Cultural barriers to collaboration in Latin America

By Luis Ordonez

If we want to go beyond cooperation and start real collaboration among partners, we must be aware of the cultural aspects involved. While businesses recognized this a long time ago, the collaboration movement has only recently begun to catch up, learning some painful lessons along the way .

Some of the critical areas that hamper effective collaboration concern information handling, which is different in authoritarian and equalitarian societies; or the uses given to a certain technology (ITCs for example) in a verbal society, rather than an instrumental (written) one. When considering biases and perspectives, these cultural differences may help explain the success or failure of projects, even to the level of inhibiting collaboration among researchers.

Connect south Campaign

Connect South Campaign

Furthermore, in an increasingly technological and web-driven world, many matters regarding technology transfer and cultural in-breeding among the people involved must also become issues for analysis if we want to interact successfully. A culture for collaboration has to be developed through education and other socializing institutions for example, ‘family’, ‘neighborhood’ and so on.  But in order for those ‘new’ behaviors to be accepted as successful, they must show advantages when using them, as compared to results obtained through other channels in solving specific problem is specific settings.

How much we know about interactions among scientists in academic institutions, or between them and their institutional settings in the South as opposed to the North, and how these interactions are affected in authoritarian societies, like the Latin-American, may have a profound effect on our approach to knowledge management, and explain why, even when all parties involved are willing to achieve success, failure arrives i.e. from the lack of  understanding by part of the group of the need to comply with figures of authority by  the other participants, raised in an authoritarian milieu, when approaching ITCs as information “optimizers”. This also applies to the interactions between scientist and decision makers, who have to re-learn to socialize among participants when the team members come from different cultural environments.

In my opinion, and within the context of the Connect South campaign, these cultural barriers should be among the first issues to be raised, since they affects matters as simple as “who translates what”, or as complex as the way to present information to decision-makers that must “save face” in front of their constituencies, and therefore hampering success. An event on Cultural Barriers to Collaboration, preceded by team work on cultural characteristics of the research community, the decision making community and the “think-tanks” or similar “knowledge broker” organizations existent in the North-South extremes could be of great interest, if we are to advance to a better collaborative environment in order to mobilize knowledge from the academic community to the political world.

Luis Ordonez is President of  Fundación InterConectados in Venezuela.  Watch him discussing these issues in more detail (in Spanish).

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2 Responses to Cultural barriers to collaboration in Latin America

  1. lordonezv says:

    Not too many people are interest in these matters, or the language barrier is a real one and it has to be considered among one of the broken bridges that must be fixed before collaboration begins?

  2. D Smart says:

    As a high school teacher teaching at a bilingual school in Colombia, I can affirm the problems of trying to teach Latin American students as if they were North Americans. I see the same frustration among (native) peers struggling with professional development desined by Western educational theorists. Certainly a positive step forward in advancing learning is to address the reality that not only do individuals learn differently, but so follow cultures.

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