Touch Ground – the Value Added of a Field Visit in a Face to Face Meeting

April 25, 2012 | Blog-Admin1 | SDC Experiences |


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Nadia von Holzen Barbara_Affolter Ursula_Koenig
During the 2nd day of its face to face the SDC network Migration and Development left the meeting room to visit activities in relation to migration in Dhaka. This blog post outlines why and how the “dive” into the context and confrontation with different perspectives can accelerate and nurture the network’s conversation (deliberations, dialogue).

By Nadia von Holzen, Barbara Affolter and Ursula König

The SDC network Migration and Development held its face to face meeting in February 2012 in Dhaka. Migration is a reality in Bangladesh. Every day 2’000 Bangladeshi take off for the Middle East, Turkey, and other countries. On day 2 of the 4 days meeting the network organized field trips in Dhaka city and the surroundings. We visited local government structures (e.g. migrant bank; vocational training), NGOs and migrant self-organizations. The confrontation with the reality of leaving or returning Bangladeshi migrant workers and the viewpoint of government officials and NGO engaged was a key moment in the face to face, which triggered our discussion and reflection.

It was so important to see life conditions in Bangladesh and what are the real circumstances that are pushing people to leave their home and to seek migration in other countries. I was surprised by the significance weight of the migration sector in the governmental policy and the economic cycle of Bangladesh (10 million migrant people, and 12 billion USD as yearly income). Bangladesh is strongly advocating for labor migration as development leverage of the country. It was also an interesting moment for me when I met and discussed with a lady who works in Lebanon as a domestic worker the work and living conditions in her host family.
Robert Nicolas, National Programme Officer

3 reasons to organize field trips:

  • Field visitsField trips connect us to the local context: Field visits link us to the place we held our face to face meetings. The confrontation with the reality transfers different type of information than many reports, fact sheets or presentations in the meeting room. During a field visit our senses are activated: We observe, we take pictures, we listen, and we smell. Our emotions are touched. Our thinking and reasoning is set in motion between the here (our hosts) and the working context we are normally in. Through the confrontation we start to ask questions towards our hosts and ourselves.
  • Field trips create experiences that foster interaction, conversation and relationship building: Well thought field visits provide an experience. They can make us talk; they promote discussion, sharing, reflection. They bring us in contact with each other and can be a catalyst for the community building amongst participants. During the Dhaka meeting the field visit exposed us – also physically and emotionally – to the migration reality of our host country. We also had to deal with the endless traffic mess of Dhaka, which made the whole experience somehow though and unforgettable. Getting emotionally involved is a key factor for learning.
  • Field trips embrace other perspectives and foster deepened reflections: Field visits open a window to different viewpoints, different approaches. We see the issues at stake in another light. The diversity of perspectives confronts our thinking and our own way of doing. This can help us to reach a deepened understanding of the issue at stake and to reflect our own role and tasks. To include multi-perspectives in our learning processes is important. A field trip is providing us with exactly that – a different view on things. At the same time we think it is important integrate the multitude of perspectives in a larger picture, in order to avoid to stretch conclusion from a particular view point too far. We need to seek a balance between particular view points and an overall concept.

3 points to consider while organizing field trips:

As organizing team you can only invite participants into the process of learning, however it is the organizer’s responsibility to shape a good environment that this learning will happen.

  • Field visitsLink field trips closely to the programme and schedule the right moment: Field trips are programme modules and need careful preparation (logistics might be even quite intensive). The timing in the programme for a field trip matters. Field visits on the last day leave no room for any joint reflection. Field trips early in the programme might leverage the whole face to face discussion on a more in-depth level.
  • Reserve discussion space for preparation and follow-up: It is essential to include the preparation and the follow-up reflection of field visits into the face to face programme. And this means reserving enough time to do so. During the preparation of the face to face of the network Migration and Development our moderator “fought like a bear” for these time slots. Luckily. She kept right; the follow-up discussion the morning after the field visits were essential for the dynamic and in-depth reflection and discussion.
  • Instruct and assist the hosts: Hosts are often not used to receive a curious international group of people. They think they have to offer something and to be on the safe side they prepare a speech, an input, or even a slide show leaving little room for discussion and exchange. They don’t know what we expect from them unless we tell them. Consider expectations of host and clarify their view point. You need the best possible cooperation with the host: a clear framework, shared objectives and a joint understanding of the meeting’s context (i.e. host needs some information about the guests and their context and vice versa).

Field trips don’t make us experts – they make us touch ground and confront our thinking.

How did you experience field trips, external learning journeys? What do you think matters most?

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