A Conference is a place to be face-to-face in the community of practice

colliver's picture

I spent Monday and Tuesday at ANU, Canberra, in a workshop that was mostly up-front presentations on Water Governance research. the workshop was the third in a series of workshops on water governance, designed to develop relationships between established and new researchers, and to develop a research agenda. this fitted by an agenda of finding colleagues with whom I could talk. Here is my reflection on those two days:

Improving governance starts with a conversation about governance, but a good conversation about governance is a rare thing.

I've been part of such conversation over the last two days. On the second day, somewhere in the morning, the atmosphere began to thicken, and I started to feel a shared intent to understand and improve governance. To say I felt less alone would be melodramatic: feeling alone is part of being a social scientist in systems like water governance. I didn't stop feeling alone, but I started to feel that I was with a band of others, a loosely woven, argumentative band, disagreeing about where it is headed and the best way to get there, but committed to working this out. Some in this rag-tag collection I felt more affinity with than others, but I recognised all as persons who cared about governance, and were working at understanding and influencing governance practice.

I imagine this as the feeling that develops in a community of practice, specifically the feeling that accompanies a commitment to a domain of human endeavour, within relationships that are gradually accumulating a history. The good feeling of being with others with similar intent strengthened my heart and sharpened my will to be involved, to commit to action with others.

I'm cautious about where I put my time these days, and with whom. However, success depends on to a greater extent than I have allowed in the past on good companions, and I've recently been putting more time into finding them. When Ray Ison, one of those convening the workshop, asked me a few weeks back if I was coming, I decided to come, just to be amongst kindred spirits. From this context, then, two observations about the workshop:

1) It was wonderful to be with so many different voices, so many impassioned bodies. as I felt my way back through the speakers, I found myself dwelling as much on the way presenters spoke as what they spoke about. To get up close to researchers, to feel their organisation of a perspective out of years of work, and their distinctive ways to communicating that to us, that was a treat.

2) I've been to three of these research network events - Canberra, Melbourne, Canberra again. In that time I've progressed across the threshold from having the findings in my Ph.D. research on paper to having them connected to the literature and staking my claim to knowledge. Coming into these two days, the Ph.D. was behind me, and I was focused on reengaging with my work as a facilitator of change. I enjoyed putting my points of view not just about what's wrong with governance, or what needs to change in water governance systems, but how to go about improving governance. I was able to test out where my thinking is going, to hear what this sounded like in the public domain of the community of practice, and to get others' responses.

However, looking back down the series, I'd say I've been able to find a place in each of the workshops, as I've progressed as a researcher. My observation is that space was made for a wide spectrum of researchers, from the beginner to the long-established, and many shades in between. This experience of being a particular part of a community, which Wenger calls a trajectory into a community of practice, develops my identity as a researcher. I sense where I fit with others, and work out how I can be a researcher in my own way.

The question I'm left with centres on hosting. If conversation is a crucible not just for knowledge, but for relationship and identity, what in the design of the workshop enabled the participants to go so directly and vigorously into discussing the practice of water governance research, across a wide spectrum of research experience?