Directing ‘Smart Rural Communities’ Action Research Intervention project 2017-2018 in Colombia (Latin America) & Mozambique (Africa) organised by the NGO Ayuda En Acción (Aid-in-Action)


Towards a new ‘smart’ rural development model

for international co-operation?


Organised & funded by Ayuda En Acción NGO (Aid-In-Action)


#SmartRuralCommunities #GlobalSouth #Colombia #Latam #Mozambique #Africa

#ActionResearch #LivingLabs #SmartCity #SocialInnovation

Description of research:

  • This project (beginning on 2017 and being continued on 2018) aims to conduct fieldwork research in several rural and remote communities in post-conflict areas in Colombia (Latin America) and newly developed areas in Mozambique (Africa). By doing so, this fieldwork research will provide qualitative insightful data to shape an intervention model entitled ‘Smart Rural Communities’. Ultimately, the project not only aims to revert the Smart-City-Global-North logic in developing countries but also to establish an ad-hoc contextualized version for the rural communities in several strategically-targeted locations of the Global South.


  • This project is led by the NGO Ayuda en Acción (Aid-in-Action), based in Spain, which will employ and deploy the resulting and strategic outcome internationally among their territorial development areas and branches. Despite the fact that the NGO has been operating internationally with a vision characterized by action-driven international aid, this project will enhance the potential strategy of the NGO by adapting the ‘smart’ use of the ICT, energy, mobility, education, health, gender and governance advancements jointly with a participatory and experimental methodology. Hence, this project envisages an update for the way the NGO Ayuda en Acción operates as an international organization for development and humanitarian aid.


  • This applied research project consists of three phases: state-of-the-art, fieldwork research, and modelisation. The fieldwork research will be undertaken by using three techniques: visual ethnography, in-depth interviews, and Living Labs in combination with focus groups. This project shows a policy commitment in renewing strategic and operatively the intervention model of the NGO Ayuda en Acción by including ultimately some lessons learnt from the ground for both infrastructure and community capacity building. This project will seek a strategic alignment with some supranational institutions in this field, such as BID (Inter-American Bank for Development – Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo), EU, UN and OECD, among others.

Description of the nature of participants and fieldwork methodology:

  • In the two aforementioned cases, participants are local residents in rural and remote communities. The research is particularly interested in analysing their perceptions and how their daily life could be improved by scaling up from technological advancements. However, the fieldwork will substantially identify groups of stakeholders in order to examine their mutual inter-dependency in enhancing the community empowerment stemming from opportunities provided by smart strategies and co-operative social economic formation from scratch.


  • As such, two groups of stakeholders will be given particular consideration alongside the process of intervention: Millennials (young people with highly transformative capacities) and women (emancipating and empowering them in the community’s collective decision-making processes). For the first group of stakeholders, particularly in Colombia, it is remarkably challenging that young entrepreneurs are returning from the cities to their villages after a long period of being absent in their communities, due to the conflict. In Mozambique, the role and the way the project could engage women is intriguing given the agriculture associations run collectively by them. In both cases, there is great potential about the participation of these target groups.


  • Ultimately, the project attempts to encourage local residents/natives to initiate their own entrepreneurial ideas by being supported with experts and technical professionals. In this endeavour, participants will take part in diverse research activities in their community in reflecting collectively on their present and future living and working conditions overall.



  • In the first fieldwork in Colombia, a group of professionals from the Mondragon Co-operatives, such as the engineering and consultancy co-operative firm LKS (Mr Hodei Arzak), Alecop Colombia education co-operative (Ms Andrea Angarita), and Mundukide Foundation NGO co-operative (Mr Unax Zabala), among others, took additionally part, also giving technical and expert advice to the communities in the fields of engineering, education, socio-economic/production-based co-operation and co-operativism being coordinated by the University of Oxford.

1st Fieldwork: Colombia, Maríalabaja & Carmen de Bolivar. 9th-17th July 2017.

  • This fieldwork  action research covered three communities in the municipalities of María la Baja and Carmen de Bolivar: Paso el Medio and Vereda la Suprema in María la Baja and Vereda Camarón in Carmen de Bolivar. The fieldwork research was undertaken by the NGO Ayuda en Acción (Mr Fernando Mudarra, Mr Iban Askasibar, Mr Antonio Ventura, Mr Esneider), CDS and La Semana (local partners), Mundukide Fundazioa (Mr Unax Zabala), LKS Engineering (Mr Hodei Arzak), Alecop (Ms Andrea Angarita), and University of Oxford (Dr Igor Calzada, MBA). Mundukide, LKS Engineering and Alecop are three co-operative firms that belong to Mondragon Co-operative Corporation.
  • The fieldwork research took place in the three communities as follows:

The first day we met the city council and the mayor of Maríalabaja.

  • Paso el Medio, Community:

  • Vereda la Suprema Community:

  • Vereda Camarón Community:

After the specific fieldwork per community, an action research workshop was organised with the support of local organisations. The workshop was attended by 20 people per each community in a collaborative and community-to-community-learning context. That way the case of Colombia was successfully developed around an ongoing Smart Rural Communities project. Each community worked internally around different socio-economic and living issues. Thereafter, each community presented the conclusions to the other two communities by sparking a rich discussion between people from different communities.

Ultimately, on the 15th July 2017, we launched the Smart Rural Communities’ Living Lab.

The intervention was focused on three sectors: energy (renewal energy transitions), production modes (working and living conditions) and education (long-life-learning requirements). As such, the fieldwork team was coordinated to gather cross-cutting smart evidences without altering the natural way in which this rural settlements were set up as a consequence of the postconflict present scenario. Despite each community has been established in a unique fashion, material needs and governance path-dependencies have entirely been evolved in such a different manner. This preliminary hypothesis in this fieldwork confirms the fact that ‘patchwork smart solution-ism’ in rural communities in the Global South should not be recommended as the smart city early implementations are showing us in Global North contexts. Further data and evidence should be collected to carry out this research on-wards.

Alongside the fieldwork implementation, the action research methodology attempted a highly interactive work sessions with the members of different communities by adapting the their uniqueness and respecting their singularities and path-dependencies. Particularly substantial was the parallel sessions addressing children involvement and their contrast with the rest of the communitarian stakeholders. The fieldwork implementation team was coordinated to better interact with the real present and future challenges of the communities while gathering strategic information about what Smart Rural Communities actually mean in a postconflict context, specially in these rural areas strongly hit by the confrontation for decades. From the scientific direction, we are very pleased to collaborate within this team with: Fernando Mudarra, Iban Askasibar, Antonio Ventura and the rest of the team of AeA Colombia. This acknowledgment is extensible to the group of professionals joining us: Unax Zabala (Mundukide Fundazioa), Hodei Arzak (LKS Ingeniería), and Andrea Angarita (Alecop Colombia).

2nd Fieldwork: Mozambique, Nacuta, Metuge (Pemba). 21st-29th August 2017.

A second fieldwork research was scientifically conducted by Dr Igor Calzada, in collaboration with executive manager of AeA, Iban Askasibar, and the internal team of AeA in Colombia: Jesús Torres, Alberto Farrán, and María Céniga. During a week time, the team elaborated an intervention itinerary based on action research that aimed at building a community awareness and connection between nine diverse communities.

From the scientific direction, we are very pleased to collaborate within this team with: Fernando Mudarra, Iban Askasibar, Jesús Torres, Alberto Farrán, Jaime Díaz, and María Céniga.

From the beginning, the intervention suggested a different approach regarding the lack of institutional arrangements and the lower level of development than in Colombia.

In each community the perception and the awareness of the priorities present a different starting point. Some mundane technologies were not even considered as part of the ‘smart’ instrumentarium as such.

The urban life then occurred in-between communities where the local market functions as the exchange point.

Then we discovered the ‘school’ and the infrastructures for eduction. In spite of the low quality of them, interesting initiatives are taking the lead of the developments. Nevertheless, the most significance asset is as usual the human factor. We found some great vocational teachers making the best of the inefficiencies around.

Community residents and local told us about their experiences and how they manage to deal with the lack of electricity, water and sanitations. The role of women was substantial in order to understand how the ecosystem works.

After the visual ethnography in the communities, we carried out some workshops analysing in-depth the living conditions of the community dwellers. Little-by-little we carried out the fieldwork action research by gathering the local knowledge. The AeA local team (Jesús, María and Iban, in the photo, also Alberto in the backstage) and also the host organisation, Muleide (obrigado Felix and Suneida), helped in this endeavour.

Ultimately, on the 25th August 2017, we launched the Smart Rural Communities’ Living Lab.

The engagement of the local communities in the decision-making process was significant. Particularly relevant, once again, the way women took part and shape the process by combining their individual perceptions and the group/collective benefit. We used the multi-stakeholder approach to represent a wide range of opinions: teachers, teenagers/students, women, doctor, farmers, … And Jesús Torrés, AeA Mozambique instructor, kicked-off the session as usual with the slang: #EstamosYuntos (We all are together!).

Mission accomplished. Eskerrik asko Iban. Gracias Jesús (and María). #EstamosYuntos

We will keep on going. Work-in-progress.

From the Global South

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