Mekong


Communication and knowledge management (KM) are among the pillars of the ‘Research for Development’ (R4D) approach of the Nile Basin Development Challenge and the wider Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF), as the recently published NBDC institutional history stressed.

On 2 and 3 December 2013,  the CPWF organized a workshop on communication and knowledge management to review the results of CPWF in these areas.

The workshop involved twelve participants from the six basins involved in CPWF (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta), mostly communication/KM specialists but also the basin leaders for the Andes and Limpopo basins and an external consultant. Over the two days, they presented their communication and KM work and teased out some stories that illustrated the successes and challenges of each Basin’s experience. Finally, the group collectively developed a series of a) specific innovations that they thought were excellent examples that might be applied elsewhere and b) lessons and principles that matter for CKM to be performing better in wider programs.

The NBDC case was presented by Ewen Le Borgne:

Following this workshop, Michael Victor, the communication and knowledge management coordinator for CPWF was interviewed by Ewen Le Borgne to reflect back on the objectives and results of CPWF and NBDC. 

Ewen Le Borgne (ELB): What did CPWF set out to do with communication and knowledge management?

Michael Victor (MV):

When I arrived as a ‘comms guy’ I wanted to show that communication is not just about stories, but in CGIAR there was a lot of segmentation and silos. Boru Douthwaite (then head of CPWF Innovation and Impact) was very visionary about the integration of KM, comms, information management, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), so we had this great idea about integrating all these domains, wondering how to work together with people working in these related domains. And we struggled with that. We had a breakthrough meeting in 2012 where we started to see that learning was in the middle. The tools used in M&E (e.g. Outcome Mapping, Social Network Analysis) are not exclusive to it, they can be used for a whole series of purposes. There was recognition that we were bringing different expertise around similar tools. What we set out to do was to develop this overall approach, recognizing that we were moving towards programmatic approach to KM. this meant that different aspects of KM (M&E, Comms and Info) were seen as a strategic function helping research get to outcomes, rather than as administrative or support functions.

Michael Victor, leading communication work in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Photo credit: CPWF)

Michael Victor, leading communication work in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Photo credit: CPWF)

(ELB): What worked and what didn’t, generally?

(MV):  By the end, what worked well was this blurred boundaries approach. Everyone recognizes the role of KM in R4D, it’s very clear. That worked really well. Our whole decentralized approach worked really well, having this range of KM approaches across different basins, and how it came together was very valuable.

What didn’t work very well was moving communication activities beyond products and making sure they are seen as part of a wider change process.  We also did not evaluate and monitor our KM activities that well. The ‘learning’ or research on these aspects were weak and therefore has been difficult to show the benefits of this approach.

Perhaps also the comms side came off too strong, while other people (e.g. some basin leaders) wanted to understand the KM process behind this work.

(ELB): Specifically about the NBDC?

(MV):  When I started, I wanted to build upon the initial basins that were already developing their systems. Peter Ballantyne had this great approach of using NBDC as an experiment. I realized he had a vision and had the tools to do it. So I piggybacked what Peter did e.g. with CGSpace, rolling out wikis. NBDC were the first basin to roll out with the Mekong (and Andes).

One of the great things for NBDC was testing out all these tools and seeing it as an experiment for when CRPs were to be rolled out more widely

From the Mekong we also took ideas related to branding and identify (where the basin logos came from).

No other basin was developing anything replicable. NBDC was trying things in their institutional context, linking with innovation platforms, embedding comms and KM in the basin etc.

(ELB): How do we capitalize on the NBDC and CPWF work on communication and knowledge management?

(MV):  What we did last week (i.e. with the kmc4CRP workshop): Working with CGIAR Research Programs and focusing on one-on-one, face-to-face interactions, making sure that we have the stories readily accessible. We should try to get – whenever we can – other people to use existing websites, wikis etc. disseminating strategically.

See the results from the CPWF Communication and KM workshop

One of the ‘learning to innovate’ sessions in the 2011 Third International Forum on Water and Food looked at experiences within the CPWF with multi-stakeholder Platforms (MSP) and Innovation Platforms (IP).

The session started with a brief introduction, and then three presentations from Alan Duncan (ILRI/Nile – his presentation; a poster on innovation platforms), Andre van Rooyen (ICRISAT/Limpopo – his presentation) and Kim Geheb (Mekong – his presentation), each focusing on different ideas and experiences.

A ‘bus stop’ exercise followed, with a different but short presentation at each stop (see this video interview – in French – with Hubert Some from SNV).

Participants then formed into four groups to further discuss specific questions.

  1. How do we scale out such platform processes? Key notions include: replication; snowballing; relationships among the various stakeholders; step back to allow the process to move forward;  financial resources; the specific contexts; and skilled process facilitators …
  2. What are the most significant lessons and messages in this area for ‘research for development’? each process needs a vision, a dream; these processes  are complex and time-consuming to operationalize; we should not underestimate the role of networks; should informality receive institutional support?; multi-way communication is essential …
  3. What is new and innovative in the experiences shared? It explicitly concerned about benefits of specific groups of stakeholders; it is used to facilitate research through continuous dialogue; researchers are taking on broker roles; change results from processes that motivate multiple actors and networks;  innovations result from consolidating diverse actors …
  4. What are the research questions on platforms that could be addressed across CPWF Basins? How to monitor and track behavioural and institutional change; how can knowledge data and information be incorporated into how platforms do things, building up institutional learning over time; The need to compare different platform approaches and the outcomes they produce; How do local ownership processes develop in different contexts; Are there factors that constrain or prevent the success of such platforms, and how do we share these …

Watch the discussion group video reports:

Kim Meheb from the Mekong Basin rounded off the session by synthesizing the main ideas and lessons emerging. These include: There’s no ‘blueprint’ for doing multi-stakeholder platforms; one of the strengths of these approaches is they way they allow for things to change along a MSP process; we need to design processes to allow people to join along the way – a ‘snowballing’ effect; two-way dialogues between what research uncovers and what policymakers or local communities demand are important parts of what we want to achieve; the importance of the ‘capacity to listen’ is something that we need to pay much more attention to; we increase the potential for change ‘exponentially’ once trust enters the equation; and that ‘muddling through’ and opportunism are important aspects of ‘adaptive management’ … however, our organizations are often not good at grasping these opportunities – our structures and compliance mechanisms often inhibit this.

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