No Such thing as a Community Centre – Workshops

The first workshop which was funded by the CTIN grant received by 1to1, served our needs to facilitate a shared learning experience between our researchers, who we identified via a social media call and by reaching out to youth activists in our network. 

The setup – as we waited for our researchers to arrive.

We hosted a workshop at the Tshimologong Hub where we unpacked the theme of community centres with our researchers. We explored what the word Community means to us, and what Community Centre tends to imply. We then used our thinking around what we believe community centres should mean to declare a definition which we believe Community CEntres must meet in order to be classified as true community centres. We used post-its and poster papers to collect everyone’s ideas and to organize thoughts into themes, before consulting with the following:

 “a place/ space that supports and build the capacity of a group of people who are united in a common goal/aspiration in achieving that goal/aspiration”

After this we introduced the themes we prepared beforehand, themes we thought might be relevant to researchers when studying community centres. We used discussions to uncover what everyone understood by the themes and our facilitation hoped to guide the conversations into a common understanding of each theme. This was still not easy as some of the themes were more familiar to the experienced researchers in our group while others had no experience talking about space or spatial qualities or even socio-economic ideas. Though this was challenging we believe that through discussing these themes during the workshop we clarified the meanings enough and by allowing researchers to work in groups in their research on the themes they could further support each other in understanding what was meant by each. 

Collected ideas around Community & Centre

During the workshop it took some time for participants to warm up to the idea of writing their ideas on post-its, but by the third workshop everyone seemed fairly confident. They had also been in the project for two months by then, which means they knew their teammates and felt comfortable sharing their ideas in a bigger group. It takes time to build trust when people aren’t workshop fit. 

A final activity saw us presenting some projects we imagined could be used as case studies by our research teams, to unpack this question of Community Centre-ness. Some of them were familiar to our researchers, and some not. SOme were added to the list based on the experiences of the researchers preset. We allowed folks to request which ones they hoped to investigate and allowed this to largely dictate the teams. 

Interesting things that came out of workshop 1

  1. A community is a group of people who share interests/aspirations and are engaged in action related to those mutual interests/aspirations. A community centre is thus a place where the capacity for this collective action is supported or capacity therefore is built. 
  2. Community Centres can be results of, places for or cause of conflict in communities. 

Post Workshop

After the workshop we processed the outcomes and used them to determine the trajectory for the research project, we divided researchers into teams based on geographic locations and interests and also tried to spread the skills in groups evenly. They mostly seemed happy and began doing research at desktop immediately. We hosted a follow up workshop with the researchers assigned the role of ‘documenter’ in teams, to formalise the way in which the research will be conducted. Thereafter the teams went to their various sites and a final workshop saw them presenting their findings to the other teams and evaluating the projects they studied according to a toll we developed, the Community Centre or Capacity Building Assessment Tool, CBAT for short. 

Learning Takeaways

It was ambitious to plan a big project like this with such limited resources, but the general feeling of the researchers seems to be that they enjoyed the process. Their inputs have been mostly far exceeding our expectations. It surprised us and we have definitely learnt that research can be done with people not trained as researchers and that often local knowledge and experiences are excluded from these topics and they merely need the right platform for these contributions to be uncovered. It was also great to see how people who arrived as strangers, managed to make time to work together, without a formal workshop being arranged, to produce work. They shared their own experiences and learned from each other about much more than the case studies.