The Africa RISING program has embarked on a second phase since October 2016. In this new phase, the program team is putting more emphasis on collaboration and engagement across the five program countries through the use of communities of practice among other strategies.
‘Communities of practice (CoP) are widely-used in development as mechanisms to bring scattered people—who share an interest—together. Keys to success are that a community has a clear focus that strongly attracts and interests people to contribute; that it has some deliverables; that it has some incentives or rewards; and that it is facilitated in some way.’
Five CoPs have been set up and two others have emerged spontaneously in the program in the following shared areas of interest:
- Socio-economic assessment of technological innovations
- Private sector engagement for better linkages of farmers to input and output markers
- Livestock intensification and integration
- Translating research outputs into scaled innovations
- Virtual farming
- Integrated watershed management
Each of these CoPs is steered by a ‘champion’ from either of the participating research centres in order to both stimulate productive conversations that encourage more joined-up thinking across all countries and organizations, and to develop some products that will help the entire program.
The Communication and Knowledge Management (CKM) team of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been asked to support the work of the champions in their facilitating role.
This support involves:
- Explaining what the job of champion entails.
- Helping members get set up on Yammer (the program coordination team agreed to make communities of practice happen online. In addition there will be periodic live face-to-face events for CoP members to think and work together on their theme).
- Helping the champions synthesize conversations and prepare to present what has been done in the CoP at the annual learning or science event.
- Ensuring the champions are sharing among themselves their tips and lessons from their own practice.
- Answering questions related to how Africa RISING CoPs are working and how they can reap benefits from their experiences.
In order to kick-start the work of these champions, ILRI CKM developed a ‘CoP support pack‘ that explains what communities of practice are, how they are set up in Africa RISING and what is expected of CoP champions and their members for CoPs to flourish.
In the case of Africa RISING, some concerns remain whose outcome will affect the success of these budding CoPs:
- Is it possible to reconcile bottom-up CoP development and voluntary engagement (the good practice from experience in CoPs) with a focus on delivering outputs in the Africa RISING CoPs?
- Since different levels of engagement across CoPs are expected, will it be sustainable to keep these seven communities and how will they work? How will any ‘dormant’ ones be dealt with?
- Is it realistic to expect that everyone will be able to use Yammer as an acceptable platform for their online conversations whereas experience from phase 1 showed that Yammer was mostly used by Ethiopia-based people?
- In case Yammer does not work, what alternatives should be explored to make these CoPs more functional?
The next few months will show whether this investment in supporting CoPs by Africa RISING is worthwhile and what lessons have emerged. Watch this space for more.