The Agriculture and Food Security Network recently organized its face to face meeting. Planning such an event in a network surrounding poses particular challenges. The face to face not only entails the exchange of content but should also foster community building and give participants a chance to share their personal expertise. In today’s blog contribution the network’s core group takes stock of the planning process of their event and its realisation. How is the preparation work best organised and coordinated? How can methodological and thematic coherence be assured? How can quality of inputs be guaranteed?
By Core Group Agriculture and Food Security Network
We – the members of the Core Group – have organized beginning of May the Face to Face of our SDC network Agriculture and Food Security (A+FS). The Face to Face was an inspiring key moment in our network’s life. It allowed the network members to connect to each other and to share our experiences from our diverse realities each is working in. We opted for a varied and thematically rich agenda offering each participant a topic of interest. We reflected and deepened our approaches: framework conditions in land governance, rural advisory services and making markets work for the poor (M4P), micro-insurance in agriculture and the challenges faced in outcome reporting in A+FS in Country strategies.
The preparation started early in December with a survey sent to all Network members followed by a kick-off meeting in the core group. The preparation phase was intense and complex demanding our full commitment. In retrospect we think the following three aspects were key for the Face to Face success:
- Task division among the core group members: After we have been defining the key modules of our agenda we built for each module task forces, each under the lead of core group members. The task forces worked in parallel shaping the parts of the programme. The commitment of the core group members was also during the Face to Face visible. Each module was moderated by the responsible core group member and the moderator. For the dynamic of the network – especially in the coming months – this aspect could be crucial.
- Monthly coordination and leadership of the Focal Point: The Focal Point was coordinating the preparation work and keeping the overview without losing the thread. The core group came together in monthly meetings to discuss the work in progress. With the task division the enormous work was doable and in the monthly meetings the different elements came together. Next to the strong leadership of the Focal Point encouraging and guiding the group a high team spirit was carrying the whole group through the preparation work. The atmosphere was good and amicable allowing us to accomplish the task at hand with humor.
- Internal support by Quality Assurance and Knowledge and Learning Processes: We consulted internal resources for the module on result reporting and for the moderation and methodological advice. Colleagues from the section Quality Assurance and Knowledge and Learning Processes participated actively in the preparation phase and were engaged during the Face to Face. To rely on internal expertise was a good and fruitful decision.
Today, one month after the Face to Face we ask ourselves: Was our huge investment in the preparation process worth it? Our answer is YES. To achieve what we achieved there is no other way than a thorough preparation and serious agenda planning. Spread over 4 days about 100 colleagues participated at the Face to Face. The feedback was positive; some voices can be found on our blog.
In every module we managed to bring key inputs of quality showing views and practices of specialists on the specific issues (international resources persons of IFAD on result reporting and FAO on the voluntary guidelines; experienced practitioners on RAS an M4P and an expert view on micro-insurance). In a complementary way, every section allowed peer-exchanges and show the rich expertise and knowledge of the participants through different methodologies: presentations, working groups, market places and world café. We got very positive feedback on our innovative blog – without videos but with cartoons illustrating the discussions – as well as on the story telling on “what does it mean to be a farmer in my country” performed by engaged participants of the workshop. Our red thread during the week on the family farming situation was the good way to remind all of us of the final objective of our work as practitioners active in the Agriculture and Food Security theme.
And if a colleague preparing a Face to Face would ask us what to consider, we would reply self-critically: There are some points that need more attention:
- More space for the National Programme Officers: This insight is not new and we fell into the trap. Next time we would involve the field better, earlier, more. The colleagues from the cooperation offices (SCO) need to be more in the driving seat. This aspect is certainly linked as well to our last point of having sufficient time for discussions.
- Assist colleagues making an input: We would definitely advise to work proactively with colleagues preparing a short presentation. They need clear guidance. Instructions need to be clear and clarifying as they often cannot see the whole f2f preparation process (especially if they work in a Cooperation Office). It’s also valuable for them to have an understanding how their input is connected with the rest of the programme.
- Sufficient space for discussion and exchange: Our programme was dense; thanks to the strict time management of the moderator we got around. Next time we would give more space for discussion and sharing in order to have a good time balance between inputs and dialog.
How did you experience our Face to Face? What do you think are key elements to consider in the preparation process?