Practicing Transrational and Elicitive Approaches to International Cooperation: The example of the PESTUGE Project
In the Summer of 2015 we received the good news that our proposal PESTUGE (creation of the Graduate Curricula in Peace Studies in Georgia) had been accepted as an Erasmus+ project for capacity building in higher education. It was the second time we had applied and pursued this significant grant that would allow us to work with four universities in Georgia, two in Dublin and one in Northern Ireland towards the wider objective of “instilling a peace-oriented mindset in Georgian society by creating interdisciplinary graduate curricula in peace studies” (PESTUGE project description).
While we had been approached by two of the Georgian universities initially to support them in their curriculum development because of our transrational peace philosophy and elicitive approach, the realities of international cooperation presented some challenges to our philosophy in praxis. The project framework works along the lines of modern notions in which ‘experts’ have (better/more correct) knowledge about peace studies courses providing technical and financial support to universities in non-EU countries. We were in charge of the Work Package ‘Curriculum Development’ and so we had a significant role to play. We made the conscious decision to undertake our project commitments in the spirit of elicitive work, taking heed of and adhering to the fact that conflict participants have the key to unlocking the great potential of conflict transformation.
The main objective of PESTUGE was to design, develop and introduce the first curricula of its kind in peace studies in Georgia.
By extrapolating the elicitive principles to international project work, we believed that the local partners knew more profoundly the conflictive setting and hence also the needs for curriculum development. In that spirit, we twisted our role to be catalyzers and facilitators. Appreciative of our technical and personal resources in terms of teaching, we wanted to share our experience and knowledge by creating a safe space in which cooperation, trust, congruent communication and team spirit were valued in the concrete relations among the project partners.
During the life of the project there were four moments that we have chosen as illustrative of what our elicitive approach has meant.
Circulation of the course syllabi (January 2016)
As the main objective of PESTUGE was to design, develop and introduce the first curricula of its kind in peace studies in Georgia, the initial step in the development of the modules was the introduction to conceptual, comparative and practical elements of peace studies through sharing of the course syllabi. Our MA Program in Peace Studies shared with the Georgian universities 17 syllabi inclusive of a diverse range of topics which covered theoretical and practical components of peace studies, such as those on the transrational shift in peace politics; elicitive methods of conflict transformation; elicitive conflict mapping; embodied means and skills of conflict transformation; and others. These were accompanied by literature and sources essential to the curriculum of the MA Program in Innsbruck. Furthermore, the other EU universities also shared key syllabi, including teaching resources and materials, and we were able to create a generous pool of information to be shared horizontally.
Elements of trust in the transpersonal intelligence of people for the transformation of conflicts were translated into the syllabi of 32 new and old updated courses, well exceeding the initially envisioned 16 courses of the original proposal. The process of capacity building was grounded upon a voluntary selection of required and needed educational components by our Georgian partners, resulting in an innovative context-specific mix of conflict transformation theories and practical tools with relevant regional specificities.
The study visit to the MA Program in Peace Studies (July 2016)
The PESTUGE experience shows how elicitive principles, methods and resources can permeate international projects designed in modern frameworks.
The project foresaw that Georgian partners would tour the different EU universities’ peace studies programs and learn their diverse approaches to the academic field, as well as the pedagogical and didactical methods. From July 4th to July 11th, 2016 a study visit to Innsbruck took place. The Tyrolean Education Institute – Grillhof welcomed 20 members of staff from our Georgian and European partner universities in parallel to the onsite presence phase of the Summer Term 2016 student cohort. The PESTUGE visitors arrived during the Second Modular Period and joined the group of students during the lectures.
Participants were also introduced to components of the Third Modular Period with the design of a special plan as an excursion-tutorial consisting of courses, field training and excursions on questions of negative peace and direct violence. Simulations of practical training and reactive roleplaying by our army partners and the alumni team were presented to the guests. Our colleagues also took part in a Theatre for Living workshop, resembling exercises for the Fifth Modular Period. Armin Staffler supported and facilitated an inspiring forum theatre day where issues of conflict (transformation) relevant for the participants were set on the stage. The cognitive and experiential knowledge gains further reinforced the ties of the PESTUGE learning community.
The study-visit to Innsbruck also granted the partners with an introduction to the Preparatory Online seminar (First Modular Period) and Cross- Reading seminar (Second Modular Period). Curriculum and didactics meetings were organized with Professors Daniela Ingruber and Shawn Bryant. This enhanced the horizontal approach of learning, which recognizes potential as residing within the participants as first-hand witnesses and representatives of the contexts that they are coming from, hence feedback and peer-review sessions are facilitated among peers rather than taught prescriptively by staff using a traditional vertical approach.
Another example of such a horizontal approach of learning was the World Café, which brought together Georgian and European visiting staff members with students of the Summer Term 2016. Discussions explored personal ideas and meaning of peace(s) and were after visually presented in flipcharts (see Picture 3) opening the way to alternative manifestations of knowledge exchange.
Cross-Reading in Ireland and Northern Ireland (November 2016)
For the study visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland, we proposed to conduct a face-to-face feedback session about the new syllabi being developed for Georgian universities. The moments we spent together in formal and informal encounters during the study visits had already created a good atmosphere of collegiality and friendship, yet our group was and is (gladly so) very diverse – especially in what concerns styles and patterns of communication. The reciprocity of the cross-reading seminar in the framework of the MA Program, in which every student’s paper is reviewed by the group, could not be translated one-to-one into the project activities, since the EU partners had sent their course syllabi in advance and did not receive feedback on their work. The Georgian professors sent their designed courses prior to the study visit, such that we all had the opportunity to read them in advance and, following newly-designed formal and content questions to the syllabi, we prepared our suggestions in the best spirit of Non-Violent Communication: seeking a connection from the heart, suspending judgement and trying to be as factual as possible while staying present in our interactions.
According to the professors’ impressions, the quality of the new and updated courses benefited greatly from recommendations in terms of resources such as bibliography, but furthermore also in terms experiences for trying new didactic and pedagogical formats in teaching work.
Quality visit to Tbilisi (April 2017)
Part of the quality control and monitoring mechanism envisioned by the project were mid and final evaluations of the curriculum and teaching materials, as well as monitoring and evaluation of the module implementation process and assessment of the qualification of Georgian faculties. We saw the evaluation and monitoring as a further opportunity to live, enhance and adapt the elicitive principles to project work. In the online seminar and in the cross-reading, we have learned to use feedback not only for summative and evaluative assessment, but mainly for formative purposes and aiming for a positive and motivational impact. While online student questionnaires were conducted by the European partners (including the University of Innsbruck), in attempts to transcend expert relationships of ‘observers and observed,’ we proposed a World Café that would give us the information necessary for the reports and move beyond towards creating, sustaining and nurturing communities of enquiries around ‘questions that matter’. The aim was to elicit a conversation and engage in dialogues by actively listening to professors teaching the new subjects and students enrolled (or with the intention of enrolling) in the courses. In each Georgian university, three stations were set up and facilitators engaged in discussions to explore: What have you learned or what would you like to learn from the courses? How have your expectations transformed by taking the courses? And how do you view and define a peace/peaceful mind-set and how do you contribute to building it?
Separate of these rounds, meetings with the professors took place and feedback was provided based on the insights collected. Stories of success and challenges were shared amongst European and Georgian partners, in the spirit of supporting and learning from each other.
The PESTUGE experience shows how elicitive principles, methods and resources can permeate international projects designed in modern frameworks. In April 2018, we had an extraordinary meeting in Innsbruck. It was extraordinary because it was not initially included in the project description and we were able to redirect savings from past travels. And it was extraordinary also in another sense: our partners asked us to host the meeting because of our approach. After two and half years of working together, they did not mean only our approach as it can be read in books, but the ways in which we related to them in elicitive, respectful and appreciative ways and to their work and who they are. This request has been the best recognition of our elicitive project work.