Africa RISING coordinator in Ethiopia Peter Thorne reflects on his recent visit to project research sites alongside an external review team.
It is some time since I have been able to visit our field sites in Ethiopia. The Christmas break and our visits to India and California seem to have taken out most of 2015 so far. So, it has been really interesting for me to join our internally-commissioned, external review team during their fact-finding tours of the Lemo and Endamehoni sites.
Leaving the review aside for the moment, I was really struck by the ways in which our activities have accelerated over the past six months. There is a real buzz of activity at both sites (and, I am sure in Sinana and Basona Werana too).
All partners, including our research farmers, are clearly buying into the intensification strategies that we are pursuing together. The understanding of the Africa RISING concepts that we see at the sites now and the willingness to share and listen to each others’ ideas is really impressive. In my view, this is a real justification for our strategy of continuing and close engagement for our core research.
We have been talking about scaling strategies since our last planning meeting. It was inspiring to see that, in some areas, our partners at site are ahead of us with woreda, zonal and even regional Ministry of Agriculture officials already starting to embed Africa RISING outputs into their programs. We must be ready to support them in this.
So much for my views, what about those of the the evaluation team? The team leader, Barry Pound from the UK and his colleagues, Adugna Tolera from Hawassa University and Harriet Matsaert from Kenya, have had a busy ten days. We didn’t ask them to look at our spending on paper clips, rather to dig more deeply into some of the good and less good aspects of the project’s innovation so far.
On returning from the field trips, they presented their initial findings to us at a partner workshop on Wednesday 1 April. Their findings include:
- Very positive feedback on operation and achievements to date of Africa RISING in the Ethiopian Highlands, particularly in terms of the strength of the partnerships at all levels and quality of our collaborative working.
- The team acknowledged the positive impacts of our flexible approach to adaptive management but felt that formalising a theory of change would help to guide and monitor this more strongly without imposing too much rigidity.
- They recognised the complexity of the project and the interventions that we are studying but wanted to see a stronger focus on whole systems issues and evolution. We have some plans for tackling this but the inputs of the review will help us to strengthen in this area.
- The team had some very helpful recommendations to make about how to structure and conduct our research into scaling processes and, in order to build on the head starts that have already been made in this area, we will be seeking to implement these immediately.
We are very grateful to Adugna, Barry and Harriet for their efforts and there is much in their insights for us to consider as we complete Africa RISING, phase I and move, hopefully, towards a second phase. If I have misrepresented these insights in any way, which is entirely possible, then I invite the team to put things right!