Interview


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

Charlotte MacAlister, hydrologist at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and team leader for the Nile BDC project on ‘Assessing and anticipating the consequences of innovation in rainwater management systems‘ left Ethiopia in late January. She will start working for Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the Nile BDC , her perspective on relative successes and challenges for her work in NBDC and some advice for the final year of the project.

What range of activities have you been involved in?

I joined IWMI in Ethiopia in 2010 and started in the week of the NBDC inception meeting.

I have been involved in the program management of the ‘Nile 4’ project and generally in basin scale water resource and hydrological impact modelling. More specifically, I have been working on training and capacity building (both internally and externally), spatial analysis and modelling, the development of water resource management tools and the generation of a data archive for the Nile Basin.

What has been successful / what are you most proud of?

Quite a few things worked well:

  • Some innovations in the application of global climate data sets.
  • The distribution of free climate data for any user (not restricted to the NBDC), i.e. with open access data sets available on the web.
  • The development of high quality, robust hydrological models of the Blue Nile using real data.
  • We have built strong linkages with local research partners (e.g. the Universities of Bahir Dar, Ambo, Arba Minch) and with governmental agencies (Abay basin authorities, Tana river basin organization, Beles river basin organization, the Ministry of Water and Energy).
  • The training and support of master students who graduated. Over the course of my involvement, we had six MSc students graduate, supported by the program.
  • Initiating the spatial analysis and modeling (SAM) topic working group for cross-basin learning.

What has been most challenging, why?

The technical challenges of modelling large and mostly ungauged basins (no rain /flow or sediment gauge) meant that building the model was difficult: How can you assess impact without data?

After we set up our models, we faced another challenge: the general lack of understanding about different interventions. We have estimates and guesses about what intervention might work where but we don’t really have any measure of impact and we cannot easily use modelling effectively for that reason. What we actually need is experimenting on catchment with different practices to find out what the physical impact of interventions will be – before and after. There is no way to get around that.

As a result of the above, another challenge was the lack of any direct impact by which we could monitor change. We are expected to assess impact without implementing any intervention. If I were to do this by myself I would start with engaging on the one hand a community that wants to make changes and on the other hand another one that does not want to make changes. Over five years I would then have time to see changes and assess impact. When your job is to quantify impact, it is difficult to work in these conditions and qualitative approaches are not enough. People in the Ministry of Water and Energy want real evidence of impact, at least within a range, to see if a practice can be scaled up.

Finally, what was also challenging was the way the project was structured: Splitting the NBDC across scales rather than themes (e.g. hydrology, economics etc.) made the project organization somewhat cumbersome.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon in your next job?

First and foremost, in a project, engaging with key partners in communities and among governmental agencies from the design of the project and at the stage of defining project outcomes is key to success.

Another lesson is that we are not that much closer to appreciating and valuing each others’ perspective between social scientists and biophysical scientists.

However, I want to continue using and promoting the tools we developed; I would like to keep some relation with the SAM group. A lot of people are working on similar issues around the world. Why not share learning across them and across communities? Our lessons don’t have to be  restricted to the different Basin Development Challenges, they can also benefit communities.

Where are you headed? Will you keep working (in some capacity) with the NBDC?

I’m going to be working as senior program officer at the water and climate change division of IDRC. I will be working on water and climate change projects in Southern Africa and South Asia. It is unlikely that I will continue collaboration with the NBDC.

Any advice to the NBDC for the final year?

Focus on what is working now and on the productive relationships that have been developed. Do not be afraid to drop activities.

Catherine Pfeifer (credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Catherine Pfeifer, Post-doc at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), is going back to Switzerland in late December. For the past three years, she was involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge project (‘N3’) on ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘.

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the NBDC  and particularly her work around gaming solutions for targeting relevant land and water management options.

What range of NBDC activities have you been involved in?

My main activity has been the Nile-goblet tool, including finding the data, setting up the database (linked to our suitability data), developing the concept of the tool. In a way, the Nile-goblet brings everything from the N3 project together: concepts, suitability data and adoption maps. This work aims to explain how to introduce socio-economic constraints in biophysical targeting.

The other main activity has been the Happy Strategies game which helps people assess most suitable land and water management interventions in a given area.

In addition to this, she did a lot of capacity building: A one-week training on geographic information systems (GIS) in 2011 and two training courses more recently this year. Finally there was the learning event last week which introduced the Nile-Goblet tool to members of the NBDC national platform thematic working group on technological innovation.

What has been most successful / what are you most proud of?

The tools: the Nile-goblet and the Happy Strategies game. They are taken up by partners (the Water and Land Resource Centre will further promote and work with those tools. They are considering developing them further in future learning events of the thematic working group on technological innovation. The reason I am proud: our initial objective was to get other people involved in developing these tools and we seem to have achieved this objectives.

Working with partners has generally been successful, despite challenges (see below).

The Spatial Analysis and Modeling topic working group has also been great to work with and quite a success.

What has also been successful is the work in our team: as the GIS specialist, I could take care of the adoption maps and developed a participatory tool. The team was very flexible throughout the process. I had enough freedom to do the things the way I thought they should work out.

What has been most challenging? Why?

Working with partners has been challenging at times, but we overcame challenges.

The other challenge was the integration with other NBDC projects. The program aimed to work in an interdisciplinary manner but it hasn’t always worked, perhaps because of the the way the project was set up. I wonder if we really had the space to develop such interdisciplinary work. At any rate we haven’t really worked together across teams as much as we could have. Every team worked in its interdisciplinary approach but this didn’t extend across projects. We missed opportunities to think together about how outputs could have been developed.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon (from your NBDC work) in your next job?

I want to keep working on integrating socio-economic constraints in spatial models. There is scope to understand how this integration works much better. I learned a lot about it in the past two years but there’s a lot of space for improvement still.

What I also really learned was how important it is to involve farmers and mix expert and local knowledge. For example we can do this geographic targeting but it will never be perfect. We need a space to interact, validate and learn and adjust, which is what we tried to offer with the Happy Strategies game. That integration is something where the CGIAR is very strong.

I also learned to not be scared, to trust that things will work out in the end somehow…  Three years ago, I would have been scared to talk to farmers and now I’m ready for it any time.

Any advices to the NBDC for the final year?

  • Get the right people involved at the right moment. E.g. the learning event was small but it brought together interested people and they will take it up.
  • Move away from trying at all costs to bring the diversity of the NBDC together. Think also about bringing similar people together to take over the work. Perhaps in our innovation platforms we would do well to reduce the diversity and invest in people that will take things up.
  • Mind the fatigue of our partners. Only invite partners that can really benefit from the events we organize. Otherwise there is a risk of a lot of talking and nothing much happening. And some partners are investing precious time and money in the events we organize, we need to remember that when planning our meetings.
  • Don’t get lost in interdisciplinarity: Try to link the NBDC teams and people but don’t try to force them to work together. There is a lot of good work that could be used at different scales and for different people. Not everything needs to be integrated.
  • If you really want to integrate the NBDC work, develop a Google layer and look seriously into collecting geo-coordinates for each NBDC output, so it can be shown on Google Earth and linked to actual NBDC documents. This could be the easiest way for NBDC to integrate our work. If I were to stay another year I would work on that and try to develop a public layer on Google Earth or a KML file (for Google Earth) which people can download, click on and display the NBDC outputs.

How do you look back at the whole experience?

I had a great time. I loved my job. I loved the fact that my job was free, despite the occasional tensions. I’m happy to see it finish nicely.

Catherine Pfeifer regularly blogged about her NBDC work on her own blog: http://catherinepfeifer.blogspot.com/

Discover the Nile-Goblet tool: http://nilebdc.wikispaces.com/Nile+Goblet+tool+and+training

Discover and use the Happy Strategies game: http://happystrategies.wikispaces.com/

Fantahun Mengistu-NileBDC stakeholder workshop

Fantahun Mengistu, Director of ARARI

In October 2011, project partners and team members in the Nile Basin Development Challenge  met in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia to reflect on project progress and directions.

We asked Fantahun Mengistu, Director of the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) to share some of the key points and take home messages from the meeting.

In the interview below, he notes that, although Ethiopia has a good national policy framework in place, there are some gaps in implementation at grassroots level: including proper integration between water and agriculture, more emphasis is given to blue than to green water, and fully understanding the farmers and the farmer circumstances – “we need to know very well the farmer.”

Sustainability is a key issue, it needs increased participation of communities, more emphasis on showing short term benefits to farmers, increased attention to integrated hydrological planning at basin and landscape level – we need to ensure that people getting upstream benefits does not mean that people downstream will suffer.

Watch the interview:

See photos from the workshop here.