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Face-to-face Meeting of SDC’s ARD Network in Cochabamba/Bolivia: Lessons to be learnt

November 03, 2010 | Manuel Flury | SDC Networks |

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 Simon Zbinden   Marylaure Crettaz

An Interview with Simon Zbinden and Marylaure Crettaz

Interview: Manuel Flury

The SDC Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) Network held its first face-to-face event in mid July 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. 19 network participants from five continents participated in this workshop that has been organised with the support from the regional knowledge-sharing platform ASOCAM.
In addition to conventional presentations, Storytelling, Open Spaces, Knowledge Fairs and World Café made the exchange particularly fruitful. The event is entirely
documented on the web.

Simon Zbinden, the Focal Point of the ARD Network and Marylaure Crettaz, a member of the core group talk about lessons to be learnt for others that are planning face-to-face events.

 

National Programme Officers (NPO) are the first to participate. Besides their professional experience they bring in the particular contextual elements. However, they are mostly over-committed with operational obligations. What kind of preparatory efforts would you suggest for NPOs?

In fact, there is a dilemma, we agree. There is, however, a minimum of preparatory work necessary in bringing in own cases, own initiatives, questions and ideas of how to tackle specific challenges. Participants were asked to come prepared in advance. We provided them with the SDC Storytelling format that was generally found to be helpful. They told their stories out loud to the audience. Writing out a script in advance often works less as people revert to a “reporting style”.

The challenge for the organisers is to find the golden balance between asking participants for sufficient preparatory work and not being over demanding as the later risks to deter people from participating. A careful quality control of the inputs to be delivered in the workshop (i.e. presentations) by the organisers increased the qualityof the entire event and the appreciation of the inputs.  What proved most useful: the network members discussed their experiences related to our two core issues – land governance and rural advisory services – prior to the event in a professionally facilitated virtual discussion, resulting in first consolidated experiences. 

 

What role do SDC partners play? Have you invited them?

Of course, partners must not be forgotten. Without doubt it is key to have SDC partners on board of such thematic events. Many times  the  in-depth  thematic expertise SDC funded projects need is not with SDC staff but with professionals and practitioners in SDC partner organisations, i.e. people working daily on the ground.  SDC staff including NPOs have become a sort of general managers. Though blessed with a rich thematic background most of us do not anymore work very closely to the people in the field. That is why having SDC programme partners invited to face to face events is not only desirable but absolutely necessary. Besides their rich contributions, practitioners also serve as a sounding and testing board in the discussions. Early consultation, at least nine months in advance is necessary.

 

As mentioned several times, you built in many KM tools into your exchange. What worked?

First, yes, the facilitators created a stimulating atmosphere. We mentioned Storytelling. The Open Space (we used the Drupal platform was held close to the beginning, and was well appreciated. There was an immediate follow-up on ideas and recommendations that emerged from these small group discussions. Towards the end of the workshop we went back to them. The Knowledge Fair was organised country per country. Participants brought along high quality material to share. Moving around between the stalls was a good and enjoyable way of learning and small ad hoc group discussions were stimulating. The World Café is recommended as a good brainstorming method.

 

What about thematic presentations?

Thematic presentations are helpful for setting the scene but the art is to keep them at a minimum. Participants would like to see slightly more inputs, brief ones, and in particular to build on the e-discussion prior to the f2f. What we might add as a lesson to be learnt in this respect: Substantial conclusions tended to be rather vague, unspecific. This could be compensated by requesting the participants to formulate particular take home messages (“What do I tell my colleagues?”, “What are my next steps?”, etc.).

 

And what about recording all what has been discussed?

In general, recording the workshop on a wiki can be extremely efficient and attractive, supposed you have a skilled person at hand. In fact, the wiki could serve as workshop report. You may however not expect every participant to log in at the end of a day of intensive discussions and post own material. There should be  one person in charge to edit the bulk of the text, fotos and films. With our organisers, ASOCAM, we have agreed in the terms of reference to have one person in charge of this task.   

 

As people came from Western Africa, Latin America and Asia, how did you tackle the language issue?

Participants were informed in advance about English being the main workshop language. Permanent simultaneous English-Spanish and vice versa translation was provided. The two French only speaking participants received help from trilingual colleagues. Nonetheless: Those participants who did not feel being confident in a language other than their mother tongue tended to provide significantly less, despite helpful translation from other participants. It might be best for a good inter-regional exchange to select participants deliberately in a roughly equal proportion of the main language groups and to provide translation. Occasional sub discussion groups in the mother tongue can help to stimulate the participation of all. And not to forget: Handling the language issue is an important cost factor.

 

You mentioned in your own report the rather late preparation with little consultation at the level of both head office and cooperation offices. How did this arise in practice?

Early information of cooperation offices in particular is crucial to create interest, allowing for  setting own  priorities and, most important, enhancing the participation of the NPOs. From Latin America, only one NPO could participate and none could make it from Eastern Africa. We are aware of the practical and logistical difficulties to meet in a rather remote place but we are convinced that early “lobbying” with Country Directors and taking up their questions and priorities in the agenda would guarantee the necessary buy-in ownership and participation from cooperation offices.

 

What are your personal conclusions, what did you take home for the continuation of the network activities?

We could consolidate work plans and what the network should be able to do in the next 24 to 36 months. We reached broad agreement about the common topics. In particular, capitalising experiences and impact studies were given a lot of emphasis. We realised to what extent the “way is the aim”, creating a spirit and an agenda of exchange. Face-to-face events will probably be held in a sequence from 24 to 36 months.

 

This is a long period. What will happen in the mean time?

As a good practice we proposed the Knowledge Buddies: Participants identified other colleagues who were interested in the same issues. They committed themselves to advance and work together during next years.

 

What did the participants take from the face-to-face event?

Almost all experienced the network having been shaped and learning groups emerged. All identified perspectives for joint actions and opportunities for personal contacts. One of the main challenges will be: to deepen the thematic contents, to gain knowledge and a better understanding of tools, innovations. And, for a next face-to-face, as one participant mentioned: “more time to speak with farmers”.

Further information:
simon.zbinden@deza.admin.ch
marylaure.crettaz@deza.admin.ch

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