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Action Guide

Action Guide

Action Guide authored by Sara Dybris McQuaid and Annemarie Majlund Jensen

These guides are fundamentally inspired by our ambition to slow down. To take time to think in the longer term and to create sustainable practices for research, association and societal action. They emanate from ongoing discussions and collaborations amongst members of the COST Action Slow Memory: Transformative Practices for Times of Uneven and Accelerating Change.

This guide is an “inspiring practice” guide for working in COST Actions. It is directly aimed at all members and stakeholders in this Action as well as for our future collaborations and collaborators. It addresses some of the challenges and opportunities that apply to all COST Actions and considers some of the ways this specific Action has decided to deal with them.

Rather than calling it a “best practice” guide, we have decided to call it an “inspiring practice” guide, to underscore that it is less of a blue print or a manual to follow and more of a set of prompts for reflecting on creative processes of cooperation. That is, something that builds, not something that is built.

This guide focuses on different levels of organization and participation and is based on the experiences we have had during the first two years of the Action. It this respect, it also works as a “formative evaluation” halfway through CA20105.

Under a series of themed headlines, we deal with the basic question of how to create critical social infrastructures for overall engagement and progressive collaboration.

Challenges, Opportunities and Paradoxes

Flexibility and Formative evaluation

A COST Action is constantly progressing and our approaches must adapt to changing needs, contexts, growing awareness, new questions, issues and circumstances. Participation (from members, stakeholders) should be allowed as appropriate and may change and evolve over time. Part of heeding this call is enabling processes of formative evaluation. We understand formative evaluation as in-process feedback where we reflect on how the network works, where movement, communication and collaboration between different parts flows and grows. Producing practice guides is one way to do so.

Most networks have, or quickly develop, core clusters where some nodes and entry points become more important (i.e. have more interactions or more information flows) than others. Tracking ongoing formations in order to enliven engagement, establish new lines of communication or reroute activities should be a central concern of WG chairs and the core group.

Rolling enrolling

The beauty of a COST Action is that it is an open network. People can join from almost anywhere, at any time, during the life of the Action. While there is a shared point of reference in the original memorandum of understanding, the Action is thus constantly in the making, and is taking shape in correspondence with changing input from its members. Basically, a network is a large system that connects many parts, allowing movement and communication between them. Finding ways to make these connections visible to new members who have not been present from the beginning, as well as allowing them to make their own imprints on the action is a real challenge.

In the beginning of the Action, connections are made to establish what the Action is about and how it will go about its action. Co-produced resources like annotated bibliographies, shared conceptualizations and working papers help to articulate the network, common ground and possible joint ventures. However, these resources can also become critical points of engagement for later enrollments.

Continuity and Progression

One of the main challenges, as such, is to maintain continuity and create progression in an Action that is constantly built and rebuilt through the input of a fluctuating membership. However, even if it feels like we are constantly back at the start (i.e. how to define slow memory in theory, methodology and practice) we could conceive of this as a good place to pass through. Each time we find ourselves crossing the start (not finish) line again, we do so with a lot more reflection, illustrative cases and concrete practices. Identifying ways to document developing thinking and doing is key to reduce frustration. At a very practical level, we suggest that all working groups admit new members every quarter and send out welcome packages which might include links to a shared document where members can present themselves, links to a shared list of references and annotated bibliographies which they can draw on and contribute to, an overview of ongoing discussions and deliverables which they can become engaged with. Many of these resources will be available through the website of the Action, but thinking about how to make them visible and engaging to new members is critical. Conversely, we might want to think about disengagement procedures: how to know what to do when people leave or lines of communication falter.

Definitions do (and should) not settle arguments

We could easily have spent four years on trying to agree on a shared definition of what slow memory means theoretically, methodologically, empirically and practically. However, with a remarkably diverse membership (in terms of disciplines, contexts, interests) it has made more sense to discuss what use we can each put the concept to, where we think we might see it and how it effects our research practice. As such, the conceptual terminology is allowed to change and develop over time due to the input of our members and stakeholders, changing contexts and arising issues. We want the core concept of slow memory to enable engagement, not divert debate and dialogue. With a constantly evolving membership, this means bringing ever more cases and approaches to the working of slow memory in transformations of work, welfare, politics, conflict and the environment as well as in the communication and capacity building of the action. [practically]

Funds and privileges

One of the paradoxes of COST Actions is that it specifically seeks to attract early career researchers as well as people from Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITCs). However, all expenses in relation to travel must be fronted by individual members before later reimbursement and the organizing budgets can only be used for very specific purposes. This makes participation very challenging for precisely these groups.

This COST Action has so far tried to incorporate the role-playing principle of “never split the party”.  The idea behind this practice has been to create space where, during our annual meetings, we stay together as a group, enabling ongoing formal and informal exchanges amongst Action members en route, over shared dinners etc. However, a conference program where for example accommodation, meals and ‘spare-time’ activities are organized according to a ‘one-economy-fits-all’ model presents some challenges. For ECRs and participants from ITCs in particular, and in particular where the conference is held in a high-income country where the cost of standard is comparatively high, we found that ‘the demand to spend’ presented a challenge that should be addressed by organizers.

Based on our experience, this could for example be done by means of producing a ‘shadow-program’ in advance. This program should work in addition to the ‘official program’ and include practical advice and tips to access budget accommodation, daily meals and public spaces (such as libraries and museums) with no entrance fees or ‘demand to spend’ (such as cafés).

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