Report ARF-2 projects International workshop and public seminar in Benin
In October 2016 ARF-2 project members met for a learning exchange during the second International workshop of the Food & Business Applied Research Fund (ARF) in Cotonou, Benin. Since the ARF project groups aim to ensure their research is taken up in society, they all have a private organization as project leader of their consortium. The projects also need to embed their research in society from the very beginning of the project. To support these groups in achieving these goals, the first two days of the workshop focused on knowledge exchange and strategies of co-creation and research uptake. In addition a public seminar was organized on the role of nutrition in agricultural value chains. During this third day workshop lessons were brought further with food security professionals from Benin.
The three-day workshop was jointly organized by the Office of the Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP) and NWO-WOTRO, in collaboration with the University of Abomey-Calavi Cotonou and AgriProFocus Benin. Please find below the summary of the report on this second International workshop. The detailed report can be downloaded here.
During the first two days the internal workshop took place. Around 40 representatives of 15 ARF-2 projects from ten different partner countries and from private (project leaders), public and academic background attended. The programme on co-creation and research uptake was organized to stimulate discussions through pitch presentations, speed dating, working groups, plenary discussions and a visit to a training centre for agricultural entrepreneurship.
Co-creation within research groups: Challenges and solutions of partnerships
During Day 1 of the workshop the concept of co-creation, which is guiding for ARF projects’ execution, was introduced as “A form of cooperation in research where different parties in the knowledge process are engaged in interaction and joint learning on the problem definition, formulation of possible solutions, design and conducting of the research and the translation of these in new practices and products”. During breakout sessions, the ARF projects – all consisting of public, academic and private Dutch and local partners – identified three core challenges to effective co-creation in their research consortia:
1) Communication issues, including language barriers, communication between people of different knowledge systems, lack of trust.
2) Identification of relevant partners/stakeholders and their continuous engagement, because there is too little time and budget to ensure inclusivity, representation and legitimacy.
3) Under-estimation of necessary (time) investment of the co-creation process.
The participants suggested the following solutions to overcome these challenges and to effectively engage with project actors:
- Ensure a flexible and detailed planning with diverse specialised sub-activities for various project members.
- Revisit the original Theory of Change when the project evolves.
- Make enough time available for an appropriate project stakeholder mapping with clear roles and responsibilities assigned to project members.
- Ensure sufficient budget is allocated to co-creation and documentation.
- Work with humility, for example researchers should admit that they can also experience doubts and should be aware of using too complex jargon.
Societal uptake of projects research: Stakeholder engagement, capacity building and communication plans
Workshop Day 2 focused on research uptake, introduced as: “All activities that facilitate and contribute to the use of research evidence by policymakers, practitioners and other development actors”. Achieving effective research uptake requires stakeholder engagement, capacity building, communication, and monitoring & evaluation, but also a strategic plan and some flexibility. Active involvement of different partners throughout the research implementation process is key for contributing to achieving food security aims. Besides, organizing activities with broader relevant stakeholder groups is important. For the related objective of enhancing research outcomes the research uptake frame used by NWO-WOTRO and the F&BKP was presented. This frame is based on four components: stakeholder engagement, capacity building, communication, and monitoring & evaluation.
In the following sessions ARF participants worked on the component “stakeholder engagement”. They used the “Alignment, Interest, Influence Matrix” (AIIM) to identify various project stakeholders, map them according to their interest in the topic and general alignment with the project, and consequently define the most appropriate communication and capacity building to convince them to become part of the project.
The session also emphasized that it is important to start early with research uptake strategies, based on a detailed flexible planning that can be adapted along the way. The ARF projects were also informed on how the F&BKP can facilitate their uptake practices. The Platform provides a network for dialogue and interaction among researchers and with the wider Food & Business community. It can aggregate and amplify research results. Projects were urged to use the Platform’s website to those ends, and also to showcase their innovative results in this unique ARF funding instrument.
Overall International workshop lessons
In addition to the above-mentioned activities various plenary and group sessions took place during the two workshop days. This included a field visit to Songhai, a training center for agricultural entrepreneurship. All in all participants concluded that:
- Joint learning, co-creation and research uptake should start from proposal writing, involving the whole team and all stakeholders, when possible.
- Appropriate fine tuning of proposals after approval is valued by funders.
- Consortia should be flexible towards adaptation because of failure, lessons learned or success.
- Stakeholder mapping is highly recommended, and furthermore, stakeholder analysis is highly encouraged.
- Consortia are stimulated to plan capacity building and meetings, make and discuss communication plans, and connect to other projects that work in a similar domain, country or region. Making use of the F&BKP in this sense is recommended.
- Research uptake approaches should be monitored and evaluated, and the impact pathway should be adapted accordingly.
- Consortia are asked to showcase project activities to NWO-WOTRO and the F&BKP no matter if they are success or failures.
- The approach used for ARF projects can be used in any type of research as different kinds of expertise are required to achieve significant results.
Public seminar: Linking agriculture and nutrition
On the third day, 50 Beninese external relevant food and nutrition security professionals from various background joined the ARF project members for a public seminar organized by the F&BKP and NWO-WOTRO. The theme of the day was knowledge exchange for better informed policies and practices to link nutrition and agriculture. The seminar was opened by the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Benin and the Permanent Secretary of the Beninese Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, who both confirmed the need for integrating agriculture and nutrition. A key note address was given by the Permanent Secretary of the Beninese National Council on Nutrition on actual national political changes in the field of nutrition security. In addition, a panel with representatives from the private sector, a local NGO, and the FAO shed light on the practical difficulties of linking nutrition to agriculture. The afternoon was spent on interactive open space sessions centred around agri-nutrition linkage challenges in the Beninese context and beyond.
Please find below some conclusions of the public seminar:
- Consumers and farmers should be connected to encourage the production of local food products and the generation of substantial revenue to the farmers.
- Research outputs on nutrition should be translated to local languages and disseminated by local radios and NGOs.
- Governmental extension services should contribute to the dissemination of research outputs.
- Policies should be in line with real (nutritional) needs and constraints of actors on the ground.
- Stakeholders should jointly work on problems related to nutrition despite often conflicting unexpressed and underlying interests.
- Nutritional strategies should be developed based on underutilised crops that are dismissed due to perceived low yield.
- Nutrition should be linked to revenue along the food chain.
- Applied research funding should be supported by the Benin government on topics of interest for local stakeholders.
- Simple indicators should be developed to assess the nutritious quality of food.
Overall, the multi-stakeholder consortia, together with the Beninese stakeholders, indicated to have gained new insights and contacts to improve their projects and to ensure they are even more embedded in and useful for surrounding societies. By building on the strengths of each actor, it was concluded that within the unique frame of the ARF funding instrument, qualitatively decent research can be developed that is directly linked to the realities and practices of target groups aiming at better food and nutrition security.