Effective interventions

Building bridges of knowledge: the Platform’s convening power


On a capacity-building assignment for the Clingendael Academy in the Emirates a few weeks ago, I allowed myself to pause for half an hour in the streets and simply watch people go about their daily business. Sitting there, observing people interact, making contact and telling stories reminded me of the participants’ interaction I witnessed at the Platform’s 4th Annual Conference. I had the honor of moderating parts of the day, which enabled me to connect with many different professionals throughout the event.

When I stood in front of the 180-something group, I knew how diverse the audience was. While looking into the Bazaar of Ideas’ filled auditorium, I realized that this day was just one big fat opportunity that needed to be seized. A chance for all of us who work in the field of security and rule of law in fragile settings, or adjacent fields, to step away from our respective desks, offices, and so-called fields of expertise and just interact and share experiences. Perhaps even ask questions.

Not being a stranger to boxed-in thinking, I asked myself: how can we make sure that this day contributes to helping us in our work? How do we bypass the uniform and simplistic ways in which we tend to organize our events? Well, I realized while looking at the faces of the now somewhat amused participants in the Auditorium, simply by reminding ourselves of the opportunity we have to engage and share insights, instead of simply sitting down and listening. Basically, it’s about the interaction stupid!

This sounds like I got the inspiration from a fortune cookie, but an effective event revolves hugely around the willingness of participants to connect and share. Thus, enabling an environment where those who are attending feel free to drop their professional viewpoints and open up to diverging perspectives is a conditio sine qua non for effectivity and to build bridges. I deliberately drop in some Latin here just to give this piece a bit more gravitas. This enabling environment, to me, is a simple truth. However, creating such an environment that permits us to lay the foundations of deeper and new interactions is far from easy. It takes guts to not simply lean on expertise only or standard types of events, where people sit back and listen. In my opinion, the Platform showed guts and this paid off.    

Enabling people to interact and generate a willingness to speak their minds, in my opinion, is the distinctive ability of the Platform, that right there. Not only being in a position to convene and gather professionals from different communities of practice. But to make it possible for them  to then take the next step, towards a deeper level of knowledge. That is to say, to build bridges of knowledge amongst policymakers, researchers and practitioners in the Netherlands and beyond, both in capitals and in the field. We are often stuck in our Twitter and RSS feeds, believing we are gaining exposure to different opinions, but secretly being tunnelled towards our standard preferences. When we think of it, it is rather a luxury to dedicate a day of work to interaction with others in our field,  permitting us to look at a range of topics through different lenses and create new alliances.

Convening power sounds soft, but it a major asset that, if well thought through, provides an opportunity for experts in the highly complex, intertwined, multi-layered and politicized fields of security and the rule of law to share what works and what does not. This, in part, can shape policy and inform cooperation.

This power the Platform holds is a truly essential means to a quintessential end: more security and a culture of justice in a world where insecurity is the rule for the largest part of the population and security is the exception.

Lastly, a fortune cookie I broke open said: a mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open. Although our work in an international arena requires persistence, stamina and surely is serious business, let’s not forget that by keeping an open mind, we become more easily connected to others which can help us take that step forward. Taking out the time to sit together with a receptive attitude, even if it is just for a day or a session, allows us to broaden our networks, verify our assumptions and build bridges of knowledge between worlds in a field that desperately needs more interconnectivity amongst the people that dedicate themselves to it. Sometimes, sitting down, however brief the moment, is the best action you can take. So, in the end, if you see me sitting down somewhere, looking at people, know that I am hard at work. 

This blog was inspired by the Platform's 4th Annual Conference, and in particular related to Rob's role as moderator of the day. Keep an eye on our website (#srolconf #hardchoices) for the main outcomes from the conference.

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