Building local capacity to innovate: tools, methods and approaches for effective innovation platforms in Ethiopia
The Africa RISING Project in Ethiopia takes an integrated approach to dealing with complex problems in the smallholder farming system in the country’s highlands.
Innovation Platforms (IPs) have been established at the project’s research sites to bring together key local stakeholders to support the integrated approaches to strengthen the farming system. These platforms help members to jointly conduct participatory research that identifies technologies and management practices that work for farmers.
Technical group members from each site are the core group of each IP who have the potential to contribute and facilitate the research processes through these platforms.
A three-day training workshop was recently organized on IP facilitation, coordination, communication and monitoring and evaluation (M&E). This workshops followed a series of initiation workshops organized at projects sites during the establishment of local IPs in early 2014. Over 50 participants from CGIAR centres, research centres, universities, NGOs, government and development agents attended the workshop. The training aimed at building the local capacity of IP members to innovate.
The following key topics were covered during the training:
1. Enhancing the capacity of technical group members in facilitation, coordination, communication and M&E of IPs;
2. Agreeing the approaches, methods and tools for effective functioning of IPs;
3. Selecting champions for communication, facilitation and M&E activities.
Coordinating IP activities
Site-specific terms of reference (ToR) for each strategic IP at woreda level were initiated during the establishment phase. These were discussed and modified during the training course. The ToR explains how the IPs function in a coordinated manner and include information on membership, frequency of meetings, key organizations identified to host meetings and the different roles and responsibilities of the members. It also covers how external organizations contribute to the innovation process. A guideline was also developed on IP processes and functions for Africa RISING partners.
Tools to facilitate regular IP meetings
Facilitation involves directing teams to a common goal while maintaining the interests of the members. Hearing and sharing of ideas from numerous people of different background requires facilitation skills such as listening, team building, dialogue and feedback. Effective facilitation requires a creative and flexible facilitation team. One of the major activities of the technical group members as a team is organizing and facilitating their own regular IP meetings for effective learning and sharing. A facilitation guideline for these tools has been developed for them.
Tools to enhance communication in IPs
Ten communication tools were suggested for IPs during this training including posters, brochures, photo-reports, video clips, digital storytelling, meetings, exchange visits, field days and drama. Participants demonstrated samples of each communication tools before they selected appropriate tools for kebele (smallest administration unit in Ethiopia) and woreda (district) IPs. Almost all tools were selected as an appropriate communication tools except drama which was less favoured for woreda IPs. The content and the language of the outputs is determined by audience needs.
Monitoring and evaluation tools for IPs
Five types of data collection tools have been developed and suggested for use by local IPs to evaluate five key areas: IP establishment process and membership, training for IP members, stakeholder interaction and participation of members. The partners’ actively participated in the development of the IP M&E system with the inputs to be used to refine the tools and indicators. Most Significant Change (MSC) story was selected as a tool for assessing impacts brought about by the IPs.
Champions for key IP activities
Four gender champions were already selected from each site during the Gender workshop organized in August 2014. During the training event, further champions were identified for communication, facilitation and M&E. Technical groups also decided to have a chairman, secretary, facilitation champion, communication champion, gender champion and an M&E champion. They will be directly supported by the communication, gender, facilitation and M&E experts at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
The training ended with an agreement on the coordination mechanisms, appropriate facilitation and communication, as well as M&E, tools for effective functioning of the IPs. An evaluation at the end of the training showed an increase in the level of knowledge among participants at the end of the training compared to the beginning.