Three months in, how is the Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid project shaping up?

One of the bright spots in a generally crap year has been the Emergent Agency project. It emerged in the early weeks of the pandemic from a brief conversation with Armine Ishkanian, who runs the LSE’s Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity (AFSEE) programme. Would Covid lead to new forms of grassroots organization? Wouldn’t it be interesting to monitor and analyse that process? Yes it would. And we might be able to find a bit of funding.

While LSE and Oxfam sorted out a small grant, we got started, putting together a team, posting interesting stuff on the blog (here’s the first EA post from April). I also wrote a fairly hand-wavy paper on ‘Covid-19 as a Critical Juncture’.

We launched properly in September and the launch post provoked a gratifying level of interest – lots of people were seeing different bits of the emergent agency elephant and wanted to compare notes. We rapidly got to about 60 case studies that needed analysing. All we needed was someone else to do the reading…… so AFSEE chucked in a bit more dosh for a Research Assistant, Niranjan Nampoothiri.

Along the way, the project has already generated some 20 posts on this blog – a mix of case studies, reports on the project and reviews of other research – have a browse here.

What to do with all this interest? What’s nice is watching the project itself emerge, in terms of theme and methodology. We evolved towards a two track model:

A set of themed ‘cluster’ conversations on topics that seemed to have a critical mass of interest (see below), convened by well networked people in the field (preferably not from Oxfam or LSE – we want this to be as open/inclusive a process as possible)

A database of case studies, tagged by theme, geography etc. This will draw on/nourish the clusters, and eventually go open access as a resource for any researchers wanting to explore the topic.

So far we’ve had a launch webinar, and a first round of cluster conversations. The challenge now is to keep the momentum going and get a useful exchange between clusters early in the New Year. By ‘useful’ we mean both useful for researches, and useful for activists and practitioners.

Want to get involved? Email emergentagency@oxfam.org and tell us which cluster you want to join, then we’ll put you in touch with the convenor. Here’s the list of the clusters, and their current convenors:

And a shout out to our newest cluster – on peace-building, to be convened by Ivan Campbell and Robin Neustaeter. Here’s what they want to discuss.

‘How has Covid affected community peace, security and conflict dynamics, how have local actors responded, do they identify new opportunities for building peace and security, and what can we do to reinforce their agency?

The first session of the peacebuilding cluster will take place on Weds, Jan 27 (at 9:30 UTC), if you’re interested please save the date, and get in touch.

The New Year will see a round of other cluster conversations, and then we’ll take it from there.

For me this is (or should be) how NGOs and Universities work together, combining skills, networks and urgency (and yes, a bit of cash) to bring together learning and action.

Please join us in 2021 (or at least keep an eye out for interesting stuff and send it over)

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