The Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA) convened its 2017 Annual Conference along with the 1st Global Assembly for Knowledge June 12-16 in Cartagena, Colombia. The gathering was developed through a partnership between ARNA and the National University of Colombia/Nacional Universidad De Colombia. The National Pedagogic University of Colombia/Universidad Pedagogica Nacional and many other Colombian, Latin American, Caribbean, and North American colleges and universities as well as global universities, networks, and institutions also served as affiliates and sponsors.

The Conference theme was “Participation and Democratization of Knowledge: New Convergences for Reconciliation.” The theme recognized emerging understandings of knowledge democracy, convergences among those creating knowledge through diverse approaches grounded in participatory frameworks, and the place of such approaches in reconciliations associated with the end of social conflicts. A special feature of the five-day gathering was the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the First World Symposium of Participatory Action Research (PAR), held in Cartagena and convened by Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda (1925-2008) and others. The life and work of Fals Borda and other PAR pioneers were highlighted throughout the conference and the days leading up to it in conjunction with the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the National University of Colombia.

Philosophic Considerations

Action research itself is extremely diverse, both thematically and methodologically. Its networks and communities are engaged in committed work building social solidarities, emancipatory and adult education, valuing diverse experiences through participatory knowledge approaches, empowerment in policy / advocacy, transforming gender power, making new knowledges, and grassroots transformations visible, networking for change, and forging post colonial / post-neoliberal development pathways, to name just a few themes!  It might be said that the boundaries for action research are fuzzy rather than hard.

The global assembly on knowledge democracy provided an opportunity to open to a different fuzzy boundary. This did not challenge the delineations people have made within action research and participatory research communities: it did not challenge the identity of action research at all. It was an invitation to see AR approaches within a new context, the one outlined by Santos and others in the knowledge democracy space. That is to say that the AR community is not the only one working on knowledge democracy; there are others, including the World Social Forum, the Peer to Peer movement, and the Commons movement, to name a few.

Action researchers at the global assembly were not asked to ‘let go’ of their identity within the global action research community, but simply to play in a different space that is part of a different context of social and global transformation. There could be, over time, rich connections between the AR communities and others in the knowledge democracy space that will enrich many sides in the work of transforming knowledge-power. These connections reflect what Orlando Fals Borda (1998) addressed as “participatory convergence” at the 1997 World Conference for Participatory Convergence in Knowledge, Space and Time.

Practical Considerations

From a practical point of view, the first global assembly was primarily composed of people in the global orbit of action research. Even if the assembly was defined using the more open fuzzy logic and included other transformation-focused networks, the vast majority of people attending the first assembly were likely from the AR community, in particular as it followed several days of an action research conference.

Thus, from a practical position, the first assembly could, in name, keep the meeting inclusive using the broad fuzzy boundary of knowledge democracy while recognizing that in practice few people from other networks (e.g. WSF, P2P, Commons) likely were active participants in the assembly.

If subsequent meetings happen in later years, or as a web platform develops, they can be inclusive of the broader knowledge democracy space and develop in this way, with the discussions of the first assembly serving as sources for further consideration in developing the broader space.

See this short interview by Dr. Lonnie Rowell, to understand the contours of what Knowledge Democracy is and its relationship to democracy.

Fals Borda, O. (Ed.) (1998). People’s participation: Challenges ahead. New York: Apex Press.

Notes: This book, “compiled and analyzed” by Fals Borda, is a collection and synthesis of presentations and discussions at the 1997 gathering in Cartagena. The 1997 World Conference was, as Fals Borda described it, “a Participatory Convergence because two series of sister trends came together” (p. xi). The first was the 20th reunion of the 1977 First World Symposium of Participatory Action Research held in Cartagena. The second was the convening in Cartagena of the 8th World Congress organized by the Australian Action Learning, Action Research, and Process Management Association (ALARPM, later changed to ALARA).

The cover photo shows Fals Borda at the far right in 1971.