Learning for policy makers

Learning for policy makers - a Peer Assist

In a Peer Assist facilitated by Meena Arivananthan (ICT-KM/WorldFish), FAO staff shared their experiences on how they’ve worked to translate global climate change models into adaptation activities at farm-level in Bangladesh, and asked workshop participants for their input.

Stephan Baas, Claudia Hiepe and Selvaraju Ramasamy described the basic project Livelihood Adaptation to Climate Change in Bangladesh. FAO had conducted the baseline assessments and knew that farmers were aware of climate impacts but did not know the origin or how to systematically deal with the impacts. The demand for new activities was there and action in the field had to meet that demand. Under the project, FAO developed a suite of communications materials and processes targeted at different stakeholders, from the farming/community level, national/local (i.e. extension workers and NGOs) to the international realm, including climate change negotiators. Tools included an e-learning CD-ROM for extension officers, as well as visual learning tools for local farmers, briefs and reports for policy-makers and many more.

farm level communications materials

farm level communications materials


  • too much material? Is there a simpler way to work with all of these groups without producing so many outputs?
  • How to translate this local learning into higher-level policy making – adopting technologies and
  • How to institutionalize this issue without it being an additional burden on resources?

Suggestions from audience

  • extract key principles for adaptation
  • communications products need to be tailored to context
  • sell the ideas to senior bureaucrats/institutional leaders – if context allows
    FAO staff share their experiences

    FAO staff share their experiences

    • or the team that supports leaders – build capacity for these people to feed information to the heads
  • have the beneficiaries of change be the advocates, i.e. the front-line extension workers
  • be clear about the specific policy change that you want to achieve – and look for points of resistance
    • in theory the issue of adaptation has been taken up but no specific policy instruments. It’s been response-oriented – we need to move towards more pro-active policies, by moving to level below in terms of land tenure, water pricing/management,
  • at farm level,
    • use household flags which are raised after capacity building has taken place. the flag has some symbol of the objectives/elements of adaptation. Can serve many purposes, i.e reminding people of their commitment, and inducing neighbours to get trained
    • using free movies in community theatres
    • marketing characters
    • a tee-shirt with a communication objective printed on it
    • children’s education – training future generations
  • international policy-makers: think about how they learn, their needs
    • easy to read materials in appropriate language
    • physical presence: face-to-face briefings and workshops
    • address demand, rather trying to create demand
  • look at media that are popular in the area, i.e. radio. Feedback from external sources
  • think about how words are translation: different words i.e. drought, sustainability, may not be easily translated, may not convey the right message

What is the value-added of KS in research, and what approaches can work? Nadia Manning-Thomas of ICT-KM shared her work relating to integration of KS into research processes in order to improve impact. KS must be at the core of the way we work with our partners and stakeholders.

The typical research cycle has dissemination as an “event” at the end of research outputs, usually via publication in traditional scientific journals. This assumes that knowledge will somehow trickle down to farm-level practices.

Research institutes could achieve greater impact if KS is integrated directly into the research process. To effectively do this, we need to understand that knowledge sharing is multi-directional, involves active engagement and interaction, and is ultimately about learning. There are many points within the research cycle where certain activities could be modified to improve impact, without adding significant cost or effort. However, some key challenges must be addressed: how do we persuade researchers to invest in KS? And what incentives does a farmer have to share their information with researchers? Researchers need to start building communications into the front-end of the research process, i.e. include it in their proposal design. And in order to obtain farmer participation, they  need to see that the research activities are benefiting them, either directly (i.e. improved fertilizer techniques) or indirectly (prestige of having participated in a research project).

Nadia gave examples from the CG centres, including the ICARDA-led International Farmers’ Conference and the IWMI wastewater project (WASPA). Specific KS methods and tools used in these processes include

  • outcome mapping to plan research, and monitoring & evaluation together with key stakeholders
  • using the Most Significant Change approach to identify impacts together with stakeholders
  • using World Café to identify research priorities

Rather than viewing KS as a one-time event, and packaging valuable research into unread technical documents, we need to shift our thinking about KS as an ongoing process, without which research will have only minimal impact. By sharing knowledge we can also more effectively glean important local knowledge and therefore produce more effective research.

The potential for web-based knowledge sharing may be limited by local circumstances such as low bandwidth, but a little creativity can help us make the most of these situations. Nancy White (Full Circle Associates) facilitated a session on Low Bandwidth Solutions for KS addressing processes, technologies and decisions we can make to ensure that people in countries with poor internet access don’t get left out of the knowledge sharing loop.

The most important lesson is to accept the limitations and try to work within them. Many knowledge managers in the developed world are accustomed to a culture that is “always on” – they’re twittering, flickr-ing, and working online, all the time. However, in the developing world, connectivity is not only slow, but harder to come by. Local partners may only be able to go online once per week at the local cyber café. “We have to change our expectations based on their reality,” commented one of the session participants.

Nancy shared some advice for dealing with a number of issues raised by people in the session. A common concern related to the best ways to use Skype or other Voice Over IP (VoiP) programs which use up bandwidth but are often more reliable and clear (and much cheaper) than calling through phone lines. Tips for better access included opening a chat box simultaneously with the call, to support the conversation when the call drops. It also may help if the lowest bandwidth user dials the others, rather than vice-versa. As well, shutting down other programs while skyping can help. Useful websites that support low-bandwidth VOIP include GizmoProject, Hi Def Conferencing and www.interfree.com

Another issue was related to email. Some of the participants pointed out that a POP3 program, which downloads messages to a computer and allows people to compose emails offline, is often a better approach than webmail. However, this does not take into account those users who do not have their own computers or at-home internet connection, and must use shared terminals at cyber cafes to get online. Nancy suggested that DGroups is one of the low-bandwidth solutions to email lists, which has an online repository of messages, but still allows users to compose emails offline. DGroups is currently upgrading to include more web2.0 technologies and may soon address other low-bandwidth needs as well.

Use of offline devices, such as USB drives and CD ROMs, were other approaches suggested by participants. www.winpenpack.com allows you to download applications onto a USB drive and use them portably on any computer.

Other practices can be incorporated into web-based KS to help include low-bandwidth users. Agree on appropriate response times, rather than impatiently expect all users to respond instantly. Agree on file size limits, particularly for email attachments. By using the lowest bandwidth as the common denominator we can challenge ourselves to communicate effectively without necessarily compromising quality. Visit the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (http://www.kstoolkit.org) for details on all of these tools and share your own tips on how to work in a low-bandwidth context.

To address the issue and need raised in the last post on “Why knowledge sharing in research?” the ICT-KM program in its Investment Plan 2006 added to a planned second Phase of the Knowledge Sharing project- a component on Knowledge Sharing in Research. This component is aimed at identifying and pursuing opportunities to enhance collaborative learning and innovation. The goal is to improve the effectiveness of the CGIAR Centres and their projects in working with partners, delivering research results and supporting the achievement of development outcomes.

The project has three major components:

To learn about knowledge sharing concepts, approaches and tools which may be used and useful within the research domain of the CGIAR.

-this is done primarily through support to and learning from 6 Pilot Projects each testing out various knowledge sharing approaches in their research

-additional knowledge is generated through ongoing review of concepts and experiences from within and outside of the CGIAR through literature and web resources as well as face to face interactions

To share and broker knowledge gained through the project, both internally and externally derived, with the CGIAR and its partners and stakeholders

-knowledge will be shared through print materials and web resources as well as through interactive knowledge sharing at face-to-face opportunities

To use information, lessons learned, experiences, impact and evidence on KSinR to influence its wider adoption within the CGIAR

-knowledge, experiences, ideas, and lessons coming from the Project will be used in supporting as well a developing activities and initiatives at Project, Centre and System levels


Any thoughts or ideas on how a project like this can better learn, share and apply knowledge in this domain?

What do you think would be useful? have an impact?

More to come…