MS: Minna Seikkula, Interviewer
AAA: Aminkeng Atabong Alemanji, Respondent
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MS: Hello to all the listeners of our podcast series. My name is Minna Seikkula and I’m here at the Soc&kom studio with my colleague Aminkeng Atabong Alemanji. So hello Amin, how are you today?
AAA: Hello Minna, thank you I’m doing well, how are you?
MS: I’m good. I’m really glad to have the chance to have this talk with you and catch up with the research you’ve done during the past couple of years in the sectional border struggles and disobedient knowledge in activism project. So, maybe we can just start by you telling us in like the broad picture, what’s your research been about and what have you done basically.
AAA: Thank you. For the past four years I’ve been creating an anti-racism mobile phone app in Finland. The whole idea of a mobile phone app came when I did my PHD. I published two articles about mobile phone app as a potential tool for anti-racism cation. So when I had the chance to do this research, I took that, I was very excited to kind of try to create a mobile phone app that would work for Finland, but I didn’t want the app to be what I wanted. I wanted it to be a reflection of what people will potentially use, what exactly they want to have in a mobile phone app. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past four years. Although (-) [01:46] phone is two years I expanded my project but working part time on the project and I did that for four years and it was really amazing four years.
MS: This sounds very interesting and maybe also a little bit out of ordinary. So part of your research has been to create this mobile phone app. Maybe we can say the name also. Finland without racism, right?
AAA: Yes, that’s the Finland without racism and it’s available on both Android and iOS.
MS: Could you tell a little bit more about the project, you said you wanted potential users to be part of the app development. How does one start and how did you go about it?
AAA: So basically, the original idea was to have several groups of people involved in the creation of these have these different for example. Students from our international school, students from a Finnish school, and also anti-racism activists involved. But (-) [02:53] with the international school. And the reason why I chose the international school was for language purposes, who could speak in English so we could collect the data in English as a test. And then we could do that in Finnish school and then that the next one activist. Nightwork. And so I returned to this international school where I’ve done research previously on the mobile phone app. It was natural place to go, I wanna expand this idea and I met a wonderful teacher who I had worked with earlier and he was (-) [03:30] so when I introduced the idea of the app to him, he said that’s a very blunt idea, he had a class called and that class was supposed to design something. It was an ICT-class. And so we decided to have the students in the design class design an anti-racism mobile phone app. So, this class I think there were ten boys, and I hoped there were girls but they were doing a girls, and one of the boys identified as black and the rest identified as white. And it was a very exciting period because the students were very excited about designing an app. It was the first time when they had a chance to design something which they could see, they could hold, they could touch. So I went with my research assistant, and we spent I think three months working with the students. The first thing we did was we introduced existing mobile phone apps to them. These apps were from different countries, from Australia, the US, Sweden, the UK and we showed them different apps, Malaysia, hey what do you think about the apps, think about the pros and cons of these apps, and critique the app and use these ideas a guide towards greeting a design for more (-) [05:01] you would potentially like. And the students were doing really active. One of the first anti-racism task we acted to reflect on was to think about the different racial groups in Finland. And to think about how (-) [05:19] racism and what kind of solutions they could suggest that would help these with different groups. And also thinking about both the design of the app and also an anti-racism element regards to Finland. And so we divided the groups into two and we asked them to create two competing designs and the idea was that when the two competing sides were done, prototypes were done, would have most of the school come in and vote for the best design. So I also had an app designer (-) [06:08] discussing with actively. So when I had the idea I had to draw the idea, design the ideas and we had a meeting with the app designer, the app designer would then create, transform these ideas into a prototype for them to see what they wanted they could decide the colour they could decide what kind of games they wanted. They did that for a month or two. It was really fun, he had a lot of fun just trying to people of creating a solution to a problem they had identified. And after six weeks, we had (-) [06:48] attained and (-) [06:51] meet in the big hall of the school and the two different groups presented the app prototype designed to their mates. And one of the prototypes are called World Without Racism won. They won because the idea they had was very fascinating. But then the other group that lost, had the best game. So we said okay, we’re not gonna just throw away the best game, so we (--) [07:31] go back to the drawing board with them and say okay this is the winning app, but the losing app is not going to just disappear. Let’s try to incorporate the game from the team that lost, into the team that won. So both groups worked together to actually create a single prototype. And we did that for two weeks and then covid hit. So we had to leave the school. When we left the school, the prototype we had was pretty okay.
MS: Sounds really exciting. I don’t know, would you like to say something about, I just the thoughts that come to my mind as a researcher you put here yourself in a position where you are maybe dependent is the wrong word, but give a lot of responsibilities to the people you collaborate with and also you can’t control what the students then did. How does that feel as a researcher?
AAA: It was very scary, because at the end of the day I had to take responsibility of the outcome of that research. So, it was very challenging but I trusted the students, because I think sometimes people criticise earlier or specifically on the app and say that why is it just the majority of people who worked on this are white. And majority of people we think are the problem when it comes to racism in Finland are white. So what is the problem if these white kids are involved in working on the app. Because they can identify the problem. They can design what they think that people like them want to have in an app. So I was counting on that when I put the responsibility on them. And one of the things that happened, that during covid, I actually decided to also participating in the app as a participant. Soo before covid I was just an observer and guiding. So when covid hit, I sat down and asked myself that okay, what I have is okay, but it’s not good enough to be an app. So I wanted to add a different mentions to the app, so the app would not just be an app for ten-year-old kids, or ten-year-old boys or fourteen-year-old teenagers. I wanted it to be something that could be used by different people from different ages. So I then looked back at my work as a researcher on racism in Finland and I asked myself what has been the biggest problem so far when it comes to issues of racism in Finland and the Finnish public. And one of the things I identified is that very often people don’t have or no way to report racism. So if they’ve experienced instances of racism there is no place, people don’t really know how to report it. Where to. (-) [10:52] is going to be taken into consideration. So as a researcher what I decided to do, after the covid period, was to then add that element into the app so I designed a section where people can report instances or racism. And basically what I did, that section has specifically two different links and one of the links is to the ombudsman where you can just go in to the exact place where you have to put the report. Those sites exist but they are always shrouded, they are always hidden in between sites, you have to go through different sites to get there, but with the app you can just go in straight to the exact place and place the report.
MS: So sounds like you really also considered, not just the impact of your research but am I now, correct me but you were thinking of the impact you can do through this cocreated app.
AAA: I was thinking about because the app is just a tool, right, and one of the things about a tool is that it has to be functional, it has to be functional to as many people as possible. So what I was doing, okay, for example, there are two sections that we created is called the learning phase, and the test phase. So when the learning phase actually designed different kinds of videos, shot videos from the YouTube. Educational videos where people won’t just learn about racism (--) [12:37] racism is. The test phase has a series of questions but it’s two lanes mostly which has to do with follow-up after learning phase. (-) [12:56] open-ended questions about what racism is, is it bad, just open-ended questions. And then there is the report phase which I designed which I added to it. And also there’s also a phase called the report racism in Finland. That is actually inspired by one of the games designed by the student which was called Privileged Walk. So I looked at the game that the student designed, said what do I want to do with this game. So then I had an idea which I sold to one artist and asked her to kind of design a race, kind of track race where there are three different characters. It’s very interesting concept. These three characters have the same Finnish point, but they have different starting points on the track. But they have the same race, but they have different starting points and the same finish point. Although they have different starting points, the (-) [14:03] characters which have more different upcycles on the tracks. And the idea is to have people look into that (-) [14:16] have a discussion around that, and ask for example who’s gonna win the race. Who could win this race and why. Why do some people have different starting points are more advanced starting points than others. Because in Finland there is this idea of equality, it’s something we don’t really think about and reflect on because we have different social capitals. Different groups in Finland have different social capital. And that means that they have different advantages which gives them an urge in terms of access and output. And that’s not really something most people reflect on. While we think about equality, we should think about equality when it comes to outcomes. Output. Not just about input.
MS: That sounds very important. So in the research project we worked with this notion of disobedient knowledge. Would you like to somehow tie it to the work you’ve been describing?
AAA: Yeah. (-) [15:20] I really like because one of the things I’ve reflected on doing this process is (-) [15:33] knowledge. The knowledge I produce is itself, this will be the knowledge because if you look at literatures on race, people who look like me can produce knowledge. So the fact that I am even producing this kind of knowledge and this kind of knowledge is a form to be the knowledge. And if you also look at the practicalities of the research and using action participating research, having these particular students giving their power to produce knowledge (-) [16:11] because I am asking them, the task was to come up with a design, what I asked them to do was to think about racism and anti-racism in these forces. Now, the knowledge that the students gained from doing these, from creating these are gonna stay with them. No matter how successful the app ends up being, because during that period, the students learned about what racism is, not about how to be anti-racist. This was kind of majors they wanted to reflect in the app. So, in a nutshell, what I’m trying to say here, is that with a bit of knowledge, the forces of producing knowledge has been the most important, has been the most important for me in this research because through that process one of the (-) [17:10] think about the students creating this whole form of disobedient knowledge.
MS: That’s very cool. If we then go to lessons learned. Is there something you would like to highlight. What did you learn or is there something if someone is considering trying to do this kind of rather experimental research, what would you tell them?
AAA: I think the first advice I give is please try not to bite more than you can chew. Try to take it small. I think the idea they had with the app originally was so big. If I wasn’t interrupted by covid-19, I think that I was heading towards a waterfall, just to fall. All I did could never have worked. If I had to work with these different groups. It would’ve been a challenge. So covid-19 helped me to stop, think, and work on what I had. Because sometimes we think of collecting a lot of data and producing some new things, but things we already have are good enough. Things are never good enough and then we have to go out there and try to do more or get more or try to produce more. So I think the best advice I can give is that less is more and trust your research participants. And let them lead, just let their voice shine and give them a chance to take the front role (-) [18:57] our voice is what people hear. And then interpret people’s voices, participant’s voice, and we are the ones who take the shine at the end of the day. But with participants in your research, my participants actually what they have in mind was able to shine through this app.
MS: I like that, and I think there’s a lot to think about for many researchers. Trust research participants. So, thank you for this conversation Amin, I would have one final question for you. Are you going to continue with this in this realm of mobile apps or what’s the next thing for you?
AAA: Yes and no. The whole idea of the app is I’m interested in looking at different methods of anti-racism. That’s my biggest interest. How can we do anti-racism differently using different tools and because we live in a very digitalised world we spend a lot of time on our phones, our handheld device, it was very important to me to have some anti-racism element, some anti-racism tool that would actually exist in that indoors areas. For the future what I am planning to do is I’m planning to apply for funding, to expand the usability of this tool. Because this is just a tool. So I’m hoping if I have funding I can train teachers how to use this tool in the classroom, how to use this tool in workshops. Because very often we just complain that they don’t have anti-racism textbooks, or anti-racism tools, this could be a potential tool that they can use in their work and also the app development doesn’t end here. This is version 1.0, there is going to be version 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.0, we are going to continue producing and developing the app much more. So that’s the future. The future is to continuously expand on this particular tool and see how much we can get out of it.
MS: Sounds both very important, anti-racism tools for teachers in Finnish schools, I think everyone understands the very urgent need of that, but also continuous development of the app, it’s different from research paper that is out there. You can continue on building on that one. So thank you again Amin for this conversation. It was lovely to talk with you about your research, and let’s just repeat the name one more time, the app, Finland without Racism.
AAA: Yes, Finland without Racism, and it’s available, it can be found on the Google Play Store and iOS store.
MS: So where you get your regular apps. Thanks Amin.
AAA: Thank you Minna, it was lovely talking with you.