Cross-Sectoral Project Management
Nils-Eyk Zimmerman asks us to think about our projects
and how to use them to break down barriers between disciplines.
Our speaker today, Nils-Eyk Zimmerman, doesn't speak very much – he wants us to work through our projects. Every one of the thirty-four of us was asked to prep a poster describing one of the ways you're engaging with the topic of peace. It could be artistic, academic or some kind of social project.

I put down something called Kitchen Talks, a group I started in Saint Petersburg where we meet weekly to talk about controversial issues and give space for folks to share and listen to other opinions. There are a lot of other ones to read about: an exhibition in East Ukraine, helping engage South Korean youth with northern refugee issues, collecting stories from displaced people in Belgrade, giving a platform for Donbas women to share their lives and successes, collecting interviews, writing plays, documentary work.

"Now go around," he says, "and write comments. Not criticism. Just give your impressions."

This is the first of three stages – the second one involves asking clarifying questions and the third lets us give critical feedback. The order is good for me. When I put forward a project of mine I'm usually looking for critical feedback, so it's easy for that to be the first thing I offer in return. Putting on the breaks slow things down and prevents it from being a nitpickfest.

When we've gone through feedback from our projects, we grab some tea and sit in a circle while he describes what it means to do something 'cross-sectorally.' This is one of the big features of these two weeks – it brings folks from different backgrounds so that we can approach an issue from different sides. Also it might help us think of ways we can collaborate interdisciplinarily. And for our speaker that's something that helps lead to social change.

For him, social change (or at least the intent to produce it) is necessary ingredient in cross-sectoral work. This goes against the philosophies of some people in the room – they find it suspicious when there's a 'goal' in a piece, or an intention to make sure that the audience walks away with one thing in particular in mind. They like to engage with something while leaving room for a wide number of consequences rather than just one 'right' one. So obviously there's a lot of discussion.

And this tension is partially the point – we're reminded that different sectors have different approaches to similar projects, meaning that there are going to be these kinds of conflicts. But part of what we're challenged to do is identify those tensions and give them room to breathe instead of resolving them right away (or pretending to).
Our next task is one that I find quite interesting: we're supposed to create a hypothetical person. Dream up their name, job, dreams, marital status, passions, needs, challenges, social role, networks, hobbies, position in various hierarchies, motivations, gender, level of public engagement and, finally, what they'd think of your project. If it would be relevant to them.

We split ourselves off into groups, walk across a nearby bridge and sit in the shade, thinking of what kind of person we'd like to engage with. Immediately we thought of someone who would be quite far from the stuff we're talking about: a 37-year-old village woman named Lesia. She's from Schastya, a town just north of Luhansk (one of Ukraine's breakaway cities), has two kids, no husband and works at a power plant. She volunteers at her kids' school-parent council and watches soap operas. She helps her parents and is a member of a fairly ineffective trade union.

In terms of what she wants, it's mostly a better life with her children. And a man. There's also the respect of her community, or at least not to be worse-off than other families in the village. She needs economic security, and peace. She used to have quite a lot of friends, but half of them left after the conflict started and she has less of a support system. She feels tired, lonely, ashamed that she's alone, but also clings to a hope for her children. And pride. When it comes to art or social projects she's rather skeptical – she's heard it all before, that things will be better. Now she's mostly disillusioned. When she sees kids from Kyiv (or Canada) come to town she's suspicious. And she has no time for us. How to engage a person like her?

Obviously there's the thought of helping improve women's livelihoods in villages like those in East Ukraine, with the aim of helping women become less economically dependent on men. But that takes time. One of the projects mentioned, and mentioned above, is one where, instead of hipster kids coming to make lives better in the provinces, local women are trained and empowered to go to these places and share their stories with other locals. Breaking stereotypes of passivity, showing examples that folks like them can break out of vicious circles. Contribute to peacemaking.

I like exercises like this because it's similar to something done in dialogue – if you have an 'ideological enemy', then think about that person. Think about their needs, their questions, their fears. Think about their impressions of you. Think about how you can work together, overcome stale fighting points, think past the stereotypes you have about each other. It's the same here – you can think about the people who suspect you yourself are full of shit. And then work on how to be relevant to that demographic. If you build an exhibition you're mostly going to meet people who go to exhibitions. But who else is there, not included? It's like you're wading in an indoor pool. How do you access the ocean?