When Your Case is the One Being Studied
It is only when we think about where we began that we discover the magnitude of what we have achieved. Yet, we are often so preoccupied with future outcomes that it’s difficult to live in the present, let alone take a moment to reflect upon the past.
I decided to break this cycle by participating in the International Youth Foundation’s University Connect practicum, offered in partnership with the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Through the process, I worked one-on-one with Georgetown student Marvin Saccucci. He was tasked with developing a case study of BogotArt—the community arts venture I founded shortly after graduating university myself.
Through the reflection and exchange that is necessary when your case is the one being studied, I gained valuable insights on the elements of our venture that have defined our identity and shaped our impact over the years.
Through the process of being case studied, I was able to fully appreciate something I had not reflected on about my team. BogotArt is one of the few organizations in the city of Bogotá with incredible team diversity in terms of academic studies, cultures, religions, country of origin and socio-economic background. Perhaps this mixture of seemingly incompatible elements lies at the heart of our creativity and ability to innovate quickly.
When looking back, I saw that individuals come and go in the life cycle of an organization, but each of them contributes something unique to the DNA of the venture. The foundation for scaling a venture is built slowly by the team—which questions we ask, how we react to stressful situations, or even the way we greet one another.
The case study process helped me gain a new perspective on and appreciation for the role of teams in a start-up’s trajectory. As I reflected on when our venture had pivoted and why, I realized that when new team members arrived to the organization, they proposed ideas that addressed challenges that the existing team had ‘let slide’. For example, a team member who was new to BogotArt pushed us to develop a more effective communications strategy and create more customized proposals to deliver to our stakeholders. The fresh perspectives new team members bring to the venture are a motor of constant development.
Finally, I want to highlight the importance of being willing to fail, and accepting that along with creative ideas and ground breaking projects comes moments of failure. As an organization working in the field of the arts and culture, constantly reinventing ourselves is part of our never-ending performance. When looking back at the work of BogotArt, I saw evidence that it’s okay for a project not to work as expected, however, it’s important to respond in a constructive way that helps us become stronger in the future.
This case study opened the doors to self-reflection and becoming more aware of what we’ve achieved and where we still have room to develop. During the case study process, we realized that by hosting our community arts events at formal locations like community and cultural centers, we were limiting the number of community members we could reach. We decided to introduce art education to the streets—by hosting events outside for all passersby to join in, we saw a notable increase in workshop participation and community engagement more broadly.
I always thought that case studies were meant to teach others about a successful organization’s model and methodologies. Through this process, I’ve learned that the organization whose case is being studied is in for its own share of learning and growth.
Leonardo Párraga is the founder of BogotArt, where he works to empower youth and community members to identify local needs and develop arts-based solutions. Through its democratization of the arts, neighborhoods in Bogotá once characterized by discrimination and violence are being transformed into cultural hubs.