land and figure out bus access to the main city, which turned out to be easy. Then Laura and I climbed on to some boulders lying around on the campus and spent a couple of hours talking around the themes from the day’s discussion. The moon is getting fuller and it shone through my room windows yesterday, which was cause for happiness on a night that saw stormy weather and intermittent power cuts.

Electric supply continued to be off and on this morning, but the conference room seems to be served by two phases, so the mike, projector, computer and power sockets carried on undeterred. We did do away with the venetian blinds, which made for more natural light. The morning session threatened to be marred by some initial miscommunication between Dr Regine and Dr Kundu over how to proceed with the deconstruction, but this was soon safely negotiated. We pinned up cards with questions and comments, important terms and concepts, and sorted through some disagreements while extending the discussion to begin with. Some of the issues linked with urbanization were brought out more starkly, and this was to lead into a discussion on local, regional and global perspectives, which didn’t quite emerge. However, the interaction with Dr Kundu is covered comprehensively in a manner that accommodates these revisions in the first day’s piece, so it will suffice here to look at the broad outcomes of our attempt at deconstruction. The following were flagged:

The role of the state – Which form of power sharing is desirable between civil society and government – Forms of representation – Elite capture – Corruption – Monopoly of violence

Participatory governance – Inclusion versus exclusion – Stakeholder analysis – Institutional analysis – How accountability could be guaranteed – Impacts of globalization – Global market mechanisms

Decentralization – Which elements of government could foster inclusion – Definition of a public space – Who should be responsible for what and why

These are bound to be recurrent themes in the coming four weeks, so it was good to have them brought up in order to establish a mutual understanding, some common ground, and a base of shared terminology.

After a much-needed lunch break, we started out with an interesting energizer Regine conducted, involving closing our eyes, folding a sheet of paper twice and making some tears in it based on our individual interpretations of her instructions. We were in for a surprise or two at everyone’s outcomes, but the point that was underscored is that understanding in communication is always influenced by the gap created by our subjectivity. This was a throwback to Dr Regine’s statement from yesterday about how any human decision necessarily suffers from a bias, albeit unconscious.

The afternoon session was a lively and interesting one. Rebecca set up the exchange board, which saw a number of varied offers and requests popping up from the word go. The first of these translated into a screening of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ post-dinner.

The discussion was prefaced by a brief grounding in cognitive psychology, couched within the question ‘What do we want to know and why?’ A triangular interaction around cognitive interests was outlined, constituted by methodological interactions of the ‘sciences’ with ‘me’ and one’s ‘lifeworld’ as well as reflection between ‘me’ and this ‘lifeworld’. These interactions are of a reflexive nature. All this becomes important within a framework of understanding that sees learning as personal, emotional, active and social.

Moving along further, we studied models of team-building, contrasting a short-term approach with a four-stage model that is more beneficial in the long run. This moves from forming through storming and norming to performing – this last, of course, hopefully. It also includes parameters such as diversity within the group. As discussed yesterday, our group follows the iceberg model of culture, wherein values that underlie beliefs that underlie attitudes are not interfered with, and the working interface is their resultant, behaviour. For more, see

This brought into focus the potential of peer learning in interdisciplinary and intercultural learning processes. We filled in a questionnaire that uses the Myers-Briggs method of personality analysis to categorize learning styles, with interesting results. The group seems to have several people clumped into different groups that lie in the extremes, i.e. the corners, of a 4×4 grid. Mine was an outcome typical of Africans – Extrovert/Intuitive/Thinker/Judger – the polar opposite being Introvert/Sensate/Feeler/Perceiver. In a group of 30-odd, we cover 11 of the 16 different personality types in terms of our learning styles.

After  a break for tea, armed with our newfound personality types, we resumed with the intention of dividing ourselves into groups. Toward this end, we played a survival game involving the prioritization of which items to rescue from a sinking ship while abandoning it in favour of a wooden raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This was first done individually and then in groups of half a dozen each. After this attempt at consensual (and inter-subjective) teamwork, we each subscribed to the working group of our choice out of three possible options. The participants ended up splitting quite evenly across Climate Change, Water Resource Management and Urban Sustainability, both in terms of numbers, personality types and knowledge specific to the area of interest.

With this, the formal events of the day came to an end. I must mention the handing over of the initial lump sum in the morning. Money does not seem too important while living the good life at EPTRI, but a few extra thousands will come in handy when food and accommodation are not quite as luxurious elsewhere, and the days are not packed with things to do at summer school! But for the moment, we are all happily busy, and the level of enthusiastic participation was high enough to sustain another meeting of each working group that went on for over an hour. The Urban Sustainability working group, which I am part of, now operates out of a lovely corner room on the first floor of the building that houses the conference room. We have two windows that bring in amazing views and a cool breeze in the late evenings. Within our first two hours of functioning, we managed to assign the roles of moderator, documentation, presenter and ambassador to four of the dozen group members.

It rained at dinner time, just a light drizzle but enough to make fragrant smells rise from the earth. On the other hand, it led to the discovery that a few of the rooms are not exactly equipped with water-proof plaster. With water and electricity woes, as well as the commonly expressed wish for ‘genuine’ tea and coffee rather than the unsustainable packet fare currently on offer, everyone’s thrilled to have such terrific weather. Just another of the joys the Deccan plateau offers up in its charming way.


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