Digital storytelling refers to short films composed of digitized still and moving images, sound and text. This is a highly effective way of presenting compelling stories in an engaging format. Digital stories can be created by people everywhere, on any subject and shared electronically.

In November 2012 ILRI research staff attended a digital story workshop run by UK-based trainers Tracy Pallant and Katrina Kirkwood. The training was organized by Beth Cullen, Kindu Mekonnen and Alan Duncan as part of a joint project between UNEP, ILRI and Wollo University titled “Enhancing communities’ adaptive capacity to climate-change induced water scarcity in drought-prone hotspots of the Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia” working in the Kabe watershed, south Wollo.

The training was attended by UNEP project members Kindu Mekonnen and Derbew Kefyalew. They were joined by Aberra Adie, Zelalem Lemma and Gerba Leta, involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project, and Zerihun Sewunet, a member of the ILRI Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team.

The training focused on identifying suitable stories, interview techniques, audio recording, basic photography skills, audio and visual editing and web-based publication. Participants used digital material collected from the Kabe watershed to document lessons and experiences from the project and spent a day in Jeldu collecting stories from farmers involved with the NBDC innovation platform work.

ILRI staff who received the training will now be able to use digital storytelling techniques to document and communicate research processes as well as outcomes. It is hoped that the use of digital stories will enable ILRI to communicate research work to a range of audiences in an accessible and creative format.

ILRI researchers are also experimenting with the use of digital stories for participatory monitoring and evaluation. Led by Beth Cullen, a post-doctoral scientist specializing in participatory research methods, cameras have been handed out to community members and development agents in three NBDC sites: Diga, Jeldu and Fogera. The aim is to use participatory photography to monitor the progress of pilot interventions planned by local level innovation platforms. ILRI research staff will work with innovation platform members to create digital stories using their photographs and interviews to capture experiences and lessons learned. These stories will be used to share knowledge between the three sites, between local and national actors and between farmers and researchers.

Some example stories produced during the training can be seen here:

Farmers use Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian dry season:

Growing Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian Highlands:

See more of these films from ILRI


In October, a companion project to the Nile Basin Development Challenge began. Entitled ‘enhancing communities’ adaptive capacity to climate change in drought-prone hotspots of the Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia’, the project is funded by the United Nations Environment Program.

The project will develop a learning site to help enhance the adaptive capacities of local communities to climate-change induced water scarcity. It will also provide evidence to governments to consider climate change and ecosystems in land use planning and natural resource management.

On 24 and 25 November, the project was launched with a stakeholder experience-sharing workshop at Wollo University.

After formal welcomes and technical presentations by Tilahun Amede (ILRI/IWMI) and Polly Ericksen (ILRI), the first day focused on sharing experience in integrated watershed management and collective action from within the region. It was also about identifying key interventions and lessons that could be integrated in planning and implementation of emerging watershed and climate-related projects in the region. The second day introduced the project to the partners, integrated their ideas into the planning and design and explored broader partnership.

Major challenges emerging from the presentations of five watersheds included:

  •   Negotiations and convincing the farmers could be time taking and sometimes painful;
  •   Some Initiative died after the completions of projects; question of sustainability, ownerships
  •   Poor exit strategy by donor supported projects;
  •   Duplication of management and institutions (Watershed development committee vs. Gov’t Committee)
  •   The conflict between social planning unit of the gov’t vs. Watershed planning unit
  •   Lack of landscape scale planning; delineation commonly based on project objectives and available budgets


On the final day, participants agreed to:

  1. Organize community meetings and local consultation at watershed scales for initiating the project
  2. Use the watershed as a joint learning site between Wollo University, ARARI, ILRI and UNEP
  3. The local administration has taken the responsibility to facilitate the implementation of the project
  4. ARARI has agreed to consider the watershed as a satellite research site in the watershed through its SIRINKA research centre
  5. There is also understanding to send MSC and PhD students from various disciplines to work on integrated approaches

For more information, contact Dr. Tilahun Amede at ILRI.