Shared Action Learning

One of the most common issues in cross-cultural projects, particularly when Americans are working in the third world, is miscommunication of community needs. Researchers could overlook the most crucial aspects and ideas of problem solving if they are restricted to an outsider view.  Shared Action Learning (SAL) is one of the central aspects of every Cape Town project, bridging the gap between researchers and communities. It is the “sharing among partners of ideas, knowledge, resources, inspiration and compassion” (Jiusto, 2013). Shared Action Learning has allowed the Cape Town Project Centre to bridge the gap of communication to best execute long-lasting solutions to social problems in informal settlements and townships. Particularly in the safe house context, even the simplest of goals are complicated by the delicate circumstances of the survivors living at Sizakuyenza. Communication between the WPI Safe House Team and the Sizakuyenza residents and staff was crucial to formulate project goals.

The six-step SAL process guided this project heavily. The team completed every project with input from the staff and residents. Later, residents were a part of the construction of each design that they made. The first step in SAL is connecting, which in this project, manifested in developing open lines of communication and trust between the WPI project team and both the residents and staff. This was accomplished mainly through casual conversation, and sharing of family photos and food. The next step is planning, where the WPI team gathered input from residents and staff. The input from the staff of Sizakuyenza best determined the prioritization of goals; while the communication with residents helped the group better understand their needs and ideas. The planning also included the use of an interactive model to make collaborative decisions and observing the area thoroughly for shade, open spaces, dangers to children, etc.

In their next step, the team implemented the plans from the previous phase. The women and children’s participation ensured ownership and understanding of introduced technologies and upgrading of current features. After implementing the plans, the team saw which methods worked and which needed improvement as the project developed. This included revising some of their strategies and plans to better suit the needs of the Safe House, and occurred on a daily basis. Recording is another phase of the project. The team communicated progress and lessons, mainly through the Cape Town Project Center website during days off site. The final and most important phase in Shared Action Learning is reflecting. Each member of the team was processing, learning, and making connections throughout their time working in Cape Town. All of the Shared Action Learning steps occurred simultaneously, leading to discovering ways to improve upon the project, talking together as a group, and constantly assessing outcomes.

To learn more about the concept of Shared Action Learning, click here.