Knowledge and Information


Playing the ‘happy strategies’ game

In late 2011, all projects in the Nile Basin Development Challenge prepared ‘most significant change’ stories from the first phase of operations. One of the stories looked at our communication experiences to document some of the changes we introduced and how we progressed.

NBDC Brief 8 is a summary  of the story.

As in the other basins, the Nile Basin Development Challenge comprises several linked projects – each with different leads, participants, partners and outcome logics.  Getting good communication among the various actors and partners is essential for the whole program to operate, and to have impact.

To serve these needs, we started our communication activities ‘inside’ the Challenge. In the past year, we have started to change the ways that our research knowledge is captured, shared and communicated. We are also changing the knowledge sharing behavior of project staff – by encouraging and supporting them to adopt a wider, richer – and ultimately more effective and ‘impactful’ – set of tools and approaches to project interaction, documentation, reflection, and learning.

The first priority – and our most significant progress – has been ‘inside’ the Challenge.  We are also using knowledge products, face to face meetings and extended communication approaches to communicate ongoing activities to wider audiences, nationally and beyond. The idea is to create the audience and demand for the science that we will ultimately produce. An important spillover to the ‘outside’ is in the area of communication where several changes in approach (or decisions) are directly linked to our activities.

In the story we identify five ‘promising’ changes:

  1. Project and event planning and reporting
  2. Documenting discussions and events
  3. Using different meeting formats
  4. Publishing open products
  5. Spillovers to other organizations

How significant the changes?

So far, this is difficult to judge and assess. Several individuals have become keen adopters. We are able to generate more ‘raw material’ on the various project activities that we can use to build communication products and stories. Photos, presentations and reports have all become accessible to project staff without barriers; smaller activities that would normally remain invisible are reported and shared. Project coordination and event preparation is more transparent and participatory, with minimum email traffic, and outputs shared in accessible ways.

The main challenge is to make ‘open sharing’ the default ‘setting’ for all project staff – many people are not used to documenting and sharing what they do and learn on a regular basis on open spaces.

Download the Brief

See the communication  ‘toolkit’ we use

Read a related news item on communicating agri-water research

Earlier this year the  CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) awarded $19,905 to the Nile BDC to investigate and document the effectiveness of participatory video (PV) as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia.

The small grant from the CPWF Innovation Fund will support:

  • a 10-day in-depth PV training facilitated by InsightShare for NBDC participants plus selected partners.
  • a reflection day with core group of NBDC participants (including community representatives) to develop ideas about how PV can be used to build links between innovation platforms and farming communities.
  • Follow up reflection meeting in Sept 2012 to document progress made so far.
  • Targeted screenings of community-produced film material at local innovation platforms and potentially national platform to build capacity of higher level stakeholders to listen to community voices

Through this project, we aim to:

  • strengthen the voice of communities in innovation platforms
  • capture local rainwater management issues on film at key points during the annual seasonal cycle
  • use PV as a monitoring and learning tool to track change in community perceptions and actions around rainwater management as the project progresses
  • explore how PV could be linked to learning at farm, community and institutional levels.

More on this work …

View a presentation by Beth Cullen:

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.

Read related blog posts:

On the final day of the Third International Forum on Water and Food, I was fortunate to participate in a very interesting and informative discussion regarding the role of participatory video in CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) projects. ILRI’s Beth Cullen presented some ideas and expereinces from her work in Ethiopia (see the presentation)

Read the full blog post by Natalie Bowers …

View a poster on participatory video in the Nile BDC:

An innovation platform is a network of different stakeholders who come together to exchange knowledge and develop joint action to bring about change in livelihoods and natural resource management. The growing interest in innovation platforms recognizes that improvements to farmer livelihoods and environmental integrity depend not just on on-farm technologies but on wider institutions, markets and policies. Improved land and water management practices can often be more readily and sustainably achieved by addressing these wider issues than by a narrow focus on changing farmer behaviour, but addressing them requires the involvement of a wide variety of stakeholders from communities, government, NGOs, research and private sector. Although this approach may require more patience the results are likely to be more sustained and far-reaching.

The types of issues that can be dealt with in an innovation platform can include:

Developing market chains: bringing together different actors along the value chain including producers, input suppliers, traders and regulatory bodies can help to identify and address bottlenecks along the value chain. Addressing these bottlenecks can directly benefit producers and increase incentives for farmers to invest in more market-oriented production for improved livelihoods.

Natural resource management enhancement: land and water issues tend to have a strong landscape dimension. The practices of upstream users can have important effects on downstream users. Also, small-scale irrigation schemes and soil and water conservation structures often affect multiple users and require collective action. Innovation platforms can provide a useful way of dealing with these landscape-level issues.


Combining talk with action

Innovation platforms are more than just places to talk. They need to lead to changes in farmer practice if they are to be effective. For example, as part of the IFAD-Fodder Adoption Project an innovation platform in Ada’a focusing on livestock feed issues catalyzed increased use of improved fodder varieties but also led to sourcing of improved dairy breeds and enhanced milk marketing arrangements (see fodderadoption.wordpress.com).

How could innovation platforms be useful in the NBDC programme?

The NBDC programme proposes to catalyse formation of local innovation platforms in our three study sites of Diga, Fogera and Jeldu. We would see these meeting 3 or 4 times a year or as needed. They will bring together actors at woreda level such as various government line departments (including those responsible for agriculture and water), NGO’s, private sector actors, researchers, community representatives and others. The platforms could also include actors from outside the woreda as the agenda broadens.

The aim will be to jointly identify constraints to improving land and water management at each site and then plan some practical joint actions to deal with them. The platforms would also provide a mechanism to seek resources to implement practical interventions identified within the platforms. As the platforms develop we could also link them to a national platform to provide a communication route to national actors. We seek local collaboration and co-development of these innovation platforms. We see the role of NBDC as catalysing initial formation of innovation platforms and then learning lessons about what makes them work.

By Alan Duncan

Download this as a brochure (also in Amharic, in Oromifa)

During today’s Nile Basin Development Challenge ‘science and reflection’ workshop in Addis Ababa, IWMI’s Matthew McCartney interviewed Boru Douthwaite (CPWF) about plans for the 3rd International Forum on Water and Food to be held in South Africa in November 2011.

Just why – and where – is it being held? What format will it take? What can we expect to learn from such an event?

View the interview:

During today’s Nile Basin Development Challenge ‘science and reflection’ workshop in Addis Ababa, ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali interviewed Larry Harrington, CPWF Research Director about the role of research and science in the Challenge Program on Water and Food.

What’s the research focus and approach of the CPWF? How do the projects learn across basins? What’s the balance between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science in the Program? How does research on sustainable intensification and markets fit in? How do you see the notion of resilience? What does the future hold for the CPWF in the new CGIAR? How important are the difference in reflection processes between the Basins?

View the interview:

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