Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
by Amy Watson*
Learning about Ketso and helping others to use it in their own work has, for me, been an exploration of the ways groups and individuals interact, the positives and negatives in some of these interactions, and how reflecting on and learning from this can lead to more egalitarian outcomes.
Ketso was developed in Lesotho and South Africa by Dr Joanne Tippett, through her work helping to better involve local people in the planning of their villages. Holding workshops and discussions with different communities, Joanne observed the reluctance of women to speak when men were present, despite the well-informed and insightful contributions these women made when not in a mixed gender group. To include multiple perspectives, Joanne began putting together an interactive ‘hands-on’ kit which focused on mapping and communicating ideas through writing and drawing rather than just through speaking. This approach does not privilege confidence, power, status in a decision-making hierarchy, or the ability to vocalise arguments in front of others. It instead represents each contribution as equal in the form of writing or an image on identical leaf pieces that are all necessary to construct a complete whole.
Ketso cannot erase the inequalities and hierarchies that it seeks to manage, but its process heightens awareness of them. This is one step towards wider and bigger change that can lead to these inequalities and categories ceasing to organise the social world. More immediately this awareness is crucial for ethical practice across a whole range of industries, projects and disciplines, and has helped me to think more critically about my own research and my role as a researcher.
Part of my research considers gendered experiences of post-socialism in the Czech Republic, and does so from qualitative perspective, using a mix of interviews, observation and questionnaires. Post-socialist states have not traditionally been afforded the prestige of many wealthier Western states, and this has often limited their political influence in spaces like the European Union. Whilst I think some of this asymmetry is now shifting, mindfulness of how this history and its legacies might affect my presence as a researcher from a ‘Western’ location has ongoing importance for the way I interact with my participants. My familiarity with Ketso and running of Ketso workshops has helped me to reflect more carefully on this.
For example, part of the Ketso process emphasises silence. The room is quiet whilst each workshop participant thinks about and writes down their contributions, giving space for each person to formulate their own ideas. After all contributions are laid out, discussion follows. Those who find talking about their ideas easier must then base their conversation on every contribution present, including the ones made by those who are more reserved in discussion. During this period of silence, some participants become restless and start talking to those around them – looking for confirmation of their opinion, asking what someone else has written down, what they think.
Whilst conducting interviews with some of my own research participants, I sometimes had a nervous temptation to fill a silence in our conversations with suggestions based on my own perspectives. I view this compulsion as problematic, and my resistance of it as important – why did I struggle to cede control and allow a pause to lead to my participant speaking, if that was what they wanted to do? Through speaking, was I asking my (Czech) participant to defer to my (‘Western’) opinions? A misunderstanding of someone’s thought process, and of the manners through which they express themselves, can lead to the restriction or erasure of their perspectives. Ketso has helped me to think more seriously about different routes to self-expression, and how these can be encouraged rather than omitted.
With Ketso, I have seen workplace hierarchies be disrupted as a less senior member of staff is finally able to articulate an idea in a forum where they feel they will be listened to. Ketso makes ignoring opinions difficult: they are right in front of you, written down. You have to face them. The harder part then becomes ensuring that this variety of perspectives continue to be faced once the workshop is over. In this sense, I view Ketso as just the start of a much bigger process. In the same way that my experiences with Ketso made me think and act differently in my own research practice, so a Ketso workshop can begin to shift the attitudes and behaviours of all those who participate, towards listening to and respecting all others as equals.
† More information about the Museum of Romani Cultures can be found here.