Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Planning the Global Action Learning Initiative

This week most of my time was dedicated to the planning of the Global Action Learning Initiative (GALI) that Wageningen International has started in collaboration with the Generative Change Community (GCC). The core team of the GCC and their main funder visited us at Wageningen International and we had meetings about the main way forward for the initiative.

The idea of GALI is to support a critical mass of multi-stakeholder change processes in various fields, sectors and continents and to guide action learning around them. The purpose is to make these MSPs more effective, to strengthen the understanding (& innovation) of and capacity for MSP facilitation and to create more commitment to MSPs globally. The initiative responds to the urgent fact that many current development issues require participatory processes that bring together actors from different sectors and at different scales. These involve dialogue processes to foster trust and learning among partners, with joint analysis, decision-making and planning. The alternative to a participatory multi-stakeholder approach to development issues is an autocratic and top-down approach, an unfavourable direction.

The GALI concept and process builds on a number of events and contacts of Wageningen International and the GCC. Partners that have shown commitment or serious interest to further the initiative include UNDP, Asian Institute of Management, DGIS, SNV and ICCO.

For me the initiative is relatively new, since I only joined Wageningen International in March. It was very good to get to know the team of GCC much better and to deepen my understanding of the initiative. This work is closely linked to some of my other current activities such as my contributions to a new publication on Multi-stakeholder processes, the collection of a number of MSP examples and the capacity development on MSPs of SNV Uganda. The publication on MSPs will provide more theoretical foundations for MSPs; the collection of MSP examples may include new MSP Action learning sites and; the work with SNV Uganda already includes elements of action learning on MSPs that could grow into a solid action learning site in the future.

When working on the GALI idea together with the GCC we realised that much of the complexity of MSPs also applies to our own collaboration. We needed to build trust and understanding between Wageningen International and GCC about the concepts we pursue in GALI, the expectations, roles and responsibilities and joint planning.

It has been a very intensive three days with a steep learning curve for me. I have become close to our friends of the GCC and we all feel GALI is definitely worth putting the needed time and energy in to take the initiative to another level. We will strengthen the ties between the GALI partners to consolidate the core group of interesting organisations, pursue the funding opportunities for the initiative and begin work with the learning sites as they start to unfold.

Below are some videos that I shot about GALI, its importance, the essence of capacity development in it and what an action learning site can look at.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Home days Wageningen International

This week we had our 'home days' at Wageningen International. Twice a year all staff at WI is gathering to share experiences of the last period, discuss strategies of the organisation and to give input to operational issues. This is also a time to have fun together and do some team building.

On Monday we had a morning sharing management issues and highlights and challenges of the first months of 2008. We also looked at knowledge management in Wageningen International.
In the afternoon some colleagues gave presentations on two concepts that have gained more importance in our organisation: 'complexity' and 'managing for impact'. Complexity builds on the idea of systems thinking and chaos. Development issues and processes are very difficult to analyse and solutions hard to predict. However, often very complex systems can still be explained by a few simple, organising rules. This also relates to the 'managing for impact' approach which is a way to put monitoring and evaluation at the heart of participation and learning of development processes.

Tuesday was completely dedicated to the 'branding' of our organisation: to sharpen our profile and create consistent messages about who we are and how we can prove this image to our clients. Some interesting things emerged from this and we will definitely see some concrete outputs from this in the near future (keep checking this blog and our website).

Wednesday was spent on sharing current projects and future opportunities in the different theme groups within our organisation. This was an excellent opportunity for newcomers like myself to get to know the work of colleagues and to establish the linkages between projects and ideas.

There were plenty of of opportunities for informal sharing during joint lunches and having drinks together at the end of the home days. Some colleagues had cooked a delicious Indonesian meal for all of us on Wednesday, showing some hidden talents that were just fantastic.

The idea of home days is building on the Home Week concept from CDRA (see article), a capacity building NGO from South Africa. Staff in CDRA take a week every month for horizontal learning. For us one week a month is a bit too much, but having regular joint events for reflection, strategizing, learning, team building and fun, is definitely something crucial for a healthy organisation. The home days were a great opportunity for learning and sharing, and I was happy to be part of the organising team.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Training Integrated Pest Management, Wageningen

Ever bought spinache from a Dutch vegetable auction? Well - I did! For the last two weeks I was facilitating a course on Integrated Pest Management, focusing on policies and institutional innovations. The course was held in Wageningen and attended by 24 participants from 12 different developing countries. I conducted the course together with my colleague Huub Stoetzer, who is a specialist in Food Safety and integrated pest management. This was crucial, since I hardly know anything from this topic. My input was therefore much more on the general issues of Multi-stakeholder processes, participation and policy development. This is an equally important part of integrated pest management, since we are dealing with a complex issue: trying to reduce the use of damaging pesticides. A whole range of stakeholders come to play: government, farmers/growers, input suppliers, chemical industry, consumers, supermarkets, researchers, extensionists etc.

The part of the course I co-facilitated followed two weeks of more technical focus on food safety and pesticides. Now we focused more on the policy processes and the social change needed to implement integrated pest management policies in multi-stakeholder situations. The course included 4-day field work to a horticulture area in Limburg province in the south of the Netherlands. Here the participants were commissioned to assess the implementation of Dutch integrated pest management policies and the participation of different stakeholders. We visited one of the largers cooperative greeneries auction in the Netherlands, an applied research station, input suppliers, the local bank, an agricultural college, private extensionists and many farmers and growers in the area. It was a great trip, both for the participants and myself.

With one group I visited one of the largest vegetable growers in the Netherlands, who grows and sells over 36 million heads of iceberg lettuce per year. Apart from the sheer size of it, it was interesting to see how growers have found a way to meet the policy recuirements and consumer (supermarkets) needs to reduce the use of pesticides through intensive farming methods. Nonetheless, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers is enormous. On the other hand we also had visits to organic farmers who take the lower yield for granted, knowing that the prices for organic vegetables is higher, thus cushioning the lower produce. However, the market for organic products is generally seen as a 'niche', rather than mainstream. Bearing in mind that though consumers care more and more about safe an healthy food and a cleaner environment, they are not prepared to pay a higher price for it. Therefore growers need to be innovative to both meet the increasingly more difficult requirements on the use of pesticides and be competitive in the globalising market. The situation in the Netherlands is significantly different from many developing countries in terms of level of technology a resources. Nevertheless there were many things to learn from for the participants, especially on how influence on policy development takes place and how stakeholders are involved in implementation of policies.

The group had an engaging course which they appreciated very much. For me it was both educational and satisfying to work in a new content area with a colleague, seeing the processes I am so familiar with easily being applied.
The participants have now left again for their respective countries with their head full of new knowledge and impressions, their bags full of tools and tricks. Let's hope they will implement their ambitious action plans they made at the end of the course...