interview L. + T.

T Okay, so can you recall a moment in the project when an issue or problem came up? Do you remember how it was solved? And if it wasn't solved, what could have been done to solve it?

L There are so many moments I could think of. Because I'm not a participant in the project, and I'm not part of the teacher team. As I am the director, I'm only told or called when there is an issue… I have a lot of examples in mind. So let's see, what can I share.

One of the partner institutions, for example, had a governance issue, quite serious problems that led to the departure of the director, part of the administrative staff and of some teachers. As this is a European-funded project, you need a minimum of three institutions. If one of the institutions leaves the project, it is stopped, and you have to reimburse the money to Erasmus. When this issue came up, a great part of the budget had already been spent, groups of participants were at work. And above all, when the issue came up, the difficulties in the group were already high as we had to work at a distance.

So, how did I, as coordinator, address this? The point was not to deny that there was a problem, but to find a way to keep the institution I am responsible for safe, and to be able to give a retribution, even a small one to the people still implicated in the project. I decided then to address the other institution with the governance issue at the institution level and not at a personal level. The persons with whom we wrote the application together were not there anymore. They had left because of the incident at the school. So I had to go to a higher responsible in the problematic institution. I had to call the boss of the director that left, I had to call the board of that school and ask “Who is now accountable for this situation? And what is happening to this project? Could you please confirm your engagement in that project that is midway through? And you have to ensure that if you are still engaged, you will follow through to the end. You need to take responsibility and be accountable for your level of power.” It was impossible for us, the project coordinators, to work with the dysfunctional governance of one of the partner organizations. This is something I can share. When you sign a convention for a project between institutions, then it is the institution that is accountable, not individuals in this institution. If you encounter a serious problem with the persons involved, do address the board of the institution. And if three institutions minimum are needed, do the project with four, you never know what can happen. In our case, I addressed the accountability of the President of the Board. I found out who is employing the director, who is paying the director and who signed the contract. If the director and the administration go missing, you need to know who will be accountable and responsible for the institution? So I eventually found that person and wrote emails and found a phone number. And so I really got the President of the Board of that institution to confirm their engagement and responsibility for the European project. Okay. But it's still complicated, because then back at the level of the school, the new people that came in to replace the ones who left are not informed about the project.

T Yes, when we set up a project, we never know who we're gonna end up working with. We don't know their ethics and the practices, ultimately, we take it on face value and on trust.

LYes. And this was also the problem: who is finally accountable in this kind of project that implicates the institution level? In this case, the first persons implicated are teachers, students, participants, but they can be held responsible. And if the governance is dysfunctioning, as I told, I can call to another level of power, but I do understand that it can be unbearable for the people to work in this institution. Meanwhile they can leave and they did, I have to stay and assume the responsibility at my level. People can just walk away. I cannot. The responsibility of the money that was on my own head and institution, and I'm accountable as “leader” of the project. I mean, the director can leave. I always say that I will never do a European project with people I never worked with. My mistake was that I did trust the teachers we developed the project with, but they cannot be held responsible, especially if the institution that worked with is dysfunctioning. I was working with the institution, not with individuals.

T This is why it's always interesting to think about three, involving the student, the teacher, and in this case, the institution.

L As I said earlier, I'm dysfunctional. It's because I embody different positions all the time. For example, now I am acting within the project. I have take a participant position, which was not planned in the application and allocation of time and responsibilities. I am not sure I should have. I also felt that we all had to compensate for the non work of the ISBA team and admin. But I cannot help myself, I am thinking always all the processes, and I end up acting at every level, but then I can really fail, I make mistakes, and since I am accountable, everything going wrong is my responsibility. It is maybe a problem because if I wouldn't have acted like this, this project will have been over; I don't know.