Knowledge co-production

ACRC’s research approach integrates systems thinking with rigorous political analysis, based on strong collaborations with a diverse range of research partners. One key partner is Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), “a network of community-based organisations of the urban poor, present in 32 countries and hundreds of cities and towns across Africa, Asia and Latin America”.

This blog post focuses on how SDI’s affiliates in Zimbabwe are working to generate new insights and approaches to tackle complex problems in Harare, as part of their work in ACRC. It delves into reflections on their work with academic institutions in knowledge generation and collaboration processes, and what this may mean for the broader consortium, as well as for Africa’s rapidly changing cities.

You can also listen to our podcast interview with George Masimba and Teurai Nyamangara from Dialogue on Shelter, reflecting on their process of knowledge generation and collaboration within ACRC, below.

By Daniela Beltrame and Smith Ouma

Acknowledging tensions in knowledge co-production

Collaborations between academia and grassroots organisations are not without tensions and power imbalances. For urban low-income communities, engaging with academics may mean enduring disqualification of their knowledge. The current hegemonic order dictates that academic knowledge be the primary reference for expertise, rigour or accuracy. Academic institutions, particularly Western institutions, wield immense power to conceive what Musila refers to as “normative credibility”. This means there is a strong likelihood that some knowledge systems will remain subjugated.

Systematic reflection and assessment are key to preventing or reverting this. ACRC’s research approach integrates these notions to build strong, horizontal collaborations with a diverse range of research partners. Among these partnerships, collaborating with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) means engaging a network of community-based organisations present in 32 countries and hundreds of cities and towns across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

We focus here on SDI’s affiliates in Zimbabwe (the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and its support NGO, Dialogue on Shelter), and their work in Harare. Through understanding their approach to working with academic institutions, and particularly their knowledge generation strategies and collaboration process within ACRC, we hope to understand what drives their practice, and highlight potential avenues for the broader consortium.

A long history of collaboration

The Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (the Federation), is a network of community savings groups created in the late 1990s, with membership now standing at 46,900 members. Dialogue on Shelter (Dialogue) is the Federation’s professional support organisation (PSO). Dialogue and the Federation have a lengthy history of partnerships with academia. They acknowledge that academic knowledge can be significant in defining problems and solutions.

According to George Masimba, director of programmes at Dialogue, “collaborations with academic institutions help strengthen our data collection processes, but more importantly, also legitimise data that is collected by communities”. Dialogue has, for instance, been working with the University of Zimbabwe in Harare and with other universities in Zimbabwe’s secondary cities. The collaborations are guided by the memorandums of understanding (MOU) between Dialogue and the universities and academics with whom they partner. Through these MOUs, they are able to collaboratively define the terms of engagement, as well as lay a foundation upon which to navigate power imbalances at play.

Academics have also increasingly acknowledged the relevance and power of grassroots organisations like the Zimbabwe Federation and Dialogue as legitimate epistemological arenas. Universities have opened up formal academic spaces where slum dwellers are engaging, as teachers and lecturers of their own lived experience. An example is the partnership between SDI affiliates and the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester in which the affiliates co-deliver a Master’s class in citizen-led development. This course unit was co-developed with the SDI Alliance in Zimbabwe, bringing community leaders from South Africa, Kenya and Uganda to deliver teaching to students at The University of Manchester. For George Masimba, bringing universities into terrains they are not used to is “also a way of addressing the power asymmetry that normally comes with these collaborations”.

Community knowledge was high on the agenda at ACRC’s consortium-wide meeting in Nairobi. Here, Beth Chitekwe-Biti moderates a panel discussion with community leaders from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the SDI-affiliated Kenyan federation of slum dwellers. Photo credit: Hannah van Rooyen

Rooted in the movement

This theory of practice is clearly grounded in the ritualised practices of the broader SDI movement. Hence, for George Masimba, Dialogue’s work “is informed by our affiliation with SDI”. The model presented by SDI includes a series of “practices for change” that the movement calls “rituals”. These rituals, which include data collection, sharing learning experiences and methodologies, and supporting each other through horizontal exchanges, are the basis upon which marginalised urban communities produce knowledge and shape their city.

Concerned with creating space for the voice, action and particularly leadership of those historically marginalised, they contest the hegemonic narrow conception that slum dwellers are unable to produce knowledge, organise or lead because of their condition. Moreover, SDI’s work challenges the notion that slums or shacks and their dwellers constitute a sort of problem, and that it is mainly the task of academics or professionals to somehow solve this problem.

As George Masimba puts it, “data collection is our way of empowering slum communities, in terms of enabling them to transform their communities through that data. So the data is collected and then used to organise communities and also to engage decisionmakers”.

The movement is intentional in creating alternative city-making epistemologies and practice, revealing the value of difference for the crafting of alternative urban futures.

There is a conscious effort for historically marginalised populations to take centre stage, rather than have their voices mediated by NGOs. In fact, the NGO that accompanies the work of each Federation is referred to as a “professional support organisation” (PSO), in constant reminder of its place. This presents a clear distinction with the assistance-based, paternalistic attitude that external NGOs generally reproduce, which hinders communities’ potential to define research questions, select priorities or allocate resources. 

Knowledge produced by (diverse) communities

The Federation produces knowledge on local conditions, based on data it has generated. Its members, supported by their PSO, decide what issues are relevant, what knowledge registers are credible, and what information from these registers is important to address the identified issues. Crucially, this ensures that locally generated evidence is used to define priority areas in need of action and the relevant interventions to address the identified priorities.

Within ACRC, Dialogue and the Federation are leading the Harare city team in the informal settlements domain. George Masimba describes their process:

“Our first step was to put together a team composed of both the professionals from the NGO side and communities from the Federation groups. Why? Because … communities have been conducting surveys in these settlements for many years, so we feel that they should … be part of the research team. We thought that was one way of ensuring that communities can influence the way in which we are going to be carrying out the work here in Harare … it would have been weird for us to exclude them if we are serious about the carrying out research process that seeks to transform these communities. So we set up a small team of about eight people … Then after that, we developed the preliminary research tools, informed by the ACRC concept note. We did a process together with these communities where, based on these themes, we developed questions that we thought would be useful as research questions under this domain.”

While slum dwellers themselves are the drivers of the agenda, it is key to understand that the role of the PSO is not without contradiction. For instance, George Masimba openly acknowledges the need for further reflection about power imbalances within the affiliate’s own teams:

“If we are serious about having an approach that is conscious of the power imbalances, no matter in what form they can come, I think we ought to reflect a bit more in terms of power issues within the teams themselves.”

This also means reckoning with the diversity of voices within the teams and acknowledging that the communities themselves are not necessarily homogeneous. Furthermore, disciplined self-reflection is key to ensure that certain voices, like that of the youth, are amplified rather than going unheard.

Towards “better” knowledge co-production

By decentring academic conventionalities and affirming their local epistemological registers, Dialogue on Shelter reminds us of the multiple modes of knowing and their status as credible knowledge producers. In spite of tensions, the epistemology and practices that emanate from the SDI processes present valuable alternative forms of knowledge co-production that “by far exceed the North Atlantic understanding of the world”.

These practices also reaffirm the idea that learning is bidirectional, which co-production endeavours must acknowledge.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Daniela Beltrame Welcome to the African Cities podcast. Hello, my name is Daniela Cocco Beltrame, I’m a political scientist and urban planner from Argentina. I work in the informal settlements domain of the African Cities Research Consortium. Also with us today is Smith Ouma, postdoctoral fellow at the African Cities Research Consortium. 

Smith Ouma Hello, everyone. 

Daniela Beltrame Today, we’re here with George Masimba, director of programmes at Dialogue on Shelter Trust Zimbabwe and Teurai Nyamangara, programme officer of Dialogue on Shelter Trust. Thank you so much, George and Teurai for participating in this interview with us, and the idea would be to go over your process in general by Dialogue on Shelter in Zimbabwe, more specifically in Harare, but then also going into the work that you’re doing with ACRC in the informal settlements domain. Just to start with let’s just introduce ourselves. If you could please introduce yourself just to get us started.

George Masimba OK. Thank you, Daniela. My name is George Masimba. I’m the director of programmes at Dialogue on Shelter. Dialogue on Shelter is an affiliate of SDI. And in terms of the current research, we are working on three pieces under the ACRC work, which is the systems piece, the IS domain and then thirdly, we are also working on uptake.

Teurai Nyamangara Hi everyone, my name is Teurai Anna Nyamangara, I’m a project officer at Dialogue on Shelter and on the ACRC research I’m a research assistant and also coordinating the informal settlements domain.

Smith Ouma Great, thanks. Thanks, George and Teurai. I think we’ll start by having a few broad questions just on the approaches that Dialogue on Shelter Trust has taken in the past or in the present with regards to knowledge generation, then we’ll move specifically to questions related to the involvement of Dialogue in the ACRC project. So by way of just to start us off, I don’t know if you can tell us a few things about the ways in which Dialogue works with academic institutions to co-produce knowledge and whether you can see there are any benefits from these kinds of collaborative processes. So are there any collaborations between Dialogue and academic institutions?

George Masimba Thank you very much Smith for the question. So in terms of the way we have worked as Dialogue on Shelter Trust, it’s informed by our affiliation with SDI. And part of SDI tools that they use includes data collection as a way of empowering slum communities in terms of enabling them to transform their communities through that data. So the data is collected and then used to organise communities and also used to engage decisionmakers. So over the years, we as Dialogue on Shelter, with our CBO partner, the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, we have collected data in informal settlements right across the country, in urban areas, as I said as a way for organising these communities. And about five to 10 years ago, we then started a process of building linkages with the academic institutions. One may ask why. We realised that building collaborations with academic institutions would help in terms also of strengthening our data collection processes, but more importantly, also legitimating a data that is collected by communities. So for the past 10 years or so, we have been working with universities such as the biggest university in Zimbabwe, the University of Zimbabwe in Harare and other universities in secondary cities. And how we have been doing it through, we would sign MOUs, memorandum of understanding with these universities and then students, together with lecturers, would then partner or combine efforts with communities in terms of developing the tools and also even the actual data collection process. And also then, after the data is collected, we then co-present the findings to ministries, it could be to local authorities in terms of what we have found out and more importantly, what needs to be done. So with that experience, we have noted that it has also strengthened our capacities because the universities, by their nature, they are into research which resonates well with what we are doing as an alliance. So the issue of building these collaborations has become a very natural process, if I can put it that way, because that’s what universities normally do. And as I said, we have benefitted immensely from these collaborations and beyond just collecting data and presenting it to decisionmakers. We have also organised some seminars, workshops together in partnership with universities around some of the findings that are generated as a way of also making sure that the data collected can also begin to inform policies in government, even the review of some of the pieces of legislation that have to do with urban development. So that’s what we have been doing around that work. 

Smith Ouma Great, thanks, George. You’ve mentioned that you often get into these memorandums of understanding with the universities in these partnerships that you establish with them. But we also know that when it comes to these kinds of collaborative exercises, when it comes to these kinds of partnerships, there could be power imbalances that will be evident occasionally. I don’t know, in what ways has Dialogue been able to navigate these power dynamics that are involved in these kinds of partnerships with academic institutions?

George Masimba Very interesting question. So I totally agree with you that whenever you engage to get into partnerships, you come with different power, so you have to be first and foremost conscious of that. And what we have noted is that by bringing the universities into communities, that mere act of bringing them into slum communities, it alters the power imbalances because you’re taking universities into a terrain that previously they have not been accustomed to, unlike taking communities into universities. So that on its own is also a way of kind of addressing the power asymmetries that normally come with these collaboration. And also even making sure that the communities are setting the agenda. Even though we are bringing in universities, we are also very particular about who sets the agenda, who defines what ought to be researched. All those things are determined by what communities prioritise. So by virtue of being aware of these differences in terms of the power that the parties hold and then subsequently taking very clear and concrete steps that try to alter that as they organise over the years, in terms of getting around that complexity in terms of power imbalances. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You may have an MOU which states in terms of principles of equality, etc, all of that, but things may pan out on the ground very differently. So over the years, with universities understanding the importance of communities being in charge, being on the forefront in terms of defining the research agenda, we have managed to make inroads around that particular area of making sure that everyone is equal, even though at face value you may see communities from informal settlements, it’s easier for someone external to see communities from informal settlements as if they are not contributing anything. Somehow I think we have made some progress in terms of universities that we have been collaborating with. And also in terms of getting them to appreciate how we work, the centrality of communities. We have also used exchanges for these partnerships to work, so that they can appreciate how others are also doing it with their exposure visits with South Africa, with Namibia, around collaborations or partnerships that are built between universities and communities. There’s one project that we finished some two, three years ago in one of these cities, which was about upscaling participatory urban planning, which was being coordinated with Manchester University. And at that university we did an opportunity to go to Kenya, South Africa, for these the different institutions that we are collaborating with, for them to be able to see how others are also working with communities and dealing with issues of power that can potentially disrupt these partnerships. Thank you. 

Smith Ouma Great. Thanks, George. It’s very, very interesting. I mean, we know that power not only comes at play when it comes to defining the research agenda, which you mentioned and you mentioned that the communities are usually involved in defining this agenda. One of those power dynamics can also arise in understanding what knowledge processes catalyse change. So there could be also methodological differences between the federation and these academic institutions. I don’t know if this has come into play at any point during these partnerships to these academic institutions. So when you see this methodological differences, how do you navigate the different approaches that, for instance, academics may decide to take and what the federation understands to be the right or to be the better methodological approach to catalyse change within the contexts that it works in?

George Masimba Okay, I hope I understood you well. In terms of the way we have approached this from a methodological angle, for example, I would talk about see how participatory mapping has been a key component of the data collection processes that the alliance conducts. So something which is not very common in terms of, at least the work that universities are doing. Mostly the tools that they use, they do not relate or speak very closely to issues of participatory mapping. And for us, we think it’s a very crucial component, particularly when the agenda is around in-situ informal settlement upgrading. So it’s something that the communities are quite comfortable with and something that universities, interestingly, have also learnt from the communities. And yet it’s something that ordinarily would not have been imagined as a very powerful tool of collecting data and transforming settlements. So getting communities teaching universities students is very pleasantly surprising and at the same time, also helping to deal with issues of power that you talked about earlier. When you have universities being taught about how participatory mapping is conducted through the various GIS tools, something which the communities have also learnt from other SDI countries, in particular with our relationships with the Kenyan alliance. But we have also been conscious that there are many ways of killing a cat, so to speak. So it’s never about just the approaches that we use, but it’s also about entering into these collaborations with an open mind so that we also benefit or maximise on what we extract from these collaborations from the universities, because they also have a lot of experience in terms of how research can be conducted. And I have not seen some tensions around how then we should we approach the research processes in terms of methodology, or how then should these processes help to catalyse change? I think it has been, fairly it has been very smooth in terms of navigating around all these things. I guess it’s also a function of perhaps the universities that we have collaborated with, and also the element that I talked about of getting to appreciate each other through exchanges, getting these universities into our communities so that they understand all the dynamics surrounding the community-led processes. That way I feel, using that experience using those tools, we’ve managed to get around some of the problems that could have potentially affected the partnerships with universities around data collection. I hope I managed through a roundabout way to answer your question. 

Smith Ouma Very well answered, thanks. 

George Masimba Teurai wants to add a few items. 

Teurai Nyamangara Okay, I want to say the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, we actually have an enumeration team. These are people that are trained, that are keeping on learning on things that have to do with data collection. So when it comes to an instance where there are differences, in terms of data collection or in terms of the methodology, we actually sit down and try to learn the new things. And remember, we had this project where we were asked to use another data collection mobile tool that we haven’t used before, that we are not even used to. But in a few days, we managed to learn to use the different mobile tool that hadn’t used before. So we just sit down and try to understand, why do we have to use this, this data collection model? We tried to find common ground and the community’s capacity to learn anything new that comes their way. So we have indeed much challenge when it comes to that. 

Smith Ouma Very, very interesting and finding common ground and knowing and understanding of this is a cross learning process where both parties benefit from the interactions, both the academic institutions and the community benefits from these interactions of these learning processes. 

George Masimba If I could add one point, sorry Smith, I think what we have also done, which perhaps speaks to issues of methodology. Increasingly young people are also playing a very key role in data collection processes within the SDI network, and the introduction of GIS tools and applications perhaps also explains that. They are very comfortable with technology, so they help their parents in terms of the elements that relate more to technology in terms of data collection. So you will be noticing now that most of the surveys that we conduct, young people are a key group in terms of data collection, and that is also helped around that. So it’s kind of part and parcel of the way we approach the surveys, even though their mamas and fathers are championing this process, young people are also helping out with the stuff that has to do with the IT . 

Smith Ouma Right, that’s very interesting and a question that we were very interested in understanding, particularly, I don’t know if Teurai you can also share more on this the place of young people – are they just involved in a data collection or does their participation in these processes go beyond go beyond this? 

Teurai Nyamangara Okay. The participation of the young people, they go beyond data collection. When we are coming up with a team, when it comes to this stage, we actually make a team that involves young people in the mother federation and they are involved in every step, in every stage. So we have the Know Your City TV team that is active in data collection, but also in documentation, in coming up with outputs of that documentation as well. 

Smith Ouma Thank you. Thank you. Just one more question before handing it over to Dani to proceed. How does Dialogue maintain accountability to the communities that it works with? We know that Dialogue will enter into these partnerships with universities, with academics, but how does it ensure that in entering into these different partnerships, it maintains accountability to the communities that it works with? 

George Masimba Thank you Smith for the question. I think this can also be linked with the way in which SDI operates. We, the communities come in as an equal partner in all the relationships that we enter into with any settlement. So whether they are affiliated to the SDI or they are part of the federation of groups or they are not, the standing rule is that communities a key partner in transforming their own settlements and no one else has more knowledge than them in terms of what are the issues that they are encountering. And more significantly, what are the solutions to the challenges? So on the basis of that logic, it somehow also guides the manner in which we then engage, interact, partner with different communities, because we are seeing these are a key resource, these are a key agent in terms of transforming these settlements. And we also approach this in collaborations with communities, fully conscious of the fact that we can only do so much. So the significance that we place as a network, SDI network, on communities also helps to influence the manner in which we then relate with them in terms of issues to do with power. So we try as much as we can to give communities the space that they deserve, that they should be given. And all that is founded on the principle that communities should be at the heart and centre of all the work that we are doing. And also they know what it is that is required to do, what possibly may be lacking in resources in terms of addressing a myriad of challenges that they face. So that, it’s a very difficult question to respond because some of these things happen automatically if we are talking within the context of the SDI. So I already know that when I’m relating with a particular community around a particular subject, it could be they want to bring in water facilities in their area. The way I approach all the engagements, I’m very conscious of the fact that this solution is coming from these communities. And when you do that, it also kind of disempowers you and empowers the community that you are engaging, such that you then begin to be able to deal with issues of power. But I have to be also honest that whenever NGOs and communities collaborate, even though issues of power may be articulated in terms of the approaches, etc, the fact that is an NGO you are holding resources in terms of money, it invariably also encroaches into issues of power. Because when you have money, you inevitably wield power. So by holding that money, which the communities will rely on for them to be able to address the challenges that they facing, there is need for that consciousness also of how the component or element of you holding resources can potentially influence or alter issues to do with power. So again, it speaks to issues of how you remain conscious of the limitations and opportunities that you have when you are engaging with these communities, so that you then carefully navigate the development space, fully aware of what compromises can come in and adversely affect the relationships that you are seeking to build. So it’s never as easy as I’m putting it across, but I am happy to say that it’s something that over the years we are continuously refining and most importantly, conscious of that there is potential risk of power dynamics affecting the way in which we work with communities. 

Daniela Beltrame Thank you, George. Let me take you now to your work as part of the African Cities Research Consortium. You have been engaging in research in Harare as part of the city team for the informal settlements domain. Would you please share about your first steps in that process and maybe a little bit about where you are at today? 

George Masimba Okay, I will give it a shot and then Teurai can come in also to add if I have left anything. So indeed, we are leading the informal settlements domain work here in Harare. And after having been selected to do that work, our first step in Harare was to put together a team that is composed of both the professionals from the NGO side and communities from the federation groups. Why? Because I spoke earlier that communities have been conducting surveys in these settlements for many years. So we felt that the way that we are doing with ACRC should sort of benefit from the experience that the communities have, and by having them being part of the research team, we thought that’s one way of ensuring that these communities can influence the way in which you are going to be carrying out the IS domain weekend in Harare. Then also considering that these are communities that are coming from these informal settlements. It would have been weird for us to exclude them if we are serious about carrying out a research process that seeks to transform these communities. So besides them having experience around data collection, we’re also conscious of the fact that as Dialogue, we are working with communities that are coming from these informal settlements. So we set up a small team of about eight people, that is professionals being supported, anchored by community enumerators from some of the settlements here in Harare. Then after that, we then set out to develop the research tools, preliminary research tools, which we have done. And that process was informed by the IS concept note that was shared by ACRC in terms of the thematic issues that we should be focusing as a domain. So we did a process together with these communities where we, based on these themes, developed questions that we thought would be very useful to address the research questions that we have under the informal settlements domain. So that’s the next step that we did. Then perhaps alongside that, we also, we’re supposed to deliver a mapping node for the informal settlements domain. Our understanding of the mapping, noting that this is primarily an analysis based on secondary sources of the informal settlement domain in Harare. So those are some of the steps that I could cite, but Teurai, my colleague can also help me in terms of what else we have done. 

Teurai Nyamangara I think George has said most of the things that we have done. Whenever we are setting up a team for research, we make sure that we have professionals as well as the community, because we understand that the communities know their areas much, much better than us – we spend most of our times in our offices. So the team, what we did was also to come up with a list of activities that are going to be done and also place roles for each and every member of the team that as professionals, what are we supposed to do? And then also what the community is supposed to do. I think that’s one thing that we did as well. 

Daniela Beltrame Thank you, both. So you mentioned that the city team includes eight people, right, including both professionals and community members. I was wondering, how were particularly community members selected?

Teurai Nyamangara The community team comes from the enumeration team, from the wider Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. The communities themselves, they just select members of the enumeration team to be part of the team, but also the enumeration team itself, it comprises both mother federation and youth as well. 

Daniela Beltrame And speaking about challenges, because it sounds like political contexts can be both challenge and opportunity, right? You’ve spoken a little bit about the constraints that a particular context may pose on a research project. I was wondering what other challenges and opportunities do you see currently in your work in that area? 

George Masimba I think there are a number of challenges and opportunities that we could share from the perspective of Harare. I think one challenge that easily comes to mind may be related to issues to do with methodology, accessing these settlements within the context of Covid-19, for example. You never know when the next wave is going to come and that may mean that in instances where we had failed to go physically into these settlements, we would be forced to do some of the work virtually. And even though we have all the requisite tools to enable us to do that, virtual engagements are never the same as physical engagements. So that might be another limitation because we have done surveys during the Covid period and we saw also the downside of using online tools. And in addition to that, I think the nature of the manner in which we have organized the work that we are going to be conducting under the ACRC is such that we’ll be looking at settlements that are not even under the federation or are not even part of the SDI network, because we want to be as a comprehensive as we can in terms of our coverage so that we are not only enumerating the realities of those communities that we have previously worked with. So that means also there’s need for some awareness and sensitisation, very sustained engagement with some of the communities that we do not have previous experience with, and how those engagements then pan out, it’s something that we can’t predict at the moment. And yet we are saying we want to reach out to everyone. Some of the settlements that we have agreed on engaging are also even have some political linkages or routes in terms of how they’ve been established. And normally there are very sensitive issues with access. So how do you reconcile? Because for many years we’ve been used to conducting these surveys in settlements where we work. But we are saying we want to do it this time covering the different settlements that are in Harare, informal settlements that are in Harare. And yet we don’t have an institutional presence in those settlements. So that will also mean a lot of investment in terms of mobilising engagements with these communities so that they understand the ACRC work that we are, we are currently doing. And I think it could be it’s an area that we should at least keep in the back of our minds that there could be challenges around that in terms of accessing or getting that support, political will, from the community leaders, from those political leaders, from those areas. So that that’s a potential challenge that I would also talk about. Then in terms of opportunities, for Harare, first and foremost, like we said, we have been working with the city of Harare, we have an existing memorandum of understanding, which speaks to issues of data collection. So ACRC, somehow the ACRC work that we are doing, by virtue of the fact that it’s research, maps very neatly on the MOU that we have with the city. So for some respects, it’s just an extension of the work that we have been doing previously with the city, there would not be any need for very elaborate explanations of what we are doing when we get to the point of engaging the city of Harare. So that’s an opportunity for us, drawing on the institutional relationships that we’ve built with the decisionmakers over the years. And another opportunity, having a network of communities that are affiliated to the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, that in itself as I mentioned, it’s an opportunity because essentially we are saying we have some sites where already there are groups, so access will be relatively easier, as well as understanding why we are doing this, the logic around the ACRC work in relation to their communities. So that’s for me, an opportunity. Teurai, maybe you may have some additions in terms of challenges or opportunities. 

Teurai Nyamangara Okay, I think I can just that in Zimbabwe we are going to have elections in 2023. And political parties are now campaigning and informal settlements are the areas that are highly politicised in Harare. So a simple focus group discussion may be seen as something political or something that has to do with campaigning for a political post. I think that might be one of the challenges that we are going to face, but I think maybe we have to opt maybe for virtual if it’s really that hard to have focus group discussions. 

Daniela Beltrame Thank you. So you were mentioning some of the challenges of engaging with communities beyond the federation. Given the political context, but also given the fact that there is no prior engagement there to anchor in. I was wondering when it comes to the communities that are affiliated with the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, what are your processes, if any, to keep them updated on the work that you are doing with the African Cities Research Consortium and whether there are any broader engagement processes to consider their input – already in place or planned? 

George Masimba Okay, I will attempt to answer your question. So I think in terms of that particular question, we’ll rely heavily on the work plan that we’ve submitted for the IS domain, under which there are issues of community feedback meetings, awareness meetings, sensitisation meetings. So in terms of the plan that we have put in place under the IS domain, we have in place mechanisms for us to be able to periodically go into these communities and share information or feedback relating to progress or challenges that may have been traced through the research process. So besides the ACRC specific plans that we have in place, there are also routine community activities that are happening in areas where the federation has a presence. And the manner in which we have looked at this work, in particular, the IS domain piece, inside that we have tried to kind of ensure that there are some linkages between the work that ordinarily the federation would do with what we have proposed under the ACRC IS domain work plan. So for us, that’s very key. Because that will also help in terms of addressing some tensions between what we are intending to do or our contractual obligations, versus that work that ordinarily we do on a day to day basis or ordinarily, that communities are doing on a day to day basis. So the idea is to kind of ensure that the activities that we are doing under the IS domain, the community meetings, they could be organised around core regional meetings that the federation already has. So there is some institutional infrastructure already with some programmes that are currently underway, which we are then hoping to utilise in terms of the contractual obligations or the specific outputs that we have set out to do under the ACRC IS domain work. 

Daniela Beltrame Well, thank you, George, and thank you, Teurai, I think we are going to wrap up now. Of course, again thanking you for your time and your knowledge, and just asking you if there’s anything else you want to share with us. 

George Masimba One aspect that I also think is key is that for many years we have been doing work around informal settlements. Whilst that’s an opportunity, it may also be a limitation in terms of ability to… because it’s like we are researching ourselves if you were to look at it from another different angle. So I think we need to approach and engage with this work with some bit of reflexivity, if I can put it that way. We think this is a very unique and important opportunity to generate new dimensions, new insights from the work that we’ve done previously. And for us to be able to do that, we need to kind of step out of our shoes a bit and also look at what we have done. From a very critical and objective angle, but I think it’s a very key and important thing that we should always keep in the back of our minds, so that we don’t run the risk of reproducing stuff that we have produced in the past. I think we need to introduce some degree of being able to think critically about stuff that we have been doing on a day to day basis, so that you generate new insights beyond what we have contributed in terms of this particular domain.

Daniela Beltrame Thank you so much. 

Smith Ouma Thanks, George, for that. I mean, it’s very important for us to also reflect and look at or investigate or interrogate ourselves really about the processes that we employ and the work that we do. So that’s a very useful reminder.

George Masimba Yeah, the word that I wanted is the issue of positionality.

Smith Ouma Indeed, indeed. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, George and Teurai. Very great speaking to both of you, and seeing you again. 

Daniela Beltrame Yeah, it’s always a pleasure. It always pushes me to think a little more, go a little further. 

George Masimba Thank you so much.

Daniela Beltrame You’ve been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.

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Header photo credit: Hannah van Rooyen. ACRC workshop in Nairobi, Kenya.

Note: This article presents the views of the author featured and does not necessarily represent the views of the African Cities Research Consortium as a whole.

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