Improbable Dialogues: Participatory Research as a Strategy for Reconciliation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

The Colombian armed conflict has been protracted and complex. Its multi-causal, multi-actor and multi-level nature complicates the construction of peace. Furthermore, there are real disconnects between the formal provisions in the negotiated Peace Agreement and the daily lived experiences of communities affected by conflict. In many communities various forms of conflict continue, and in some, new conflicts have emerged as a result of the national-level peace process. We capture these conflicts through the term conflictividades, a Spanish word describing conflict-prone scenarios not necessarily related to armed confrontation. This project seeks to explore the disjuncture between the Peace Agreement's formulation and the daily realities of life in three communities, and to facilitate and amplify local expertise and agency in moving towards peace and reconciliation in those communities.
This participatory action research (PAR) project (Fals-Borda 1987) works towards reconciliation through approaches that give primacy to local communities over external perspectives in understanding the roots of ongoing conflict, and recognise that communities themselves have the necessary knowledge and expertise to overcome conflict. The ethos of the project, as both research and intervention, is therefore to work with communities to facilitate and harness their expertise rather than to impose models or ideas from outside. This will be achieved through utilising our participatory approaches to understand the sources of conflictividades and to prompt 'improbable dialogues' (Lederach, 2016), thereby bringing together community members who may not normally work together to address these themes within and beyond the study communities.

As a starting point for engaging with communities over the causes and resolution of ongoing conflictividades, we will work along three lines of enquiry that constitute recurrent sites of ongoing conflict in many formally-defined 'post-conflict' settings around the world. These are: i) territorial development; ii) provision of basic services; and iii) media. Our approach will engage the three study communities in iterative processes of reflection and dialogue around these three issues, mapping lived experiences of everyday conflict and building from those insights towards prompting inter- and intra- community dialogue. Local capacities for reconciliation will be harnessed and augmented in the process. As a result of these lines of enquiry, the project has particular relevance for three areas of the Colombian Peace Agreement: comprehensive rural reform (point 1), political participation: democratic opening to peacebuilding (point 2), and victims (point 5).

Methodologically, the project will deploy a range of participatory approaches (including participatory video and photo projects, and participatory media analysis) alongside more conventional social science techniques, such as focus groups and key informant interviews. The project will consequently combine innovative ways of community involvement in research with proven and rigorous academic methods.

This project brings together a partnership of scholars from the University of Sheffield (UK) and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia) with CINEP, the leading Colombian organization on issues of peace and development. These three organisations have been developing a partnership over a significant period of time, culminating in the co-design of this project. Equally important are the strong relationships with the local partner organisations in the three communities in which the project will be carried out. Through co-production with the communities themselves, the project aims to generate important capacity-building gains for them to move towards a stable and lasting daily peace, and at the same time to contribute to the generation of new academic knowledge.

Planned Impact

As Participatory Action-Research (PAR), the potential impacts of the project are fully integrated into the project's design, being generated from the very start of the research rather than being an 'add-on' at the project's conclusion. A variety of forms of impact, both direct and indirect, are anticipated to occur: on the study communities themselves, on our local and national NGO partners; on policy audiences at the local and national levels; and on wider audiences outside of Colombia. These are described in full in the Joint Case for Support, but include:

Local Communities: full participation in guiding the research, from beginning to end; facilitation of achieving their own impact through the project's methods and interventions; opportunities to engage with and potentially influence policy audiences; capacity and skills-building through training in video-making, photography and media analysis; opportunities for intra- and inter-community conversations and 'improbable dialogues'; opportunity to engage in academic analysis and outputs; a feedback process that returns the project's findings to the community,

NGO partners: capacity-building via training in participatory video facilitation; building knowledge and capacity for future research and intervention projects; creation of a network of NGOs including the local partners and CINEP; engagement opportunities with high-level policy audiences.

Policy audiences (local and national): Community-level meetings involving community members and local government officials, creating a space for the opening up of dialogue and the generation of new ideas and initiatives; follow-up interviews will local officials to canvas their views on any lessons learned; high-level workshop in Bogota involving the screening of the films and the exhibition of selected outputs from the photography projects, followed by a group discussion (involving participants from the study communities, where they are willing); co-production of a 'toolkit' to inform similar interventions in other settings; follow-up interviews to investigate and document impact on attendees; ongoing engagement via policy briefs and academic outputs.

Wider audiences: A sub-titled edited compilation of the videos from the three communities to be made freely available as a teaching and research resource; co-production of a 'toolkit' to inform similar interventions in other settings; dedicated project website and use of social media channels to include regular project updates and details of academic outputs.

Our Colombian partners (both academic and NGO) have very strong contacts in the study communities and at the national policy level that will be used to facilitate effective engagement with the desired policy audiences, allowing a high level of confidence that the relevant audiences can be accessed in practice and that the project related activities can be successfully run.
 
Description At the time of submitting this report, the project's 'Diagnostic phase' has been completed in all three field sites (Tibú, Vista Hermosa and Buenaventura), and the main research phase is ongoing. As such, the Key Findings presented here are preliminary in nature and relate to the activities and findings during the diagnostic phase only. These are currently being taken forward.

In line with the objectives described in the original proposal, during the Diagnostic Phase the main focus of the work was to a) map the conflictividades ongoing in each of the three research sites; b) make contacts with local organisations/stakeholders/key individuals; c) build collaborations between the research team and local stakeholders to prioritise those conflicitivades on which the main research phase is focussed, and to begin creating the spaces of dialogue within which these can be approached. The key output of the diagnostic phase has been the creation of a detailed 'Diagnostic document' for each of the three sites, which has formed the basis of conversations with local stakeholders and partners on the prioritisation and implementation of activities during the main project research phase.

The research so far has included documentary and textual analysis; a large number of individual and group interviews in the three territories; a variety of forms of participatory projects with local community members; stakeholder meetings and workshops. These are detailed further below.

Below we present the achievements and findings in each of the three research sites, followed by project-level achievements that span across the three research sites. First however, we briefly highlight the project's overall interim findings in relation to the connections between the national-level peace accords and local lived experiences of conflict and peace.


1. OVERALL HIGH-LEVEL INTERIM FINDINGS:

a) High levels of social, political and economic conflict in all three of the case study territories. These ongoing conflicts are closely connected to a long history of victimization, human rights violations, and violations of international humanitarian law.

b) Widespread issues of structural violence and dispossession, closely related to weak state capacity and the historical precariousness of social, political and governmental institutions. The void of power left after the demobilisation of the FARC has been filled by FARC dissident groups, other guerrillas and criminal groups (as the case of the Catatumbo, where Tibu is located). This and the crisis with Venezuela has exacerbated the conflict in this regions-an area rich in natural resources.

c) Significant differences in the local experience of the 'peace dividend', with uneven implementation (and success) of the local dialogue processes and institutions created following the 2016 peace accords

d) Gaps/failures in the implementation of the peace accords in the three territories, including:
i) An institutionalized discourse of 'territorial peace' that in practice often lacks specific programs to deliver such peace. Meanwhile, in many areas the State continues to focus on the logic of "territorial pacification";
ii) Continuing confrontations between armed actors, including FARC dissidents and criminal organisations;
iii) A lack of effective government action to ensure social protection and effective participation in the peace process. This includes inefficiency in the provision of public services, institutional weakness and an inability to regulate and integrate the territory, and clientelist practices in local government;
iv) Widespread ignorance of local authorities and social leaders on the details of the various peace agreements and their ongoing implementation, especially around the implementation of development programs and crop substitution programmes;
v) High level of risk and vulnerability of political and social leaders due to the lack of security guarantees;
vi) Although there are some initiatives addressing gender and LGTBI+ issues, there is little clarity on how these are linked to the 'mainstreaming of a gender perspective' included in the Peace Agreement.
vii) In Vista Hermosa, the peace agreement has brought about positive changes; among them a significant increase in visibility and agency of civil and social organisations.
viii) In Buenaventura, the Civil Strike of 2017, which its inhabitants call 'our own peace process', has brought important changes, perhaps the most important one a new local administration that represents the interests of the local community.



SITE SPECIFIC ACTIVITIES AND FINDINGS
1. Buenaventura
The research process in Buenaventura has so far included documentary analysis (n = 38 sources); media analysis (n = 153 sources); interviews (n = 53); and one Focus Group Discussion. Members of the research team have participated in events/meetings including sessions of the Forum of Forced Disappearance; Mingas Communitarias (traditional communal work) and conferences on Law 50 and on the status of the land reclaimed from the sea (inhabited by a large number of the poorest communities in Buenaventura). As detailed in the narrative impact, below, a 'semillero' of community members have received a programme of training in research skills. Photographic and video-based sources have been collected (n = 70 photographs and 7 videos).

A matrix of current conflictividades and the actors relevant to them, as well as ongoing processes of dialogue, has been produced as part of the diagnostic document, which has formed the basis of a series of socialisations and discussions ('systematic return'?) with partners and stakeholders in the territory. This has led to the finalisation of the focus of the main research phase, which will focus upon three particular conflicts and dialogue processes:

a) Experiences and community dialogues before and after the Civil Strike in Buenaventura (2009-2019);
b) The use or community arts and media production for the purposes of reconciliation in Buenaventura;
c) Conflicts over the control and use of land in urban and rural areas of the municipality.

2. Tibú
The research process in Tibu has so far included documentary analysis (n = 35 sources); media analysis (n = 183 sources); interviews (n = 15); and participation in a variety of events and meetings including the March for Peace, workshops on the human rights situation in Catatumbo, and the launch of the Report on Historical Memory. As detailed in the impact narrative below, members of the team collaborated with Pastoral Social to plan and deliver a four-day participatory training for local PDET leaders. Photographic and video-based sources have been collected (n = 120 photographs and 6 videos).

A matrix of current conflictividades and the actors relevant to them, as well as ongoing processes of dialogue, has been produced as part of the diagnostic document, which has formed the basis of a 'systematic devolution' with partners and stakeholders in the territory. This has led to the finalisation of the focus of the main research phase, which will focus upon two particular conflicts and dialogue processes:

a) The experience of efforts to promote community-level dialogue since the signing of the peace agreements;
b) Violence, mobilisation and resistance: A comparative analysis of the Civil Strikes of Catatumbo 2013 and Buenaventura 2017


3. Vista Hermosa
The research process in Vista Hermosa has so far included documentary analysis (n = 35 sources); interviews (n = 18); and participation in a variety of meetings and events including the launch of the Report on Historical Memory which included a ceremony at the bridge in Pinalito, sessions of the Municipal Peace Council. Participatory video training has been delivered to members of the youth platform. Photographic and video-based sources have been collected (n = 50 photographs and 8 videos).

A matrix of current conflictividades and the actors relevant to them, as well as ongoing processes of dialogue, has been produced as part of the diagnostic document, which has formed the basis of a 'systematic devolution' with partners and stakeholders in the territory. This has led to the finalisation of the focus of the main research phase, which will focus upon three particular conflicts and processed:

a) Ongoing conflicts over territory (e.g. in relation to the National Park and encroachment by the 'agricultural frontier) , and the ways in which this impacts upon daily life in Vista Hermosa;
b) Issues of community trust and cohesion relating to the promotion of tourism in the community of Pinalito and the municipality of Vista Hermosa;
c) The experience of the Municipal Peace Council and the wider experience of dialogue in the municipality since the signing of the 2016 peace accords;


4. CROSS-SITE (PROJECT-LEVEL) ACHIEVMENTS AND FINDINGS
In addition to the activities detailed above in each territory, a series of project-level initiatives has been developed to ensure the coherence of the research project and team and to ensure that the participatory ethos of the project is maintained throughout all phases of the research.

a) A monthly 'Seminario Permanente' at Javeriana University (to which all members of the research team are invited) has been developed to provide a space for discussion of the theoretical and methodological issues of relevance to the project;

b) A 'reflective pause' (Pausa Reflexiva) has been held at the conclusion of each phase of the project, allowing for the team (including local researchers) to consider the findings from the previous phase and to discuss activities/priorities for subsequent phases.

c) Following the diagnostic phase, a process of 'systematic devolution' was carried out in each of the three territories to discuss our findings and to agree priorities and methodologies for the main research phase with local organisations and community members.
Exploitation Route N/A - being taken forward within the project.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description Here we detail the interim impacts of the project so far, bearing in mind that the majority of the societal impact of the project is anticipated to occur during and after the main research phase (which is ongoing). Up to and including the diagnostic phase of the project, the following impacts have been generated in relation to non-academic audiences: 1. Hiring and training of local researchers. In each of the three territories, a local community member has been hired by the project on a part-time basis to assist with activities in the territory and to provide a key link between the research team and local people and organisations. These local researchers have received training in research skills, have been included in research team meetings (including the 'Pausas reflxivas' discussed above), and have collaborated with the team members on data collection and participatory activities within the communities. This has had a significant impact in terms of local capacity building, and one of the local researchers (from Buenaventura) has been supported by Javeriana University to enrol on their PhD programme. 2. Training of community members and leaders. The project has delivered capacity-building training within communities aimed at strengthening the abilities of communities themselves to lead processes of dialogue and reconciliation. This has included: a) The establishment of a pilot-semillero in Vista Hermosa (12 people) and 'Semilleros' in Buenaventura: social research (15 people) and historical and archival research (32 people). This group of local community members has received an extensive programme of research training, covering topics ranging from how to conduct an interview to media analysis and techniques to identify, sort and organise local archives. b) In Tibu, members of the project team collaborated with Pastoral Social to deliver a four-day training session to local PDET leaders, including media training, to enable them to more effectively engage their communities in the ongoing processes of the PDET. c) In Vista Hermosa, we have worked with the local Youth Platform and members of the community of Pinalito, providing video training. 3. Collaboration with PPU and the Municipal Council for Peace: In Vista Hermosa, the project has collaborated with Javeriana University's PPU to co-design the strategy to facilitate both the election of the representatives of the Municipal Council for Peace. The project has also followed up the establishment of the council. 4. Training for research team members: Method-specific training has been provided to research team members (including local researcher and the project's four junior researchers). In addition to the Seminario Permanente described above, a one-week training course (held at CINEP in Bogota) on Participatory and Participatory Photo project facilitation was held (provided by InsightShare).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Pastoral Social de Tibú 
Organisation Diocese of Tibú
Country Colombia 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project has been collaborating with the Pastoral Social de Tibú on the fieldwork in Tibú, including working together to deliver training to local PDET leaders. Members of the Improbable Dialogues team have helped develop and deliver this training.
Collaborator Contribution Pastoral Social de Tibú have provided logistical and practical support for the fieldwork, and have opened up spaces for the research team to work with local communities.
Impact Four-day training session for local PDET leaders, Chinacota, October 2019.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Meeting with Truth Commissioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact CI Turton and other colleagues from Sheffield, along with representatives from our partners at Javeriana and CINEP, met with members of the Colombian Truth Commission in Bogota in February 2019 to brief them on the Improbable Dialogues project and to seek their input on particular aspects of the project's design, as well as to explore opportunities for further related research projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Meeting with the executive committee of the Paro Civico in Buenaventura 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Plans for cooperation on regional forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Meetings with Mayor of Buenaventura 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Discussions with Mayor of Buenaventura on collaboration with the project in local dialogues on ongoing conflicts - plans for collaborating on a Regional Forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Meetings with Municipal Peace Council, Vista Hermosa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting with Vista Hermosa Municipal Peace Council to identify obstacles to functioning and to work on strategies to improve.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Meetings with the secretaries of planning and development, coexistence and wellbeing, culture and education in Buenaventura 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Developing plans for Regional Forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019