What double bind is apparent here?


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Angela Okune's picture
September 29, 2020

I mentioned, that despite a continued need articulated by Wambui, Hawi and Wangari earlier in the conversation for greater citizen engagement around data, it's ironic because the orienting ideal that started a lot of the open data movement push was exactly that: "...an active citizenry that will hold the government to account, you know, using information that they now have access to, that used to be behind closed walls, but now people can access and then they get energized, and then they want to hold people accountable. But then that never really played out. And then it became a tired kind of narrative that was then used to get donor money. And then you know, open data for better governance and for transparency and accountability, like those are all key buzzwords, you know, that ended up being just used on both ends from those who apply for funding, and then the funders who give them out, like in their calls for proposals, you know, it just became kind of another part of the next thing that then got funded," (52:06).

Kim called out this double bind: "I think that's a double bind, right there - is that it's not that you don't need more transparency and a mobilized citizenry. But even that has been locked into a certain frame. And so, you know, it's become a kind of cynical endeavor. And I think that's precisely I mean, the kind of inertia you get when something that is, in fact, promising becomes kind of locked down. That's a real double bind. And so, you know, it's those kinds of contradictions that you need to creatively imagine what kind of data infrastructure can work within that paradoxical space." (53:17)

Angela Okune's picture
September 29, 2020
I was thinking about how generative this writing call ended up being and it has got me thinking on method. Formal data collection in Nairobi is often very rote in the vein of Bateson's proto-learning! It's either an "IDI" (in-depth interview) or "FGD" (focus group discussion). The "innovative" stuff uses sticky notes and more interactive approaches but it's still very pre-planned (and those methods are also becoming stable and predictable too now with their wide-spread uptake and use). But comparing the insights gained from such methods to what we were able to articulate together yesterday was very different. We didn't call the call a "focus group discussion" or even a research inquiry. But that's essentially what what taking place... questions were being posed, a discussion was facilitated, helping to lead to new articulations of something.
I wonder if part of the problem with formalization of an engagement as "research" and using set "methods" is that it leads to a predetermined expected type of interpersonal encounter/relationship. Is this really so unlike what Wangari was critiquing on the call of positivist science as having predetermined results? Especially in a place where these kind of short-term, transnational (research) relationships are common, I think there is an anticipated type of (hierarchical) engagement even before the encounter happens which presupposes what will be talked about and forecloses the possibilities of that encounter/engagement from the get-go. Doomed to be rote from the beginning, perhaps? Closed to its deutero-potential?
But on the other hand, leaving things open-ended. ("Let's just chat, let's talk about this thing, let's go grab a coffee, etc. etc.") keeps the encounter/engagement open as it doesn't presuppose a particular knowledge hierarchy (researcher/researched). 
The call that produced this transcript was *not* a focus group discussion so (I think) it retained more collaborative and creative possibilities. We were literally thinking together. It's not to say we were all "equal" or that there were no hierarchies. BUT, when we don’t name what something is or when we are slow to name something then that also laces it with creative possibility because it doesn’t shut it down into already well-established roles, hierarchies and expectations.
BUT and this is the double bind part, leaving things open and not explicit in that way does also leave room for subjective and ethical interpretation, which could possibly lead to misuse or abuse. Without ethical oversight, an unscrupulous researcher could in fact just come in and do some dubious data collection and take off... Obviously there is still need for some sort of ethical oversight (either as a formal body or informal norms/structures?)...