SPACES FOR ACTION-ORIENTED THINKING
Their growing virtual mode as a consequence of the Covid19 pandemic.
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
In the sphere of international trade relations plenty
of meetings are being organized by different types of institutions that
have become spaces for the generation of action-oriented thought. For
this reason, we consider it relevant to go back to the topic addressed
in the December 2015 edition of this newsletter, reframing and updating
the concepts and ideas then put forward.
The spaces we are referring to reflect the link between the analysis
based on concrete experience and the objective of achieving greater progress
and efficiency in the international commercial insertion of countries
and companies. Their value is heightened by the dynamics and growing complexity
of trade relations between nations today.
There are no unique models on how to approach the development of such
spaces in any given country. However, it is possible to find common elements
in the work methodologies used in these spaces, which are often interconnected.
These spaces are more effective when two conditions are met. The first
is that those involved in government or business action show interest
in receiving guidance from those who can contribute with their analysis
and experience. This interest is reflected in questions that seek answers
based, as much as possible, on actual experiences. The second condition
is that those who are involved in analysis and reflection are willing
to put themselves in the place of those engaged in concrete action, in
order to make suggestions based on their experiences and to answer the
hypothetical question of "how do I do it?
In their meetings, these spaces provide the opportunity for systematic
conversations between actors with different social roles, visions and
ideas on how to operate to have an effect on reality. It is therefore
important that the working agenda of the corresponding meetings includes
relevant and current issues, but with a strong projection towards the
On another occasion we have addressed the issue of ambits or think-tanks
geared towards action-oriented reflection in the field of international
trade relations (see the December 2015 edition of this newsletter on www.felixpena.com.ar).
These are spaces of growing importance in the development of the international
trade relations between countries. Therefore, we consider it relevant
to go back to the topic of the above-mentioned Newsletter, reproducing
and updating the approaches and ideas mentioned at that time.
In the field of international trade relations many are the meetings organized
by different types of institutions that constitute spaces of action-oriented
thinking. They often reflect the periodic activities of specialized institutions
such as, to name only a few from Mercosur, the Brazilian Council for International
Relations (CEBRI), the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI),
or the Uruguayan Council for International Relations (CURI). But above
all, as of March of this year and as a consequence of the Covid19 pandemic,
in most countries these organizations are developing virtual meetings.
Therefore, they do not require travel, with the significant reduction
in costs that this means. This could explain why they have now become
more frequent. It could even be anticipated that the virtual mode will
be maintained in the still uncertain post-pandemic period.
Through their meetings, these spaces for reflection show the link between
analysis, based on concrete experiences, and the objective of achieving
greater progress and efficiency in the international commercial insertion
of countries and companies. They become ever more valuable in part due
to the new dynamics and growing complexity of trade relations between
Action-oriented thinking spaces are more effective when two requirements
are met. The first is that those in government or involved in business
show interest in receiving guidance from those involved in thought and
analysis. Such interest is reflected in questions that seek answers based,
as much as possible, on concrete experiences. The other requirement is
that those who are involved in analysis and reflection are predisposed
to put themselves in the place of those immersed in the action, that is,
on "the battlefield", in order to make suggestions based on
experiences that provide an answer to the hypothetical question "how
do I do it?
There are no single models for addressing the development of a meeting
space for action-oriented thinking. But in those that do take place, common
features can be observed in the institutions involved. Three of them are
worth highlighting. The first is the capacity to include in multidisciplinary
agendas of debates and research, issues that are perceived as relevant
for the development of the international trade insertion strategy of the
corresponding country. The second is to connect the action-oriented thinking
activities with those carried out by think-tanks with similar objectives
and methodologies in other countries that, for example, belong to the
same geographic region. This networking, which, although incipient at
the internal level of the countries and at the regional level, has much
room for future development. And the third feature is the development
of common agendas with other spaces for though with which they are connected.
The relevance of the key issues, as well as the density of the networks
that are interwoven and the connectivity of the agendas, makes them a
fundamental factor for the construction of a cooperative interdependence
between countries, especially from the same region and in view of their
insertion in the global trading system.
It is also possible to observe common elements in the work methods used
by the different spaces, which are often connected to each other. A common
element is an approach to their multidisciplinary agendas that includes
the participation of actors who represent diverse social roles, generations
and visions of reality. Another element is that they focus the analysis
on a few issues relevant to the international trade agenda of the moment
and that, due to their complexity, require to be assessed from different
ideological and disciplinary perspectives. And a third common element
is that they provide concrete and useful ideas for addressing relevant
issues on the international trade agenda of a country or group of countries.
The meetings of such spaces are conversations, even virtual, between
protagonists with different social roles (thought and action), and different
visions of how to operate in reality. The way in which the conversation
between the participants is approached is important. The best meetings
are those in which the agenda contains few topics, a moderator who is
a true catalyst for the debate, short initial presentations (ideally about
ten minutes, without reading texts and, if possible, with few statistical
tables) followed by a good period of conversation with short interventions
(ideally about three minutes maximum) and with an active protagonism of
the moderator. Usually these are meetings that do not require formal conclusions.
The conclusions are drawn by each participant in view of their respective
agendas either as a specialist, analyst or protagonist in the international
trade insertion of their respective country. At the ICBC Foundation we
are developing an interesting experience in conversation (the "Wednesday
Cycle") with this methodology and with the participation of specialists
who represent the diversity of countries and visions, social and economic
roles, genders and generations. These are weekly virtual meetings with
approximately twenty-five participants and lasting an hour and a half.
The many meetings that action-oriented thought generators hold reflect
their growing relevance. They are expressions of the importance of the
link between the analytical capacity and concrete action, especially public
action, in order to achieve an effective approach to strategies for the
integration into the international trading system. This relevance becomes
even more meaningful in the light of the changing dynamics and the complexity
of the political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of international
trade relations in their reciprocal interaction, both globally and in
each of the geographical regions.
It is also possible to see common elements in the work methods used by
the different action-oriented thought centers, which are connected to
each other, especially when they meet to share their analyses. A first
common element is that their respective agendas are approached with the
participation of multiple protagonists, who express diversity in terms
of social roles, generations and visions of reality. They acknowledge
that, in order to understand international realities from the perspective
of a country or group of countries, multidisciplinary and pluralistic
approaches are required, and that they are enriched by the diversities
of all kinds that characterize today's global and regional environments.
A second element is that they focus on a few issues that are relevant
to the international agenda of the moment and that, because of their complexity,
need to be considered from multiple disciplinary perspectives - for example,
those that cannot be understood and addressed without combining the logics
of power, economics, and law. And a third common element is that they
try to contribute concrete ideas that can translate into actions and policies
that seek to address relevant issues on the international agenda, whether
from the perspective of a country or a group of countries.
The meetings of these spaces are aimed at fostering a process that is
rich in its diversity of action-oriented thinking. The diagnoses expressed
in the contributions of the various participants are important because
they have an impact on the quality of the debates. But even more important
is the emphasis placed on reflecting on how to address complex and relevant
issues with concrete actions, especially at the level of global, inter-regional,
and regional governance.
Otherwise, dialogue and interaction would prove to be difficult or even
impossible. In such a case, one side would see the other as being too
theoretical or scholarly, far removed from reality in their "ivory
tower", whereas the other side would be regarded as self-absorbed
and not interested in listening. This would create the breeding ground
for a dialogue where nobody listens, which is often the case. This then
generates a vicious circle, which is difficult to break and that would
not be advisable in any case.
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Félix Peña Director
of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director
of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero
National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the
Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian
Group Brains Trust. More