It appears to have all come together on my last full day here.
This morning I had a very informative Skype session with an academic, then wrote up some notes from yesterday and did a little LeithChooses work. (Mostly stashing files in DropBox so that if any of the steering group falls under a tram, vital data is still available to the others – and only to them, $deity and nasty hackers willing.
This afternoon, I held a focus-group with 8 members of participative councils from different areas of São Paulo. I want to record my huge thanks to them, to the co-ordinator of these councils for recruiting them, to São Paulo’s secretary of social relations for his support of this work and kind words, and to Hugo and Leandro for translating!
I can’t say anything here about what I was told, except that I now have data on some of the barriers to effective participatory budgeting here in São Paulo. It’s also given me a few ideas of things for Scotland to avoid as it mainstreams PB. So now, instead of greatly fearing that the funders of this project would want their money back because I’ve gathered no data, I’m just slightly concerned about whether I’m good enough to analyse it. And that’s (I hope) just imposter syndrome talking.
The session got off to a slow and quiet start as participants read and asked questions about the project and the consent forms. (I’d hope that they would have already seen and signed these.) However, soon I was taken aback by the friendliness of the participants, and their willingness to share experiences. It turned out that most were happy that someone from outside Brazil was interested in what councillors do. Also, a couple commented that this session had inspired that the session had inspired them to question what they do and how they do it – are these good enough?
I did mention that I’d seen similar barriers in Scotland and UK politics, although they may be nowhere near as intense as the same barriers in São Paulo. I think it helped that I said that I am a member of community councils and a PB process in Scotland, so I could empathise. It was also a very interesting experience asking questions in English, then having them translated by Hugo or Leandro, then receiving long answers in Portuguese, and the gist of these in English from Hugo or Leandro. However, maybe this helped because I received the core meanings, rather than having to winnow these from the words myself. (Of course I will ensure that the full session is transcribed and translated.)
After the session, and some follow-up conversations, Hugo, Leandro and I went for dinner and a couple of beers. Lots of talk about research, work-life balance, the value of research to practice/activism (and vice versa).
So that’s almost it. I do want to come back, but next time I will bring some whisky (for my new friends and other contacts I will make), and (please $deity) my wife!