Knowledge Management

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Knowledge Management / / Knowledge management for effective policy influence: The case of Agua Verde

Knowledge management for effective policy influence: The case of Agua Verde

I thank Paul Hicks from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Axel Schmidt for having invited me to join their team for a workshop on knowledge management for policy influence in Salvador. Agua Verde is part of the Global Water Initiative (GWI) funded by The Howard Buffet Foundation. It looks at how to boost the benefits of rain-fed agriculture for small-scale farmers in Central America, specifically Nicaragua, Salvador and Honduras. “Green Water”  could contribute significantly to food security if several conditions were met: 1) better practices in soil and water management; 2) improved human capital through intensified research, better extension mechanisms, and education in rain-fed agriculture; 3) easier access to micro-credits and financial services for water management.

Now, the approach of Agua Verde is innovative in the sense that the team aims for impact through policy influence based on lessons learnt. Together, they formulated 3 learning questions related to each of the three mentioned issues (practices, human capital and financial services). A big first step is the current exploration of past experiences through literature reviews, interviews with representatives of institutions which have been working in this area, field visits to check how past endeavors have impacted agricultural practices and livelihoods. This “state of the art” should be a starting point for dialogues with multiple actors who will formulate together the most suitable recommendations for policy makers.

During the workshop we checked the impact pathway design and discussed strategies for policy influence, analyzed the current process of gathering the information to formulate the lessons learnt, and explored options to approach monitoring and evaluation of Agua Verde.


  • The debate on policy influence: “Agua Verde is not a think tank that aims exclusively to influence decision makers at the governmental level”, insists Paul Hicks, the leader of the initiative. We want to go both ways: change policies directly and indirectly, through the empowerment of the farmers. While this sounds great, participants agree that this is easier to say than to do. With respect to the indirect policy influence, the WOLA methodology should help a great deal to enable the team to work with farmers on a participatory approach for policy influence.
  • The awareness of the team that Agua Verde is a different kind of animal, which requires a switch in mind set from the usual “research and development of technologies through field work with farmers” to a collective exploration of past experiences. “We need to be ready to read, analyze, write and share” says Axel Schmidt, the leader of the theme on best practices in rain-fed agriculture. Everybody agrees, however it is evident that many in the room struggle with this somehow academic approach.
  • The huge experience inherent to this team that should go public: One example is an excellent exercise presented by Luis Vásquez on the lessons learnt on monitoring and evaluation as applied in “Mi Cuenca” a former water management project. The report seems to sleep in some hard drives… Equally CRS-led projects like ACORDAR and A4N in which many team members participated have been greatly documented. I strongly encouraged them to use the reports and systematization of these experiences to participate in international debates and go public. One opportunity could be the next edition of the KM4Dev journal that invites for submissions in Spanish.

Possible next steps in knowledge management

With the already existing building blocks of Agua Verde, a KM strategy will be formulated. Our team at CIAT would be thrilled to support the writing process and the implementation, coaching some of the already emerging KM champions on the ground.

The m&e approach could be fine-tuned with a thorough review of the impact pathways related to the main areas of intervention. While there are clear elements of activities, products, results and impact propositions, the theory of change is not totally formulated and the logic model not yet solid. Equally the qualitative baseline and change indicators need more thinking.

Fantastic if Agua Verde could invest time and resources in research on KM, i.e. how will the design of direct and indirect policy influence turn out in practice? Where will be the struggle and what will work? Will the team grow into their role of inquisitors of past experiences and how will they change their attitude towards learning and sharing? Will innovative monitoring and evaluation practices allow Agua Verde to achieve the expected changes?

We would be thrilled to accompany this potential knowledge expedition.

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  • Michelle Laurie: Wow-the iPhone template lives. Looks great and yes practice is so helpful! Wonderful to see your work, thanks for sharing the experience!
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  • Catherine Fisher: Great stuff - I think it is really useful to break down the different purposes of communication and knowledge sharing in this way. Also helps to see that different strategies, tools and skill sets might be required for each. Which may help the default position of seeing "communication" and/or "knowledge sharing" as something you can add to one team member's responsibilities as an afterthought! To build on Robin's point, I wondered where the communication that takes place in the process of actually undertaking research and associated ideas around co-construction fit. It might be under point 4 if the partnerships you mention are around the process of knowledge generation. Thanks again for sharing!
  • Arwen Bailey: Looks great! Much needed. I hope to hear more about it.
  • simone staiger: Hi Neil / HIFA CGIAR has adopted an open access policy whoich goes into this direction, and we need to be fully compliant by 21017. Some of CGIAR centers set budgets aside for buying the license when really needed. What helps most is the donor pressure i.e. Gates and USAID. See a post I wrote on this 2 weeks ago:
  • simone staiger: Dear Robin, some great ideas here that I will include in our discussion with the draft team this week. I do not yet feel satisfied with the activities we mention under data and infromation. I like your suggestions!
  • neilpw: I would be interested in the group's reflections about open access publishing of research. On the Dgroup HIFA (Healthcare Information For All: many of us have argued that we should be moving towards a world where all research is published open-access, with the publication process funded by a budget line in the original research proposal. Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator
  • Robin v Kippersluis: Thanks for sharing. I particularly like how you integrated some dimensions of scaling up (policy, program, ideas, technology) in clear sub-categories of communication and knowledge sharing. Another angle that may be worth considering is where the nature of the research really changes through different ways of learning and interacting, e.g. through organizing feedback online during instead of after the research has been completed, or through collectively working on available data. Best, Robin
  • simone staiger: Dear Bonnie, thanks for the good question (BTW I enjoy to read you on Twitter) What we did do is to carve out each domain to provide examples of activities. For example "Communicating about the programme, the science and results throughout the CRP lifecycle", we included Branding & identity to strategically position the CRP; Public awareness and media engagement; Telling compelling evidence-based stories about science process, progress and achievements; Linking results to the strategy & results framework across the CG system; Communicating for donor relations and fundraising We now want to consolidate feedback and develop for each domain a theory of change with some indicators that will hopefully help the writing teams in giving more details on the "what" and also on the required budget. I think you are right that the "how" should be explicitly addressed. We have a community of practice of comms and KM colleagues who share best practices and learn about new methods, approaches and tools. This would be a good place to work more on the "how" together.
  • BonnieKoenig: Simone - This looks like it was a great workshop - thank you for sharing. The conceptual framework and domains seem strong and hopefully will help communication & knowledge sharing to take the place it deserves in the CGIAR guidelines. I wonder how much you discussed the specifics of how this communication might take place? Were there any recommendations made for ensuring (or at least maximizing the chances) that the envisioned communication happens? (For example, sample organizational and network communication flow charts).
  • Eduardo Graterol: Excelente reportaje María Fernanda, estoy sorprendido positivamente del alcance del reportaje social de la XII Conferencia Internacional del Arroz. Esta es una demostración de varias cosas, primero, del poder de las redes sociales para comunicar, segundo, que efectivamente la ciencia y la tecnología se pueden comunicar muy bien en 140 caracteres y hasta menos y tercero, del trabajo en equipo, porque esto fue posible por la capacitación que ustedes nos dieron, por la motivación de los “twitteros” y por el alcance que tenemos a través de nuestras redes de usuarios o “followers”, para hablar en lenguaje “twitter”. Pienso que no necesitamos hacer esto solo en los grandes eventos como la Conferencia Internacional del Arroz que se realiza cada cuatro años, sino que también en el día a día hacemos cosas grandiosas que puede interesar a muchas otras personas y las redes sociales pueden ayudarnos a darlas a conocer e intercambiar información. Gracias a todos por la experiencia y ojalá este sea un ejemplo a seguir por nosotros mismos y por otros grupos.
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  • robin van kippersluis: Great to hear - good luck! Will there be a clear link with (existing) quality assurance processes fro research? KIndly, Robin
  • Raul Lopez: Un resumen atrevido! Nos hace reflexionar sobre la visión del trabajo que esperamos ir enriqueciendo. El M&E y como vincularlo directamente con nuestro aprendizaje institucional para retroalimentar el paradigma de las operaciones en campo. (CRS, CARE, UICN) Gracias por incidir en nuestra reflexión.
  • Social Artistry… A new idea? « Jenny Connected: [...] of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and [...]
  • Jeremy: Speaking as a private consumer of some CG outputs, I agree that a single entry page might not make much sense, even if it is only excerpts that feed elsewhere. To me, it would seem a lot like what I currently loathe about people and organizations who do use social media more to broadcast than to engage, which is the endless repetition of the same thing both within a single channel and across channels, often by "virtue" of automated sync systems. It is easy enough to plough through and ignore them, but it irks me having to do so. I would far rather see people tailor their broadcast messages to the channels through which they are broadcasting. As Peter says, re blogging, it takes more time that way, but the end product is better for it. Thanks for the post and discussion.
  • Sophie Alvarez: I like Peter B.'s analogy of sticking and jumping :) and i agree wholeheartedly that in our blogs and sites we have to concentrate not only on how to keep people reading us, but show them where to go for more good stuff... From the Peter C.'s sessions that i attended, i liked the real- life examples, the very practical tips and his friendliness delivering them. I now hope we can find ways to go more in depth into issues for the people who can potentially write blogposts in one of the already established blogs we have in CIAT, but who, as Peter C. says in comment here, underestimate how interesting what they have to say is. While not everyone needs to learn to run a blog, i think everybody, and i mean everybody! in our center has something interesting to say about their work and should be encouraged to share.
  • Peter Casier: Peter, I fully agree with you, and something I am similarly passionate about. Maybe the sentence "CIAT needs one large, active and dynamic entry point” needed some more explanation. Once upon a time, I worked for a large humanitarian organisation. Some projects (one of which was mine) started their own blog. In a minimum of time, we built an active community around the blog. It was playful, entertaining, informative, highly active and... soon became a thorn in the eye of the "corporate" media team. The blog was forcefully folded into the "corporate" website, buried in hundreds of other pages. We lost our identity, our community, and lost our eagerness to blog. What once was a blog, became a set of corporate web site "pages". That is not the way to go... The right approach, in my view, is the approach ILRI took, which is also the approach CIAT is taking: let the blogs bloom. Let each social network bloom. But also have one place where all those outlets are aggregated, as a single place where all content (preferably in "excerpts") can be found. This way the social networks can spill over from one social network to the other, and grow mutually. Otherwise, all individual blogs, remain individual efforts, isolated from one another... So we're on the same page!
  • Simone Staiger: Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. Don't get angry;-) the way we discussed at CIAT was the exact way you express it, but highlighting that we would like the homepage to be able to feed in whatever we decide to showcase, form the mutliple sources. Perhaps our unpatience to use aggregators easily on the web site made us insist on the "entry point".
  • Peter Ballantyne: Dear Simone... thanks for sharing this excellent write-up of the continuing (never-ending?) communications and knowledge sharing story at CIAT! Congrats to all the comms/capacity/info/knowledge teams! One point I worry about : "CIAT needs one large, active and dynamic entry point" .. I fully agree with the need for integration and paying attention to overall 'architecture' of knowledge, information communications. In the context of social media, I don't see the value of "one, large" entry point for the type of work we do. It seems totally contradictory. The massive opportunity - and challenge - that I see with social media is that there are so many entry points! It is no longer possible for ILRI or CIAT - or anyone else probably - to even think about having 'a' single comprehensive space for all people, for all uses ... The 'social' web is about people building their own 'entry points' to knowledge,it is not about organizations like us building entry points 'for' them: We can certainly help in these processes however - as Google - a very large entry point - for example is helping us. The biggest change I see is that we each need to create our own personal, group, team, and other social comms environments ... which is perhaps the ultimate challenge, getting each of our colleagues and ourselves to manage our personal spaces in a smart way (beyond email and beyond web site 'visiting'). As corporate people we need to make sure that 'we' (all the organization) can easily and effectively 'be' in, and be engaging and interacting in, as many of those other people's spaces. As good citizens and neighbours, we can help and guide people by creating some order and structure to what we ourselves do and produce, and even support some spaces for us and others to use - but let's not delude ourselves that we are providing 'the' entry point! People are diverse, thankfully, and our web strategies need to be diverse. Our centers used to have (still have?) 'central' comms and knowledge teams to manage all of this, the trend I see is for many (all?) staff to ultimately be explicitly communicating in whichever spaces best suit them and their messages. I want lots of people sharing and communicating. I don't want to control all of this and channel it though 'an' entry point. I can try to influence which tools they might use and where they might choose to interact, but ultimately, and especially as colleagues get more smart and savvy communicators, all I will be able to do is try to cleverly 'harvest' their efforts and hope they use the open tools, principles and standards that I advocate and which I think will make my, and their, lives much more easy. A long time ago I argued to the KM4Dev community that websites (in the development sector) need to be 'jumpy' - not 'sticky'. Our business is totally unlike a private company - which wants us 'stuck' in their web sites while they empty our wallets and plant cookies. I still think that helping people 'jump' off our sites and services - to better places - is something we need to do; and for which social media can help. Trying to get everything - and everyone - into one entry point, I think, is to miss the point completely!
  • Peter Casier: In retrospect, I might add "one thing", to Simone's "one thing-list": "What is your biggest surprise related to social media"... Then my answer would be two fold: It always surprises me how many people are interested in the "stories" we have to tell. And we always underestimate our own work, and the amount of people who are interested in our work. Every story is worth telling. Even if it is our daily work, which we often see as "booooring": another day in the lab, another day of field work, another day of sampling seeds,.... People *are* interested... And on the other hand, I am always surprised how many people we can reach with our social media networks, how fast it can spread and how far it can reach. - - Of course we all know about the funny YouTube videos that spread virally. Sharing our daily work, can spread just as far. Maybe not reaching millions of people, but certainly going much further than any other media... Good luck to you all, and thanks again to Simone and Nathan for the support! Peter
  • Nathan Russell: In addition to the other lessons and insights mentioned in Simone's interview with Peter Casier, I got from his visit a glimmer of the hard work involved in using social media to build networks of people who can help make the connection between useful content and ever-widening audiences.
  • Guy Henry: lesson 1: introduce dynamics in static research websites... lesson 2: get the most out of twitter, facebook etc challenge: formulate a strategy based on cost-efficiency and maximizing impact
  • Communities of Practice Clinic at the Rome Share Fair | The CIAT Capacity Blog: [...] also Simone Staiger’s blog on Etienne Wenger’s key note at the Share Fair Share and [...]
  • Tina Farmer: Very useful session -- helped us focus; gave us new perspectives to think about; provided great suggestions and provocative imagery. Now looking into practical ways forward - including checking out new tools with colleagues. Peer assist is a great way to brainstorm on a specific issue.
  • Simone Staiger: Comment from Mark Lundy, CIAT, Agroenterprise and Learning Alliances Simone, thanks for the updates from the Share Fair. I think that the three points that you highlight from Etienne's talk are valid. My own limited experience in facilitating multi-stakeholder learning networks aligns well with these success factors. For example, at the end of the first phase of the Central American Learning Alliance we had a wealth of social artists -- at least one from each participating agency -- fully committed to the idea of collective learning. Over time this wealth eroded as people were given promotions (the vast majority), different responsibilities or left the organization. One point of current discussion among learning alliance partners is how to develop a second and third line of social artists through participation and mentoring to step in when personal or organizational change takes its normal toll. Training people is difficult but perhaps a process of self-selection and mentoring is useful? Tensions between noble mission and bureaucracy. I could not agree more with this. Engagement with partners is often seen as an afterthought since it is difficult to report on and mostly invisible in internal reporting / assessment forms. Perhaps we need space / structures to channel the passion of R4D practitioners and then a linked set of people who are good at the transversal side of things? Not everyone can or should do both. Finally, CoPs as a strategic piece of work. This is something the CGIAR continues to struggle with. Are partnerships and CoPs strategic research or merely delivery mechanisms for upstream scientific outputs. Currently from my small perspective is seems that the later still dominates. Much of the difficulty in seeing CoPs as strategic lies in the tensions identified in Factor 2. How can you be accountable when you don't know what your (general) outputs will be at the outset of a CoP? Not knowing is anathema to a bureaucracy that wants to measure everything a priori. As a result it is difficult to sell CoPs as anything but marginal activities even when evidence exists showing their strategic nature and results. This kind of discussion should be taking place -- and in all fairness probably is -- in spaces within the CGIAR like ILAC and others. Despite this, it has not yet permeated the thinking at the level of CRPs.
  • Maarten: Hi Simone, a good post which in my view captures the most important elements of what we hear this morning from Ettienne. I will surely use your post to share it all with others.
  • Enrica Porcari: Dear Simone and all   Good things are worth waiting for! This is excellent! Thank you again for all for making this possible!   And this publication is released just before we launch the next global sharefair . Showing real continuity and commitment!   Best, Enrica CGIAR Consortium Office
  • Edith Hesse: Felicitades por esta publicación muy util. Las ferias del conocimiento se siguen organizando en muchas partes del mundo y por lo tanto la documentación en este formato es altamente relevante. Gracias por este esfuerzo muy especial y apreciado!