Knowledge has no boundaries: my experience of the Living Knowledge Conference 2018

Three members of our Engage Community attended the Living Knowledge Conference 2018, in Budapest, thanks to the ACU Member Communities Conference bursaries. Here, Shamaila Farooq, from the University of Engineering and Technology, (UET) Peshawar, share’s her experience.

At UET, we use outreach activities to promote academic research. Community engagement, however, is not as widely promoted. Instead, we implement outreach activities that act as information sharing platforms instead of change instigators.

Our communications professionals are either expected to publicise university research or merely act as transmitting channels to attract media attention. To bridge the missing link, it is important we learn to enhance significant community engagement in our local setups. The Living Knowledge 2018 conference was the right forum to raise such questions and share my perspective from Pakistan with a diverse audience.

I was inspired to apply for an ACU bursary award in order to attend the Living Knowledge Conference 2018. It was wonderful news to find out that I was among only three awardees selected for attending the conference; one from India and another from Kenya.

Shamaila Farooq

Experts from government, civil society organisations, and universities shared their experience on the challenges faced in developing strong community-university relationships. 

Since my particular focus was on campus-community engagement, I attended a session organised by the University of Victoria, Canada. This session gave a whole new insight into how Canadian universities are studying the impact of research on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This session became a wonderful way for me to make new connections. 

Later on, I took part in subsequent events with the Community First: Impact of Community Engagement (CFICE) Project of Carleton University, Canada. I raised the question, ‘how can we transcend the boundaries from national to international networks and from developed to the developing world?’. Through the sharing of ideas, I learned from panelists that other developing countries like India and Bangladesh are already benefiting from a few international initiatives. Similarly, Pakistani researchers could also benefit a great deal from the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in Higher Education and the K4C programme, who resolve to build capacities of academia and staff in universities through training and curriculum development.

After attending the conference, I realised that the public sector engineering and technology universities in Pakistan are largely ignorant of CBPR concept. There is no significant attention given towards CBPR in our curricula, and although our projects are community-focused most of them are executed through top-bottom approach. Unfortunately, there is a communication gap that exacerbates the knowledge gap. I strongly believe that UET Peshawar researchers can become part of the K4C programme, understand the dynamics, and partake in community-based participatory research central to their work.

The multi-national cohort of participants at the conference focused on ‘science-community partnerships’ through a collective spirit. That was the real success of the conference: that we were able to put our ideas across and deliberated on issues with no biases. 

Shamaila Farooq with John Boit

In one of the dilemma sessions that I attended about ‘River and the City’, the group concentrated on how civil society organisations in Hungary approach and ask for volunteer work through science shop projects in universities. This was a unique learning experience for me to know the dynamics of science shops; an alien idea for the communications professionals working in Pakistani universities. On my return, I have been able to incorporate the community engagement component into the university's strategic plan, set for the next five years.

This system-wide network through LK8 not only brought a sense of legitimisation, but also made it easier for me to network with diverse audiences. For the first time, I felt as though I was playing an important role in making a big change in the future of community engagement in universities. It was a completely new experience to see community engagement in real practice where universities and communities together find solutions to their indigenous problems. 

My other fellows, Dr Ipsit Singh from India and Dr John Boit from Kenya, were incredible. We continue to debate on issues and share a common thought that knowledge has no boundaries and should not be affected by geographical constraints. I am grateful to the ACU for bringing us all together on one platform.

In conclusion, one may say that engagement is a global phenomenon with international networks existing in industrialised countries. But this conference certainly lowered the barriers by involving professionals from different countries; north and south shared their insights with a collective spirit. 

Thank you, ACU!

Shamaila Farooq is the Director of Media and Publications at the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. She has sixteen years of experience in development communications and is currently working in media outreach for the university. 

She is a member of the ACU's Engage Community network and was conferred the ACU Public Relations, Marketing and Communications Network Award, 2008 in Durban, South Africa. 

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Last modified on 07/11/2018
Tags: Member Communities, ACU Engage Community, Community engagement