Joint interview with Miren Larrea, senior researcher at Orkestra, and Pablo Costamagna, director of Praxis and associate researcher at Orkestra
Miren Larrea, senior researcher at Orkestra, has just been appointed International Associate Researcher at the Institute of Technological and Social Research for Territorial Development PRAXIS (Argentina). But this appointment is only one more step in the relationship between Orkestra and the UTN-Rafaela Regional Faculty (under which PRAXIS operates), which began in 2011, with the signing of a Scientific and Cultural Cooperation Agreement for the joint development of projects, and was consolidated last year with the signing of another agreement jointly to write a collection on territorial development.
This reciprocal link facilitated the creation of PRAXIS, an example of how to interpret the process of internationalization of Orkestra’s knowledge. Mari Jose Aranguren, director general of the institute, wants “the institute’s experience to help other researchers around the world to work with local actors and us to learn from their experience”. How is this reflected? We spoke to Miren Larrea and Pablo Costamagna, the director of PRAXIS, about this and other questions.
What is PRAXIS?
Pablo: it is a research institute for territorial development which is within the National Technological University-Rafaela Regional Faculty. PRAXIS was created by the Masters in Territorial Development to collaborate, accompany and work together with the masters and other regional actors. For a year and a half we have been working in connection with research and training in the region.
What was Orkestra’s influence upon the creation of PRAXIS?
Pablo: although the relationship with Orkestra predates PRAXIS, I think that one of the institute’s major influences upon this process was to add action research to the pedagogical approach. We came from training and conducted research. And Orkestra added action research. This led us to consider the need for one’s own space. Thus, on the one hand was the path we were following and, on the other, a very interesting introduction to reflection via what Orkestra had been doing and learning from differences.
Miren: I believe that it has been a relationship of mutual influence. Orkestra, since its beginnings, has developed a process of profound reflection upon how to undertake transformative research and how to establish links between the university and regional actors. I think that in sharing this dialogue and this reflection the institute influences PRAXIS and vice versa. In the same way in which PRAXIS is beginning to integrate the language of action research, we are reinforcing two important lines: on the one hand, the training aspect, as a potential space for transformation and, on the other, an interpretation of the political and of the politicity of the agents of territorial development, which is determining our interpretation of action research. That is why it is difficult for me to speak only of Orkestra’s influence upon PRAXIS; I believe that we have built a space and a shared path in which there is a very strong mutual influence.
You were speaking about that shared methodology. What constitutes the pedagogical approach?
Miren: the pedagogical approach as a concept is contributed to this relationship by PRAXIS as a result of its reflections in Latin America.
Pablo: it is born of a critical reflection upon the actions taken by researchers, experts and specialists in territorial development in order to build capacities in the territories of Latin America. We could see that we had advanced in conceptual terms, but that we lacked coherence with regard to the definition of the participatory approach, that of empowerment, the construction of leadership of particular and shared visions. From that point we began to review our practice and we saw that there was another way of situating oneself in the territory: a way of contemplating actors in pairs, where processes are co-constructed, that it is necessary to generate knowledge, that it is owned by nobody… Thus, the pedagogical approach is to look in a different way at the processes of construction of capacities.
Miren: for our part, we were coming from a background of action research. And we saw that they had an approach of less intensity but which reached more people, while we had been working with smaller numbers, but in processes of more profound change. It might make sense to build something new based upon the combination of these two approaches. We decided to retain the name of pedagogical approach because the pedagogical approach of territorial development as a strategy for this combination fits us, but we are introducing many elements of what we have been calling action research for territorial development within the pedagogical approach.
Both the Basque Country and Rafaela have their own complexity and characteristics. How does one construct something that is applicable to both?
Pablo: undoubtedly there are differences in terms of production, culture, organization, leadership. But it is in these very processes where a Latin American city may appear to be very different from a territory like the Basque Country, and I think that what we are trying to do is to learn from the differences, the old project which initially united us. No, the territories should not be seen as the same. The territories are different. And from this starting point, we identify those things that help us reflect upon our own processes: how they relate to the public sector, how they relate to other researchers, to the university, how they carry out research processes…
Miren: I believe that what we are building together in this relationship has a very methodological character. And this gives us strength. We think that the pedagogical approach is a methodology born of both contexts and it can be applied in both contexts with their differences, as well as in a multiplicity of territories in which there is a genuine intention to link university and actors.
What projects are you currently collaborating in?
Miren: the main project in which we are collaborating is Gipuzkoa Sarean, which Pablo joined during the first legislature and we already have a long-term relationship. And within Gipuzkoa Sarean I would highlight a book about facilitators on which we are working at present. This is not limited to the experience of the project, because it incorporates many other experiences, from Latin America too. But it synthesizes our learning regarding this figure that we believe to be critical in the pedagogical approach.
Pablo: to this should be added the masters training processes where Miren has been and continues to be a lecturer. Furthermore, vis-à-vis PRAXIS, she will have an important role to play in her next visit, as she always offers elements of guidance, to help one to reflect. And there are other relationships in Latin America where we are thinking of continuing to do things together.
What next in terms of possible projects?
Pablo: as Miren was indicating, our first goal is to complete the book on facilitators. We believe that this provides for reflection where we are both learning a lot. We are also working on continuous training processes from which are emerging new improved and more sophisticated training processes. There are also other lines that we have to explore: multilevel models, governance issues…
Miren: I believe that the emphasis or the clearest objective now is to train facilitators and we think that in this way we will impact upon a multiplicity of projects of territorial development, the latter always understood as a strategy of construction of capacities, which is what the pedagogical approach suggests.