This workshop about cross-cultural learning was organized within the cooperation framework between the Riverhood and River Commons Projects, managed by the Water Resources Management Group (WRM) of Wageningen University (WUR), and the Blue Deal Program for Colombia, InspirAgua, managed by the Waterschap Aa en Maas.
The workshop was an interactive session to reflect together on the experience of working abroad, on opportunities but also challenges during collaboration with different partners (directors, managers, technical workers, research participants, etc.) and in international contexts or working cultures.
The aim was to reflect about:
– What and how can you learn when a context/reality is so different from your own?
– What are the factors that can help the co-learning process?
Participated in this workshop:
- PhD students – Riverhood and River Commons, WUR
- Colombian water and environmental professionals (counterparts of InspirAgua)
- DWA representatives
About InspirAgua – Blue Deal Program for Colombia
In 2018, the Dutch water authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management joined forces to work with other organizations around the world to achieve SDG6 in a joint program called the Blue Deal. The Blue Deal program comprises 17 international partnerships in which water managers from the Netherlands and other countries work together to achieve the goal of providing 20 million people with access to clean, sufficient and safe water by 2030. Water managers entered into a 12-year partnership in which they work on long-term solutions for the region. Climate adaptation and social inclusion are structural to such solutions. The local partners are mostly national and regional authorities responsible for water management. The Waterschap Aa en Maas work with them on three crucial elements of water management: knowledge and expertise, organizational management, and collaboration with stakeholders. The aim of the program is not just to provide knowledge, besides sharing knowledge and expertise, collaboration with foreign partners also generates new ideas and experiences that might be applied to water management in the Netherlands.
One of the 17 partnerships is the InspirAgua program in Colombia. In this country the Waterschap Aa en Maas works within 5 clusters/ regions: Huila, Cormagdalena, Santander, Caldas, and Valle del Cauca, to improve water quality and water quantity through water governance and management processes. The focus is on 4 themes:
- Knowledge cycle
- Planning, participation, and crisis management
- Wastewater management
- Workable and enforceable permit systems.
Inspiragua aims to encourage water professionals from both countries to improve their water systems, from a bottom-up perspective. Inspiragua works in five Colombian regions: 1) Caldas, controlling water discharges, and ecological flow; 2) Valle del Cauca; managing jarillones (Dykes) and wetlands; 3) Santander, implementing a participatory basin monitoring and a model of water governance; 4) Magdalena basin, managing information for the navigability project and water distribution; 5) Huila, data management, hydraulic modeling, and implementing basin management plans.
The way of working of InspirAgua is based on equality and reciprocity. So, both the Waterschap Aa en Maas and the Colombian partners inspire each other and are better equipped to face future water challenges. According to Inspiragua, co-learning about water governance works at three levels: 1) the content layer: which refers to knowledge, skills, and experience; 2) the institutional layer: which refers to the organization, funding, and legislation; 3) the relational layer, which is about culture, vision, ethnicity, communication, cooperation, and participation. The cultural exchange enabled by this program is very enriching, however many times their learning does not transcend the political and power structures already established in the different cultural spaces. The process of transcultural learning may confront one’s own cultural identity, therefore is a process of redefining one’s own frames of reference.
Given the challenges posed to cross-cultural learning in practice, two group exercises were carried out to explore some underlying issues:
- The first exercise focused on the challenges and opportunities of cross-cultural learning and the conditions for better understanding and learning. One of the opportunities identified by the participants within the intercultural learning process is to find actors who perform similar roles to you. This encounter may lead to mutually learn about experiences, difficulties, and solutions regarding water management in both countries. They also emphasized that there are a lot of differences between data, information, and understanding/ knowledge, it is important to understand these differences and manage them to jointly find a solution to complex problems.
- The second exercise focused on how to recognize the leaders of a certain institution or initiative in a cultural context that is different from yours, that is: Who is the boss? Some participants highlighted that different categorizations can be used for recognizing a boss, some people see a guider or a leader, others see a facilitator. But also there is the authoritarian boss who wants to keep the hierarchical relations and power structures and power relations. Other participants emphasized that immersing themselves in the foreign culture may be helpful to understand its codes and also discern who is taking leadership roles in local initiatives or institutions.