We have seen international collaboration working at its best, as evaluators of projects with true cooperation at their heart.

March 20, 2023
Photo of the author - Jonathan Goodacre

Jonathan Goodacre

'Collaborate with people you can learn from'

- Pharrell Williams

The word ‘collaborate’ has its origins in Latin – collaborare – meaning to work together, and later became a noun in French. We’ve written before about its positive value here and in relation to European partnerships here. Recently, we have seen how this works in practice, as evaluators of international projects with cooperation at their heart.

Of course, these sorts of international collaborations come with their own inbuilt challenges, not least the sometimes vast inequalities between global north and south which has real practical implications for the partners concerned, whether this means the lack of available technology or the strength of the internet. Zoom or WhatsApp meetings are not so much fun when you have one phone to share between 20 people, and that’s before we even get on to the issues of language and time zones.

Nevertheless, what we have discovered, is a generosity of spirit, a willingness to make things happen, build relationships and to try out new ways of working. There is always learning involved in collaboration, but when it is international as well it opens up a whole new range of perspectives and possibilities which are exciting and engaging.

Birmingham 2022 Festival: International Collaborations

International Collaborations Evaluation Report Front Cover Earlier this year (2023) we completed the 'International Collaborations' strand evaluation for the Birmingham 2022 Festival. It is one of 9 evaluation reports that can be found here. For International Collaborations we explored six case studies that took in a wide range of approaches.

For example, Beatfreaks (UK) brought in eight artists from India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and the Virgin Islands to work on ‘As We Speak’. They gave them an open brief, empowering them to respond as they wanted, leading to a variety of spoken word outputs. Beatfreaks called this a 'trust-based rather than collaborative model' but interestingly, the organisers and artists reported learning from different perspectives, even though they never met physically.

A contrasting way of working came from Terrapin, based in Tasmania, Australia. ‘Anthem Anthem Revolution’ started with the creative concept of reinventing the Australian National Anthem. It was created in collaboration with a First Nations (Pakana) rapper working with young people in Australia. This was then produced and presented in partnership with Solihull Metropolitan Council and involved table tennis and multi-media presentation (really!) at different sites in the West Midlands. As well as producing a distinctive cultural work, this collaboration also meant they could engage with what they described as 'non-traditional' audiences on a theme they would have been unlikely to encounter otherwise.

In the Birmingham 2022 Festival, international collaboration meant different things. We identified six types (described in the report) which each had its own value, but it appears the more ambitious they were in terms of the closeness and overlapping nature of the partnerships the more rewarding the outcomes and legacies. This was at least partly to do with being able to share responsibility and risk, which in turn led to greater openness of participation and production making more innovative and engaging work.

Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture

Screenshot 2023-03-07 130540.jpg Looking at another factor, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic significantly affected the nature of international collaboration. As described in our evaluation of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, the pandemic often demanded a more imaginative approach. For example, the volunteer part of the programme (‘Wave Makers’) conceived initially as taking place physically ‘on the ground’, was transformed to become something very different.

With many elements taking place online, the Wave Makers became a diverse community of people sharing their experiences and backgrounds with each other on a regular basis.

British Council Digital Collaboration Programme

digi_collab_fund_1.jpg The effect of the pandemic on audience engagement has been much debated, but in the evaluation of the British Council Digital Collaboration Programme, we outlined six interesting case studies.

In these, partnerships happened at distance without the possibility to take place face to face, necessitating other approaches.

For example, ZU-UK’s Radio Europa used existing technologies to work with partners in Brazil, Colombia and the UK. The partners were different in various ways, not least their access to resources, but online international collaboration enabled equal input from each. Then at the end of the project, they used a video platform to showcase the different elements in one presentation for an audience across the world.

In another way, the Kamukuwaká VR collaboration between People’s Palace Projects, Tulukai Indigenous Association in Brazil and Nathaniel Mann used VR technology to reveal the beauty and important heritage of the Wauja Communities. This would be virtually impossible for a global audience to access otherwise.

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