Weaving Networks in Latin America: Insights from Digitally Connected – Conectados al Sur

The second Latin American meeting of Digitally Connected, a global network of academics, practitioners, young people, activists, philanthropists, government officials, and representatives of technology companies working on children, youth, and digital media took place last week in Santiago de Chile. Known as Conectados al Sur, this regional symposium occurred in Barrio Italia, at a new co-working space called Urban Station.  During two days we participated in workshops, interactive round tables, listened to presentations and provocations, and had conversations about marginalized youth, digital inclusion, citizenship, among other topics related to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and youth. The symposium was a fantastic space for exchanging ideas, exploring collaborations, and discussing the challenges and opportunities that researchers, practitioners, and all the actors working at the intersection of digital media, children, and youth, are facing.

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In this entry I would like to focus on the challenge of network building and supporting collaboration in the Latin American region. This topic was at the core of the symposium and crossed several conversations, panels, and provocations. I organized and facilitated a round table on this theme in order to discuss the best strategies for cooperation and collaborative work among researchers, policy makers, educators, and practitioners. With the title “Building Networks Between Researchers, Policy Makers, and Educators working at the intersection of ICT and Education” the round table allowed the participants to exchange ideas about different ongoing projects, reflect on the challenges for the region, and identify key steps we need to take in order to build capacity and advance our networking efforts. We were fortunate to have participants from diverse sectors and countries, including researchers from universities and NGOs, policy makers, and representatives of governmental initiatives (e.g. Enlaces from Chilean Ministry of Education).

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We started our discussion with a brief exchange about the existing networks in Latinamerica doing work on ICT, education and policy making. At the regional level we identified Red Natic (Red de organizaciones por el derecho de los niños y uso responsable de TIC), RELPE (Red Latinoamericana de Portales Educativos),  Virtual Educa (Cooperation initiative on education and innovation from the OEA), and the recently born TELA initiative. At the local level, we mentioned the existence of some country-based networks such as the Eduteka portal in Colombia, and Enlaces in Chile.

As the diverse participants of the round table started to share the networks we knew and to describe our involvement with them, we began to identify a major challenge we faced in the region: the lack of a culture of collaboration. All of us agreed that the major obstacle to the generation of productive and distributed networks in our countries and our region was the lack of cooperative practices among actors from multiple sectors. Despite the existence of some initiatives, the articulation of the network and the work of a collective intelligence was rare. According to some of the participants with experience in public and private sectors, the competition for resources has created a culture in which actors are not willing to share data, collaborate in projects, or articulate bridges between organizations. Although the benefit of collaborating is way bigger, we are not use to doing it and have not encounter safe spaces where that articulation could happen. Universities and government institutions are usually stuck in bureaucracies, and big egos tend to create roads blocks for cooperation. Lacking a culture of collaboration, where collective intelligence could thrive, creates many obstacles not only for network building, but also for the generation of knowledge, and the flow of information between policy makers, researchers, and practitioners.

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We discussed the possibility of building a new network that is diverse and inclusive, and supports multisector collaboration, particularly among researchers, educators, and policy makers. We agreed in a set of core values that could help the network growth: collaboration, collective intelligence, leadership, openness, nurturing the commons, and using alternative copyright licenses.

We thought that promoting the idea of the commons in our region and countries needs to be a priority. The idea of shared resources, commonality, among all members of the network, and a larger public, is key for supporting cooperation. One small step we could take in this direction is to work in the area of open educational resources and define standards for the region. We need to create an open repository of materials that could be use in and out of school, in Spanish, across the Latinamerican region, and also in other parts of the world where this language is spoken. This project could serve as the initial incentive to participate in a collaborative network and introduce participants to the our shared values and vision.

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As we move forward, we will continue sharing our ideas and building this network over the TELA blog as well as through a mailing list we will set up. Moreover, we will continue our work and collaborations over Digitally Connected and Conectados al Sur.

 

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