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Multi-stakeholder platforms have been hailed by some as a promising approach to address research in development issues; but others are more sceptical pointing to some inherent flaws.
In the Africa RISING program, innovation platforms have been identified as a mechanism to ensure that research is put into use and contributes to solving real problems based on real demands.

Developing innovation capacity through innovation platforms (image credit: ILRI/Bonaventure Nyotumba)
Developing innovation capacity through innovation platforms (image credit: ILRI/Bonaventure Nyotumba).

Innovation platforms in theory
The Africa RISING program framework talks of ‘research for development’ (R4D) platforms, not innovation platforms which has caused some confusion. The program framework states:

The platforms will design, implement and evaluate project activities and disseminate and communicate research findings. In this context, R4D platforms will operate where the supply of improved technologies meets the demand from farming communities to solve important constraints to sustainable intensification.

In the Ethiopian highlands context, these platforms are referred to as ‘innovation platforms’, as they build on existing experiences of the Nile Basin Development Challenge and other projects.
Wider experiences working with innovation platforms are nicely summarized in a series of practice briefs. In the East and Southern African context of the program, Per Hilbur (IITA) has written a useful project about research on institutional innovation and scaling issues in Africa RISING project.
And as Paul Sillitoe of the department of anthropology at Durham University pointed out, theory is key to innovation systems and particularly for such platforms to flourish in practice.
The practice
Three years into the program, all the target regions of Africa RISING have a set of innovation platforms.
From that practice, the Ethiopian highlands team has developed a set of guidelines for establishing these innovation platforms. And for the team in charge of facilitating innovation platforms, there is also a manual for innovation platform facilitators.
In each of the three regions, people are busy setting up and running these platforms, dealing with typical challenges of power dynamics, facilitation, incentives, participant turnover, and monitoring the effects of the platforms. This photo trip report from the Endamehoni site in Ethiopia shows some of the activities and results registered through working with innovation platforms.

Read more about the practice of innovation platforms In the Ethiopian highlands project:

In the East and Southern Africa project:

In the West Africa project:

In the West Africa project (and in Malawi), platforms were set up later and have not been documented as systematically.
Some perspectives
The 2014 program learning event in Tanzania put some emphasis on innovation platforms. It is likely that this interest will be sustained and perhaps even grow.
In the Ethiopian highlands, innovation platforms are connected with a wider national platform that the Humidtropics program aims to set up. In Mali and Ghana, these platforms should also help connect all the project teams better.
As the learning event revealed, the need to document the processes unfolding around these platforms has never been as crucial as it is now, so watch this space for more updates.
Find all posts related to innovation systems and (R4D) platforms.
(This post was last updated on 31 May 2016).

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