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ARNA at GUNI: What on earth is this?

posted May 13, 2013, 7:39 PM by Lonnie Rowell   [ updated May 13, 2013, 7:39 PM by Margaret Riel ]

I am here in Barcelona, Spain at the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) conference. Co-sponsors include UNESCO, the United Nations University, and Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, with support from PRIA (based in India and directed by Rajeesh Tandon) and the Global Alliance on Community Engaged Research (GACER) (based in Canada and led by Budd Hall). This gathering is a bit larger than ARNA’s inaugural conference but certainly is not a behemoth like AERA. It appears there are close to 300 in attendance for the conference.  There are many kindred spirits here, although the specialized language of those involved has what I might call a different accent than the language of action research. Here, the focus is on ‘community university engagement,’ and ‘knowledge democracy,’ and being “knowledgiastic,” (defined for us as showing enthusiasm about and actively encouraging the co-creation of transformative knowledge). This notion was dramatically presented in a delightful conference opening that featured a creative multi-media skit by local college students that saw big boxes distributed from the stage throughout the entire auditorium with instructions to write something about the ‘better world we imagine.’ These were then brought back to the stage and used as a kind of real life example of the co-creation of transformative knowledge. The activity was fun, interactive, and helped create a meaningful sense of community among conference participants.

I came to be a part of the drafting of a GUNI Global Communiqué on The Grand Global Challenges and the Transformation to Sustainable Societies and to network for ARNA. I was invited by Budd Hall to attend representing ARNA, and with the support of our Coordinating Group I accepted the invitation. The final communique will be read to conference attendees near the end of the conference’s third day on May 15.

For ARNA, participation in this conference constitutes our welcome to what is referred to as “The Big Tent Group.” This group now includes representatives from the following 12 networks:

Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI)

Global Alliance on Community Engaged Research (GACER)

Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

Living Knowledge Network

PASCAL International Observatory

Talloires Network

Community Network for Research Equity & Impact

Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA)

Asia Pacific University Community Engagement Network

Centro Boliviano de Estudios Multidisciplinarios

Commonwealth Universities Extension and Engagement Network

Community Campus Partnerships for Health

The final Global Communique will be posted on our web site once it is in final form.

So far, I also have interacted with conference attendees from Canada, the USA, Mexico, and Brazil (to be specific) and have found further interest in ARNA. At yesterday’s closing reception I had two quite pleasant conversations with a doctoral student from Brazil who is engaged with youth participatory research and with two Canadian faculty, one from University of Alberta and the other from Royal Roads University in Victoria. I was quite interested to learn that Royal Roads University has adopted action research as an institutional focus. (Lots of potential for ARNA collaborations here, I hope.) Clearly, May has been quite a month for ARNA. Stay tuned for a final report from the conference later this month.