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Getting to know Shared Assets from across the pond: Reflections on our virtual secondments

Jingjing Guo

As a partner in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (MSCA-ITN) RECOMS – Resourceful and Resilient Communities, Shared Assets welcomed six early-stage researchers to the team this past year, to do a three-month secondment with us: April, Mimi, Ruben, Sara, Sergio and Stephen. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, their secondments had to move online. In this blogpost, April and Sara reflect on their experiences of working with Shared Assets from their home offices in Belgium and Austria. 

Secondment, a British English word, was a puzzling one to quite a few of us when we just started our fellowship with RECOMS (have a look at our other blog post highlighting some of the outputs and upcoming events of the RECOMS project). What it pronounces is a short-term placement of approximately three months at another beneficiary within the project that is independent from the fellow’s host institution. In our three-year PhD trajectories, we are expected to do two of these placements, one with an academic partner and one with a non-academic partner. During these secondments the fellow becomes part of the team, exchanges work and ideas and receives training and supervision to hopefully widen their horizon that would otherwise be limited by a single institutional setting. Amongst the benefits to be reaped from experiencing other places, modes of work, practices and institutional dynamics, for a fellow doing their PhD in social sciences and humanities with and on place-based communities, the emplacement of a secondment also means physical and/or mental displacement from the people we hope to study, many complicated travel and residence arrangements, and having less opportunity to develop a sense of rootedness in one place (at times direly needed in the emotionally taxing journey called a PhD).

In other words, worries ran as deep as our excitements. So we carefully planned when and where to do our secondments, considering what would make the most sense in terms of our own professional and personal growth. Six of the fifteen RECOMS fellows ended up choosing Shared Assets to do their non-academic secondment. We did so, because of their work with place-based communities in general, and on land issues in particular, as well as their notorious hands-on knowledge and expertise in community engagement events, campaigns and networks. Also, hello, we were going to go to LONDON BABY! But our plans mattered little in the end. The pandemic hit. London seems infinitely far away. Diminished were also our possibilities to see Shared Assets in action in face-to-face meetings with real-life local groups.

So all of us adapt – embodying the abstract idea of ‘adaptivity’ which we often debate in relation to resilience and resourcefulness. Shared Assets has moved their work online and goes on to explore having a permanent mode of working as an agile organisation. Our secondments, too, needed to go virtual. And they’ve gone so rather smoothly, as Shared Assets has been very considerate of our respective learning needs, interests in their areas of work, and other PhD and RECOMS’ related work.

It would be moderate to say that it has not been easy experiencing and getting to know an organisation and its work from afar – there is too large a distance devoid of the flesh and bones in our interactions with others and the physical and cultural contexts in which their actions and work unfold. Yet, it becomes clearer that what we are experiencing, or rather witnessing, is an evolving organisation which has been exploring how to translate and adapt into this ‘brand new world’ their years of experience and principles of working well together and forward. Ironically, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, we might not have had this window to gauge what compassionate agility – keeping everyone in the loop, motivating and checking in on each other, improvising and embracing flexibility – might look like in an organisation. A quality, in our opinion, which finds it hard to get an entry to academic environments.

None of us fellows expected this being part of the learning a year ago. Neither did Shared Assets. But here we all are, painstakingly, yet not devoid of joys, trying out new ways to keep the work going and reflecting on unexpected learning. 

The RECOMS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 765389

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