Search Results for 'innovation platforms'


Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Innovation systems thinking is increasingly influencing approaches to sustainable agricultural development in developing world contexts. This represents a shift away from technology transfer towards recognition that agricultural change entails complex interactions among multiple actors and a range of technical, social and institutional factors.

One option for practically applying innovation systems thinking involves the establishment of innovation platforms (IPs). Such platforms are designed to bring together a variety of different stakeholders to exchange knowledge and resources and take action to solve common problems. Yet relatively little is known about how IPs operate in practice, particularly how power dynamics influence platform processes.

This paper focuses on a research-for-development project in the Ethiopian highlands which established three IPs for improved natural resource management. The ‘power cube’ is used to retrospectively analyse the spaces, forms and levels of power within these platforms and the impact on platform processes and resulting interventions. The overall aim is to highlight the importance of power issues in order to better assess the strengths and limitations of IPs as a model for inclusive innovation.

Findings suggest that while IPs may achieve some short-term success in creating spaces for wider participation in decision-making processes, they may be significantly influenced by forms of power which may not always be visible or easily challenged.

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Activities conducted as part of NBDC innovation platform work in Fogera (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

Activities conducted as part of NBDC innovation platform work in Fogera (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

This paper draws lessons from two years of work with ‘innovation platforms’ that were established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) program in an attempt to strengthen landscape-level rainwater management in Ethiopia. The NDBC’s work included the use of an innovation fund to support pilot interventions.

This paper particularly reviews questions of political economy and equity in platform activities and examines decision-making processes, the roles and level of influence of different platform members, the nature of platform-community relations and the extent to which different groups are benefiting.

The information presented in this working paper was gathered from a mixture of sources: interviews conducted with platform members; observation of meetings and activities by NBDC staff; official minutes of platform meetings and other associated events (e.g. training sessions) and informal discussions between NBDC staff and platform members.

This paper is the latest of a ‘research for development (R4D)’ series of working papers developed by the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF).

Read the working paper ‘Innovation Platforms to Enhance Participation in Rainwater Management: Lessons from The Nile Basin Development Challenge with a Particular Focus on Political Economy and Equity Issues‘.

Discover the rest of the CPWF’s R4D working paper series.

Fogera Woreda is one of the three “Research for Development” intervention sites for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project. A local Innovation Platform (IP) was established to bring different stakeholders together for knowledge sharing, joint planning and implementation of development intervention.

The IP was used as an instrument to identify and prioritize major Natural resource Management (NRM) challenges through a participatory multi-stakeholder process. Free grazing emerged as a key NRM challenge and fodder development interventions were proposed as an entry point to tackle the problem of land degradation and animal feed shortage in the area.

In 2012 the fodder intervention was piloted at Gebere-Gesa village, in Wej-Awramba Kebele, after a baseline assessment was carried out by IP Technical Group (TG) members. In the village a total of 20 farmers were involved in the fodder development intervention. Farmers sowed and planted improved fodder species on the communal grazing land and backyard to deal with the problem. Different fodder species mainly Sesbania, Vetivar, Elephant grass, Cow pea and Pigeon Pea were introduced. All of the farmers showed interest in the intervention as they have serious livestock feed shortage and have witnessed how their communal land biomass production is decreasing over the years.

Even though the intervention went well initially and the IP was successful in introducing the fodder, it was not able to proceed as planned on the communal grazing land as farmers started uprooting the plants. The community was fearful of losing the communal grazing land which is also a place for important social events and religious festivals. Farmers had recently experienced government-led NRM interventions where degraded steep slopes were enclosed for rehabilitation, to be only used for bee keeping by the village youth. Farmers were not happy as they thought it limited their access to the resources and ruled out their sense of ownership.

When the new fodder intervention on the communal grazing land was brought by TG members, they thought the government might be “planning” again to claim their communal land despite the challenges they are facing. Being relatively new to community engagement the members of the IP technical group were not able to introduce an adequate and carefully facilitated process to build trust and ensure an effective dialogue. According to a Woreda expert, lack of follow up and consultation has boosted farmers’ skepticism about new interventions. This time Gebere Gesa farmers are trying the fodder development in their backyards and are willing to scale it up if they have better access to fodder seed and seedlings.

A new start
Thus, IP members shifted their intervention site to Gunguf Village where previous fodder development activities had started on communal grazing land (size of 1.5 ha) owned by 13 farmers with support from a development agent. This intervention was successful as the farmers already agreed among themselves and were ready to accept the intervention plan with full confidence. These farmers were relatively better suited for the intervention than the farmers in Gebere-Gesa, since they had large-sized communal grazing land and each farmer also owned private grazing land.

The TG members have been backstopping the farmers with training and input supply from the Innovation Fund of the Challenge Program for Water and Food to start over-sowing different improved fodder species in the communal land and backyards. Farmers developed bylaws to protect the communal land and were able to harvest a good amount of fodder and shared it equally among themselves.

This intervention also addressed equity issue among the farmers: Birke is heading a household without livestock but she has benefited from the sales of fodder that she shared from the communal land. Farmers were happy to continue developing fodder for the seasons to come and decided to allocate land for the establishment of a nursery site to increase the supply of improved fodder species seeds in their vicinity.

In 2013 the IP agreed to continue supporting the Gunguf farmers and added a new site called Chebi village. An estimated 200 m2 forage nursery site was established in Gunguf to be used as a seed/seedling source. This time,  58 farmers from both villages were involved in the fodder development intervention. Drawing upon lessons from Gebere Gesa the IP members saw to a better consultation process with farmers, whereby a portion of the communal grazing land was used for the intervention leaving the rest for important social events.

Good and promising results
In Gunguf, farmers witnessed the benefits of the intervention. Yeshi, a female farmer, explained how the new fodder intervention had helped improve her daily milk production from 1 liter to 2.5 liters per cow. All households in the village are now feeding their animals using cut-and-carry fodder from their communal land and backyards.

Most farmers in Gunguf are now stall-feeding their livestock in the dry season and only let them out in June, when all stored feed is depleted. A few farmers even traded their crop land for fodder and leased plots from other nearby farmers to cultivate food crops. Stall-feeding has another advantage for them: the farmers are now able to send their children to school, while before they would have spent their time on the field with the animals.

Training was given in 2012 on forage development and urea treatment and an experience visit was organized at Gunguf where farmers from eight Kebeles participated and shared lessons learned from the Gunguf experience. Woreda experts have a positive attitude vis-à-vis the NBDC intervention where integrated rainwater management approaches are combined options.

This intervention gave farmers access to enough alternative animal feed sources while at the same time helping to rehabilitate the natural resource base. For a researcher from Bahir Dar University, this was one of the main reasons why previous fodder intervention focusing only on rehabilitation of communal grazing land failed.

The change starts from those who are affected by the problem being around the table with those who want to experiment research and deliver options for development, sitting as equal partners. (Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda)

Science alone cannot help Africa feed itself. That was a strong message from Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) at the recent Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW) organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), 15-19 July, 2013.

In a special session organized by the Challenge Program for Water and Food, Dr. Sibanda and other key resource persons lauded engagement platforms for the efforts they make to bring together local farmers, scientists and others to collaboratively unearth innovative solutions to the challenge of food security, in Africa and the rest of the world.

 

“I think that’s what the innovation platforms have brought: a new way of doing business, where you don’t stop at project level but you move vertically to inform change at a higher level: district, national and regional level”.

The FANRPAN CEO stressed that innovation platforms have an essential function in “equipping actors to be drivers of change” through research evidence.

Her words were echoed by innovation platform members from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) in Ethiopia:  Mussie Melekot (Bahir Dar University) and Andenet Deresse (Ambo University emphasized the role of innovation platforms in helping local farmers and other actors develop joint strategies for natural resource management.

In Ethiopia, after extensive consultation and joint assessment with local actors, innovation platforms members prioritized soil fertility, land degradation and free grazing as the main issues to address. But innovation platforms do not stop at the level of problem identification: “We are planting improved forage on the communal grazing areas; we are also developing different strategies for planting around the backyard; we are also treating crop residues…”

More from the Nile BDC at the AASW event

More about innovation platforms – a key part of the research for development approach adopted by the Nile BDC.

The NBDC sent five representatives including two local innovation platform (IP) members to a special session on ‘engagement platforms’ at the sixth Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW) organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), 15-19 July.

The session was organised as a Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) event and featured representatives from the three African basins: Limpopo, Nile and Volta.

Andenet Deresse (instructor at Ambo University) and Dr. Mussie Haile Melekot (professor at Bahir Dar University) represented the Nile Basin Innovation platforms in a talk show hosted by Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

Watch the video: Harnessing innovations for food security – innovation platforms in Ethiopia’s Nile Basin Development Challenge

With additional support from Zelalem Lema, research officer at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, the Nile delegation also shared some lessons and hopes regarding engagement platforms:

  • Incentives are key! It is difficult for IP members to remain motivated but capacity development on research, networking etc. really helps. Unforeseen incentives that appear along the way also strengthen members buy in and IP teams should pay attention to these.
  • Financial incentives give a hint about sustainability. Will IP members still come to the meetings and remain engaged in the process if we stop paying them? We have to ask these questions early on and find out if people are ready to invest in IPs by themselves. This says a lot about the potential sustainability of these platforms.
  • Formalising IPs is a great way to clarify roles and responsibilities and limit problems of participation. The NBDC developed terms of reference and a legal structure which explained who should be part of it, when and how to meet etc. Despite this, membership turnover did hamper progress and some discussions that had been dealt with in the past kept resurfacing.
  • Balancing long term natural resource management with short term value chain benefits: As an overall take home message, the NBDC team learned that a value chain approach brings short term results and perhaps they should use this approach – around fodder interventions for example – to create good impact and incentives for all IP members.

The session also featured presentations by Dr. Alain Vidal (Director of the Challenge Program for Water and Food) and Dr. Olufunke Coffie (Basin Leader for the Volta Basin Development Challenge). After the IP talk show, participants zoomed in on five different topics: how to set up IPs, how to engage with policy (using IPs), how to scale them up, how to deal with power and representation and finally how to ensure they are working?

These group discussions generated additional insights on issues of purpose, engagement, sustainability and impact:

A thorough analysis upfront paves the way for a good engagement process: a strong situation and stakeholder analysis, assessing social networks and alliances in presence, understanding the local cultural context are all helpful to limit marginalisation of certain groups and ensure their proper involvement in engagement platforms.

The sustainability issue is also sensitive but some measures of connecting ongoing IPs with other networks and platforms, organising field tours, farmer field days, exchange visits etc. offer ways to progressively embed an engagement platform in a wider social environment. On the other hand, as these platforms are multi-functional and dynamic, they may cease to exist once they have fulfilled their purpose. Or they may morph into another type of platform that fills other gaps in the wider system.

Finally, measuring the impact of engagement platforms remains a difficult undertaking, all the more so for IPs that focus on natural resource management (with long term tradeoffs and benefits) as opposed to value chain-focused IPs.

The CPWF morning side event built on a series of 12 draft ‘practice briefs‘ on innovation platforms developed with funding by the CGIAR research program on Humidtropics and harnessing experiences and insights from several years of work with such platforms.

The NBDC recently organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to address feed resource needs identified by local NBDC partners and beneficiaries.

Innovation platforms (IP) established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge Program (NBDC) have identified fodder as an important intervention for soil and water conservation efforts in the Blue Nile Basin. In all three NBDC sites (Diga, Fogera, Jeldu) platforms decided to introduce fodder varieties to improve the supply of livestock feed, control gazing and support current government soil and water conservation interventions.  IP members began piloting fodder interventions during 2012. Improved forages were chosen by experts to suit local agro-ecologies: rhodes grass and elephant grass in Diga, desho grass, elephant grass and tree lucerne in Jeldu and elephant grass, vetch and sesbania in Fogera. Different approaches were applied in each to explore factors influencing the adoption and effectiveness of interventions:

  • Backyard fodder development by individuals at household level;
  • Planting of fodder on SWC structures;
  • Enclosure of communal grazing areas through collective action. In the first year 40 farmers participated in Diga, 96 in Jeldu and 13 in Fogera.

After the first year of pilot interventions the innovation platform members evaluated their activities and identified some gaps in knowledge and skills related to the design of fodder interventions. To assist this process, NBDC researchers organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to train local partners in the use of tools that would enable the assessment of the existing feed situation in their area, current livestock management practices and farmer needs. This was followed by practical fieldwork so that IP members could experience implementing the tools first-hand.

The tools

FEAST training - group picture The Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) which was developed by ILRI’s Alan Duncan and colleagues is a systematic method to assess local feed resource availability and use. It helps in the design of intervention strategies aiming to optimize feed utilization and animal production. It comprises two parts: PRA part which aids group discussion with groups of farmers and individual questionnaire interview part which captures information at house hold level.

The Farmers’ Need Assessment (FNA) tool is complementary to the FEAST and helps list the possible existing problems/needs and prioritizing by pair-wise ranking.

The combined FEAST and FNA produces complementing information which can be used to identify possible interventions.

The training

FEAST CD training 2 Fifteen innovation platform technical group members from the three NBDC sites attended the three day training at Beshale Hotel in Addis Ababa. These included representatives of local research institutions, universities, NGOs and experts from woreda agricultural offices.

The training was given by Professor Adugna Tolera of Hawassa University who has provided similar training to stakeholders in other ILRI projects, and Ato Adissu Mulugeta, a private consultant who introduced the data entry software. ILRI-NBDC staff (Zelalem Lema, Gerba Leta, Tsehay Regassa and Aberra Adie) assisted the training in facilitating group works and field survey exercises.  Zelalem Lema led the overall facilitation process during the training period. Beth Cullen (ILRI) who coordinated the training event made the opening speech on the first day and emphasized the importance of the training to assist the ongoing action research at the NBDC sites.  Kindu Mekonnen (ILRI) made technical contributions to the FNA format development and other issues discussed during the training.

The first day of the training oriented the participants about the background and contents of the tools, including familiarization with the software. Holeta Agricultural Research Centre facilitated the practical field testing of the tools which included a data collection exercise with farmers in the village of Wolmera Woreda in the Holeta area. During the third day the trainees practiced data entry and reporting using software.

FEAST CD training3 During the reflection session at the end of the training, the participants appreciated the usefulness and user-friendliness of the tools.  Finally, the trainees expressed their ambition to implement the knowledge they acquired during the training and generate baseline information to contribute to the action research at their respective sites. They soon developed an action plan to collect and analyze data and produce a report in order to gather information before the commencement of the cropping season.

The aim will be to build the local research capacity of key IP members and to use the results to tailor the innovation platform pilot fodder interventions to the local needs and situations.

By Aberra Adie, Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

To strengthen the planning and implementation of rainwater management strategies at local level, the NBDC has supported the establishment of Innovation Platforms (IPs) in its three study sites: Jeldu, Diga and Fogera woredas. IPs bring together local stakeholders with an interest in rain water management (RWM) and aim to facilitate a collaborative approach to RWM.

The NBDC innovation platforms aim to build on existing local capacities and knowledge, link woreda level actors with external support and research, to develop new, locally-appropriate solutions to RWM challenges, as well as building the conditions for long-term collaborative relationships.

Devolution of platform facilitation

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

The NBDC platforms were initially established and facilitated by researchers from the  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). After one year of platform activities, due to concerns about platform sustainability, a decision was taken to devolve platform facilitation to local institutions.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were identified to play this role in each of the sites because of their relative flexibility in terms of budget and human resource utilization: HUNDEE- Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative at Jeldu, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) at Diga and Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA) at Fogera.

A partnership agreement was signed with each of the NGOs, thereby transferring responsibility for the facilitation of regular IP meetings and management of ‘Innovation Funds’ for the platform pilot interventions.

As part of the agreement, NGO facilitators were required to work closely with IP Technical Group (TG) members to design the pilot interventions, engage in community capacity building and assist with regular IP activities and financial reporting.

Capacity building

NBDC researchers continued to observe the innovation platforms after responsibilities had been devolved and noticed some problems including a lack of understanding about the platform concept among key partners, poor facilitation skills, lack of clarity on the roles of each TG members and lack of capacity to conduct participatory action research with farmers.

As a result, a training event was arranged from 18 to 20 March 2013 at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. Five members of the IP technical working groups from each site, as well as representatives from the NGO head office, were invited to attend. The aim of the workshop was to develop a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the innovation platforms among the key actors, to evaluate the activities undertaken in the previous year, to plan activities for 2013 and to provide training on IP facilitation and action research methodologies. The trainers included an IP member from Jeldu, representing Holeta Agricultural Research Centre, and ILRI Researchers.

In addition to enhancing the skills of local partners, the training was also an opportunity to bring platform members from the three sites together in an environment where they could share their experiences. Participants from each platform were encouraged to reflect on the successes and the challenges they had encountered in order to learn from one another.

On the third day participants went on a field visit to the Jeldu area, which included a visit to a Farmer Research Group established by Holetta Agricultural Research Center. The field day helped the trainees to understand the processes involved in consulting and working together with farmers and to see first-hand the contribution that participatory approaches can make to pilot projects in their respective areas. They also got a chance to visit the research centre’s fodder demonstration sites and improved and local livestock breeds at the breeding center.

Participant responses

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

At the end of the event the participants were given the chance to reflect on the training and give their comments and feedback. All of the participants found the topics of the training interesting and pertinent for both the IP intervention work as well as their day-to-day activities.

They particularly appreciated the training on participatory approaches, and the emphasis on methods and tools for enabling farmers to identify problems and solutions which was new for the majority of the participants.

They also enjoyed visiting the Farmer Research Group established by Holetta. The chance to share experiences with other innovation platform members was valuable and they learned lessons that they will use in the next round of pilot interventions.

The roles of the TG members were clearly developed in a collaborative effort between all of the participants; this was an important step in clearly identifying roles and responsibilities for the ongoing IP activities. Overall the participants expressed their gratitude for the training and requested NBDC researchers to organize similar events focusing on capacity building for the future.

Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

ILRI’s Beth Cullen was recently interviewed by the USAID Feed the Future Agrilinks web site about innovation platforms and participatory video.

Read the interview

Watch the video:

Local innovation platforms are used in several CGIAR  Challenge Program for Water and Food-supported Basin Development Challenges – the Mekong, Volta and Nile as mechanisms to help bring about technological and institutional innovation in a more effective and participatory manner.

On 15 June, ILRI’s Beth Cullen, working on the Integrating technologies, policies and institutions project updated team members and other partners on progress so far with the local innovation platforms in the NBDC.

Watch/Listen to her presentation:

 

In her presentation, Beth covered several questions: Do these platforms bring much return against the time invested in them? How to facilitate them locally? How to ensure local and national platforms reinforce each other? How to balance the importance of a rich learning process with the necessity to demonstrate outcomes?

Among the challenges faced by the team:

  • The local facilitation needs to be done well; is very time-consuming (especially as we are researchers who don’t usually have the needed skills).
  • ‘We’ have been driving the agenda’s, our timescales, etc. How to match this with others’ agendas. Tension between moving at stakeholder pace versus ‘our’ timetables and the need to ‘see’ results.
  • How do we incorporate existing knowledge from other (external) actors into local platforms?
  • How do we meet all the expectations – local as well as in our own research teams – with limited resources?
  • It is clear that process is as important as outcomes! But developing a good process doesn’t necessarily ensure impact…”

The presentation generated lively discussion … focusing on the different potential uses of platforms and the the danger that ‘platforming’ gets in the way of action. Some people wondered if there is a an effective alternative to all the meetings and processes involved … is it enough to just have someone who brings people together and brokers  joint actions? The two key results/actions we need are:  creating or catalyzing the linkages among people and ‘getting to action’ in which the people organize themselves.

In the end, nobody questioned the underlying value of such platforms, but the challenge remains how to make them truly useful in terms of their ultimate ‘end game’ – to deliver solutions that communities can benefit from.

In Ethiopia, these local platforms are complemented by a national land and water platform that, among other things, helps ensure effective links with policy-makers and financial partners. This platform already met in April and in December 2011 – a next meeting is planned in July 2012. These innovation platforms were also discussed in a dedicated session at the recent International Forum on Water and Food.

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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