There are two levels at which flexibility has contributed to making the African Universities' Research Approaches(AURA) programme become vibrant: the level of participants’ engagement; and the level of institutional collaboration - and this vibrancy has developed in spite of a number of challenges encountered in the initial programme conception as experienced at Strathmore University (which we have written about in a previous blog post).
Participants who have showed an interest in this programme have been encouraged to retain their interest, and engagement, in the activities through flexible arrangements. For example, as Project Cordinators (PCs) for AURA, we negotiated new deadlines for completing the diagnostics, and made sure that polite reminders to participants went out regularly.
The management of email communication has also been a key challenge, and an important point of learning for us as programme coordinators. A significant number of participants suffered from email overload and started to drop out of the programme on account of repetitive communication from different contacts in the programme. As PCs, we took a proactive approach to ensure that the issues experienced with email overload were communicated within the programme, and we then agreed a communication strategy which was more appropriate to the needs arising within our institution. This is now working adequately for us.
At the level of institutional collaboration, the true spirit of co-creation around content, and the authenticity in which inputs from implementing institutions are accepted, has helped to build trust within the partnership – an essential part of the process. This is demonstrated by the on-going consultation between us as Project Coordinators (PCs), and champions, for the AURA programme at Strathmore University and the lead contacts within the AURA consortium and this on-going consultation makes it much easier to resolve issues and maintain momentum within the programme.
The benefit drawn from these experiences is that it is critical to be sensitive to the varying needs and interests of participants and try to accommodate this in programme implementation and management. This can mean changing procedures so that these meet institutional needs, or negotiating a deadline where this is necessary.
The AURA programme is developing good flexibility to accommodate a participant-centred approach in meeting challenges as they arise. It is this approach that enables us as PCs to maintain momentum for the programme internally. This approach also supports programme responsiveness at both the AURA consortium level and institutionally at Strathmore University.
Stephen Ng’ang’a and Cavin Opiyo are based at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya.