A platform for facilitating contacts between expert visitors to low- income countries and interested institutions

Report to the Board of Directors of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP)

 

Ype H. Poortinga, March 2004

 

Introduction

This report results from an initiative by former president Bernhard Wilpert and current president Michael Frese. They asked me to explore the scope for an international exchange scheme through which well-qualified psychologists visiting low-income countries could make their expertise available to local colleagues and students. The scheme should come at low and affordable costs to the recipients.

On the one hand, numerous psychologists with expertise in some field who plan to visit, or may be willing to visit, a low-income country, are quite prepared to share their knowledge free of charge. On the other hand, local psychologists and psychology students may be interested in meeting with and listening to these experts. However, the two parties are rarely in contact with each other. It would probably be helpful if some means existed through which such contact could be facilitated. At the present time and age an information exchange platform in the form of a web page in the Internet appears to be an evident solution.

Over the past 1½ years I have talked to colleagues from Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Mexico, South Africa and a few East-European countries about their potential interest in knowing about visitors who would like to come to their respective countries and the likelihood of inviting them to their university or institute for a presentation, lecture or workshop (no names of informants are mentioned, as these conversations were informal).

From a search of the web the Rotary Friendship Exchange Program emerged as a well-developed model. This example has been used to some extent for the scheme outlined below.

Also considered were exchange programs for managers who go to work for a certain period as advisers for companies in low-income countries, usually toward the end of their careers.

 

Defining a contact platform

1. Scope:

A platform as described in this report is meant to facilitate contacts between prospective visitors to and hosts in low-income countries. The hosts most likely are universities or institutions with a program in psychology. Visits can range from a single lecture via a workshop or series of lectures up to a full semester of teaching. The platform is not meant to provide a mediation role for cooperative research projects.

 

2. Mode of operation and operating costs

The platform takes the form of a web page. The page has four parts:

(i) statement of purpose and regulations,

(ii) names of institutions that have expressed an interest in receiving expert visitors, organized per country,

(iii) names and addresses, and intended destinations, of individual experts interested in sharing their knowledge,

(iv) a brief curriculum vitae of each expert mentioned under (iii).

Any institution and person listed receives an individual access code from the web master to consult the web page, enabling both prospective hosts and prospective visitors to take the initiative in seeking contact.

The web master screens the credibility of institutions and individuals seeking to be listed (see below), updates the web page at two-weekly intervals, and removes information that has become obsolete.

To keep costs low, the web page forms part of the web page of the IAAP.

The web master holds an honorary position and does not receive a fee.

 

3. Participation by institutions

University departments of psychology and other institutions which employ five psychologists or more and that are located in non-OECD countries can request the web master to be listed on the web page with name, address, e-mail and up to ten brief phrases or key-words indicating specializations within psychology. With the request for listing the institution submits a copy of a psychology curriculum or other evidence showing a bona fide interest in the platform.

By applying for a listing an institution commits itself to reply to any psychologist listed on the web page making an inquiry about a possible visit.

An institution that has been listed can request at any time to have this listing removed.

Once per year the institution will inform the web master whether the listing should be continued, mentioning whether the platform has led to any visits during the past year, and if so the number of such visits and the duration of each.

The web master can remove entries that after a few years have not demonstrably led to any positive result.

As a rule the host institution will be expected to take financial responsibility for the board and lodging of a visitor during the visit. For a single presentation this would imply an overnight stay and dinner. Hospitality will be at the level that is customary for colleagues from the same country (for example, implying an hotel or university guest house in traditional style rather than a luxury tourist hotel).

 

4. Participation by individuals

An expert in some area of psychology with an interest in visiting a country or region can send an application to the web master asking to be listed on the Web page for a period of three months.

The following information is to be supplied:

- Name, postal address, and e-mail address

- Area of expertise; up to five short phrases or key words

- Languages spoken more or less fluently

- Country or region of interest

- Period of intended visit

- Statement of interest (assignments that will be considered (e.g., teaching a course; series of seminars; single seminar only)

The applicant also will submit a two-page CV describing area of expertise, professional background, previous experience in the target country/region, and listing a selection of publications.

The web master will evaluate the CV of the applicant with the following criteria in mind: At least eight years of experience since a PhD was obtained, and an average of at least 1.0 (co)authored peer reviewed publications in international journals (i.e. journals not published in the country where the applicant has lived and worked most of the time during the last eight years), or equivalent book publications (including published manuals for intervention programs or tests).

The web master removes an individual entry after maximally three months and will make the corresponding entry code ineffective.

A new application to be listed will be honored after a period of nine months, as well as when a listing has led to a visit. In the latter case a new listing for a period of three months can be applied for on completion of the visit.

Non-members of IAAP pay a fee of Euro 25 when applying to be listed. This amount is deducted from the first annual membership fee, if the Secretary-General receives a membership application form within a period of two months.

 

5. Marketing

          The webpage needs to be advertised widely, not only in the IAAP Newsletter, but through a wide variety of means, including, for example, the IAAP conference booth at international congresses, the platform sections of the International Journal of Psychology, the European Psychologist, the APA Monitor, etc., and in conjunction with marketing for ARTS.

 

5. A spirit of trust

The platform is based on mutual trust. Institutions that are listed should have a program of seminars, or similar scheme, with a (small) budget for visitors. An individual should express interest in a visit only when there is a high likelihood that this will be realized within the period mentioned. After an arrangement has been made both parties should be expected to realize their part of the agreement.

 

6. A comment on timing

          Generally the program for a visit will have to be finalized at least a month before the date of departure of a visitor (to qualify for less expensive airline tickets). Taking one month for e-mail exchanges to negotiate arrangements and several weeks for establishing a first contact, a prospective visit is best listed on the web page almost half a year in advance. A prospective visitor should be aware of major academic vacation periods in the country/ies to be visited.

 

Expressions of interest

The proposed platform is meant to be to the advantage of psychologists and institutions in low-income countries. The first condition is a sufficient level of interest in expert visitors within the countries concerned. The reactions to the notion of foreign expert visitors that I gathered in conversations with various colleagues were extremely varied. I had one unconditionally positive response. The large majority of respondents indicated that they very much welcome foreign visitors. However, they were thinking mainly of colleagues whom they know and appreciate or whose work they are familiar with; they did not seem to be waiting so much for unsolicited requests for visits to their institute by colleagues they never have heard of. A minority mentioned explicitly that they were unlikely to make use of a scheme as described, mostly arguing that a visit of a foreign expert usually can be realized (often with funds from the home country of the guest) when there is a serious commitment on both sides. None of the respondents reacted explicitly negative.

          On the one hand, there seems to be only a limited interest. On the other hand, the scope of the platform is enormous, even if only a small proportion of the thousands of potentially qualifying universities and institutions would join.

          The second question is how many qualified experts will be interested in visits as described. I have not collected information on this point. However, also in this respect the potential is large and a platform for contacts could be viable if only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of qualifying psychologists would seek to be listed.

 

Conclusion

This report describes a platform that can greatly facilitate the means of establishing contacts between experts in psychology willing to share knowledge and experience with colleagues in low-income countries, and host institutions in these countries. A further assessment of the extent of interest in such a scheme, in the form proposed or in a modified form, may be indicated before IAAP commits itself.

 

Comments and notes

This section has comments on the principles and merits of a platform (upper case numerals), and notes on some practical choices (lower case numerals).

 

I. The platform as described is an instance of undiluted one-way North-South traffic and not an “exchange” scheme. The scheme is vulnerable to the assertion that it is meant for rich psychologists to visit poor psychologists; by implication expertise of the latter is not made visible. Although none of the colleagues I talked to mentioned this, I feel that the platform as proposed is unbalanced in not supporting travel by psychologists from low-income countries, and that it smells of western imposition and inexpensive tax deductible vacations. In my view IAAP should no get involved, unless such impressions can be avoided.

Ia. I have not found a reasonable solution to this problem. The way to deal with it may seem to formally make an exchange scheme between institutions and individuals, not mentioning anything about low-income countries and low costs. Financial arrangements would be left to the two parties concerned. This would perhaps make inequalities less visible but not lead to two-way traffic. At the same time, it would obscure the original intention of making expertise available to psychologists in low-income countries.

 

II. An open access format to information has been chosen , in the sense that any institution or person listed can see all information on the web page. The impressions of one-way traffic can be largely avoided in a closed system in which there is a coordinator who matches potential hosts with potential visitors. I have not developed this option as it involves such an amount of work that a webmaster prepared to do this is unlikely to be found. This coordinator would have to approach universities actively to get a sufficiently large set of potential hosts, and would have to advertise widely among individual psychologists. If the coordinator were to levy fees for the services, and this would seem unavoidable, I am pretty sure that there would be very limited interest or no interest whatsoever.

 

III. The notion of experts implies that some form of quality control is needed. This has been basically restricted to crude measures of length of profesisonal experience and scientific output. Other sensible criteria, such as experience with psychological education in low-income countries, are hard to implement. The proposals amount to minimal measures rather than to a satisfactory solution.

 

IV. From the information I gathered it seems that a platform as proposed may be poorly suited to what the intended beneficiaries would want. I think that IAAP should gather more information from both hosts and visitors before committing itself.

 

(i). It is suggested that local hosts meet costs for board and lodging. The visitor is entitled to have some evidence of a genuine interest on the part of the host before adapting plans and incurring (extra) costs to the location of the host. A (limited) financial commitment seems to be the most convenient way in which this can be realized.

 

(ii) The web master also should preferably also take some responsibility for evaluation of the platform (number of visits, satisfaction, etc.) through soliciting feedback from participating instituions and individuals.

 

(iii) My guess is that most universities will not consult the web page at regular intervals; most initiatives will probably come from prospective visitors. The re is no public access to prevent that any psychologist with travel plans can make use of the platform leading to institutions being flooded by unsollicited offers of poorly qualified colleagues.

 

(iv) Listings of individuals are for a limited time, to prevent that persons who are of no apparent interest to any prospective host will clog the web page.

 

(v). By incorporating the platform in the IAAP web page, ownership of the scheme is clearly with IAAP and costs should be minimal.

 

(vi). The visibility gained for IAAP, if the platform would take off, is more important than a 25 Euro levy. It may well be more profitable to let non-members make use of the platform free of charge, and send a membership application form once they are listed.

 

 

 

 
Workshops in Mexico:
 
1.            Susan Pick (sponsored by UNAM and IAAP) "Life skills as the bases for the Development of Health and Poverty Reduction Models" (60 students). May, 2004
2.            Ype Poortinga "Theoretical and Practical Bases of Evaluation" sponsored by IAAP and UNAM (65 students), July, 200
3.            Martha Givaudan "Interventions in Integral Community Development" sponsored by IAAP and IMIFAP (20 students), July, 2004