Kyende Kinoti | April 27, 2021
Sanjay Fernandes is from Bogotá, Colombia. His work at SOLE Colombia seeks to create a simple powerful solution to transform the future of education. SOLE’s purpose is to design the future of learning in Colombia. It is a disruptive education methodology that empowers communities to develop autonomy, collaboration, deep learning, and most importantly, to solve real-life problems.
In our interview with Sanjay we spoke about what engaging with the feedback community looked like for him in the year 2020, the impact it had on him and his work, and the changes he made as a result of it.
Kyende Kinoti, interviewer: Can tell us about SOLE’s focus on feedback and why listening is important to you?
Sanjay Fernandes, narrator: It’s interesting because I think being part of the Feedback fellowship and doing the Feedback Crash Course made us understand part of our purpose. It became clear that our purpose was learning. This is interesting because before we even applied to the fellowship we had insights that a big part of what we do had to do with creating conversation and dialogue. A big understanding throughout the fellowship was discovering that our topic is not just about learning, but that we are at the intersection between learning, dialogue and action. It seemed to be a wonderful cosmic joining of different experiences to understand that we had been listening for many years already! But, what was interesting with the Feedback Labs Crash Course and the Feedback Fellowship was being able to create a conscious exercise that was much more practical, rationalized, and with a specific plan. We were always good listeners but now we put listening in the spotlight for the people who we are relating with. Before, we used to listen, but we had never said to someone, “hey I’m listening to you.” So, I think the whole experience of the 2020 Crash Course was making this explicit.
KK: How do you speak about feedback? What is SOLE’s specific terminology and language around feedback?
SF: SOLE stands for Self-Organized Learning Environments, and self-organized learning is a phenomenon of the living sciences. It’s a phenomenon of life on earth. The reason why we started doing self-organized learning was because it was a powerful and intuitive idea. Then we studied it and complexity sciences much more and that was when we understood that feedback loops are part of the processes of life.
I would say there are different levels in which we close loops. We close loops first at the level of learning in the sense that we are not teaching, we are inviting people to learn and they’re learning together. What we are giving them is the minimal conditions to learn on their own together. The process of learning is a looping process in which you have people ask questions, answer them together using themselves and the internet, and come up with new questions which are then part of the next iteration of a self-organized learning environment. The second level is us as an organization closing the loop with the people we relate with. We generally design our projects with the people whom we want to do the projects with. I know one of the terminologies that you use is the one of constituents, in SOLE Colombia we talk about participants, because the idea of participating means you’re actively taking part. It’s an idea of having participants being part of the process so that we are networks and we are not creating the beneficiary-organization relationship. The whole idea behind the network is that it becomes a self-managed network, and that’s a different level of the closing loop.
KK: Are there any things that you can identify that have been a challenge for you or for SOLE in closing the feedback loop?
SF: We don’t talk so much about the concept of challenges because when you think of complexity theory there isn’t this idea that you can plan, foresee what the result is going to be, and ask ‘am I hitting my result or not?’ When your understanding is guided by self-organization, you are understanding non-linear relations. Hence, what you understand is that you have a system of relations. There are many systems and what you can do is nudge the system. In that sense, this is not a pre-designed process where you can say I was going to do this and I had all these challenges to get to these results. Rather, we say, I’m testing this and seeing if this pressure point has a greater effect on the system or if this one has a greater effect. In our LabStorm, I began to understand that there are no challenges, there are just better ways of nudging the system.
KK: What differences have you seen happen in your participants, as we call them constituents, as a result of listening?
SF: One of the big things that changed is using technology to create community. We developed a way for maintaining a long term relationship with our community with the use of platforms like StartSOLE and Loomio. Technology played a huge role in us being able to gather feedback. First we had synchronous conversations through Virtual SOLE where the video call recordings are full of rich data and interactions. We also had asynchronous conversations which were on Loomio and people would write their thoughts, or somebody in a live conversation would take notes, and those notes would be posted for everybody to see and agree upon. That was a big action of gathering feedback in a different way and sharing it back. We also had other feedback tools which we used systematically to gather feedback – we had a survey with which we created infographics, extracted voices from the conversations and mapped the SOLE experience.
The second thing that changed with the creation of this community is people started creating relationships amongst themselves without us being at the center of it. That is very powerful because now teachers are becoming friends with other teachers in other places in the country or they are becoming friends with librarians and finding they have a common purpose. The third thing that changed is that our drive towards action became more evident. This is not only SOLE Colombia as an organization’s drive towards action but all the communities’ drive towards action. What we did was create a method for dialoging and driving that dialogue towards action.
KK: How has being part of the feedback community helped you expand your own network and your own community?
SF: I think relating with Feedback Labs has opened an understanding about many things. First, the need for international relations to move things within a country or a region. Attending the Summit brought the relationship with MJ Kaplan from Loomio and that was very powerful because we saw in each other what the other one needed to complement their specific action. Loomio was created for activities like ours but our methodology is what Loomio doesn’t have to create self-managed groups. We found that complementarity immediately. The relationship with the feedback community has been understanding how far we can go with being able to talk to Meg about what’s going on, or being able to talk with the other Feedback Fellows about what each one is living and doing. Those non-formal relationships are very powerful in giving you the energy, the support and a broad spectrum to act together.
KK: What piece of advice would you give someone who’s just starting on their feedback journey?
SF: Be humble. That’s my advice. There’s no right or wrong way to do feedback, but if you are humble you’ll probably do it in a nicer way with the people you’re relating with. When you are humble it means you are empathetic to their emotions and that you’re trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You don’t do feedback just because of feedback. Feedback happens because you are relating with somebody, because you are creating relationships, and relationships are the essence of life. Being humble is understanding that this is not about creating outcomes, it is about creating relationships.
This conversation highlighted the importance of leaning in to the feedback community. Sanjay Fernandes illustrated how leveraging the knowledge, experience and creativity of feedback champions in his community not only facilitated diversity but also a growth mindset in his work.
The Feedback Crash Course is a training that equips participants with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to listen and respond to feedback from the people they seek to serve. Participants receive expert mentorship, engage with case studies, and collaborate with peers. Throughout the interactive course, participants hone critical skills for understanding and implementing each step of the feedback loop and apply those skills to their own feedback challenges.
Sanjay Fernandes is from Bogotá, Colombia. He is the father of 2 beautiful boys, an economist, interaction designer, educator and electronic musician. His work at SOLE (Self-Organised Learning Environments) Colombia seeks to create a simple powerful solution to transform the future of education. SOLE is a disruptive education methodology developed by TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra. It empowers communities to develop: autonomy, collaboration, deep learning, and most important of all: it helps them solve real-life problems! Since 2014, Sanjay has scaled the methodology to reach more than 417,000 people of all ages in more than 800 schools, 1,400 public libraries and hundreds of public spaces with connectivity, in collaboration with the government, private companies, the social sector, and citizens.