One Application – Three Workshops

Sally Ashour

‘One application – two workshops!’ These words caught my attention as I read them on a poster in my faculty. I read the call for proposals, liked the idea of working together in interdisciplinary teams, made the decision to participate, submitted the required documents, waited for an answer and attended the two workshops. Afterwards, I reflected what I had experienced over the course of the two workshops and realised that they were quite different than any other workshop I had attended. Holding two parts of a workshop in two different places, countries, environments, cultures was a very challenging idea.
The first part of the workshop in Hamburg started unofficially late a night when I found myself in front of an unexpected university building that, to me, looked more like a home. When I stepped inside, I found myself in front of a huge table in the middle of what one would think to be the main hall, which turned out to be the kitchen. There were various large spaces, a small library, a number of chairs and small tables arranged for us to have dinner. The dining room later turned out to also function as work space where we would have lectures, workshops, group work and discussions. This was the UdN, a place that made me feel I was in a house and at home; and in spite of the fact that we only just introduced ourselves to the other workshop participants, the UdN and the way it was arranged managed to break the ice in less than a day, which again impacted positively on our work.
The second workshop in Cairo continued what had been started in Hamburg; and although we didn’t live and work in the same space in Al Darb Al Ahmar, the organisers managed to overcome the congested traffic problems and expected unpunctuality.
Personally, there was a third workshop that ran parallel to the Hamburg and Cairo workshops for me. As I read the call for proposals, I stumbled across the sentence: ‘The workshops are rather seen as a process than a final product, with participants working together in interdisciplinary teams and developing their approach.’ I had doubted this was practically possible, but discovered at the end of the two workshops discovered that following the methodology offered in lectures, our working groups (comprised of different disciplines) found the freedom to choose our own research question and effectively worked in a way that resolved all my initial doubts. And although the workshop was designed as work in progress and in fact made it possible to concentrate on the process rather than a final product, the final result appeared to be so much more presentable, efficient and useful, both for academic research and authorities concerned with ‘urban transformation’. Such workshops, I think, should be conducted before setting any National Research Agenda, and when recommendations are prepared for politicians to advise them on actions to be taken.
My experience can thus be summarised as ‘one application – three workshops’.