Vietnam: Building multi-stakeholder partnerships: the DURAS projects
Supported by GFAR and by Agropolis International, the main objective of the DURAS Project was to contribute to strengthening the involvement of southern stakeholders’ particularly non-traditional research actors in the agricultural research and innovation process. It also aimed to support them in ensuring that their voices are heard at the international and (sub) regional levels.
Under the DURAS competitive grants scheme, 12 different projects were selected and supported during 2 years. These projects, carried out in different countries, addressed the theme agro-biodiversity and genetic resources management for food security (2 of them); four tackled local knowledge in natural resources management; three dealt with agro-ecology and other sustainable farming practices; and another three addressed how to link farmers to market by supporting support to small and medium agro- enterprises (agri SMEs):
- Caractérisation morphologique, zootechnique et génétique des populations locales de volailles de genre Gallus gallus dans les pays côtiers de l’Afrique occidentale (Université d’Abomey-Calavi – Bénin; Pays concernés: Bénin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana)
- Un réseau régional de plateformes d’échanges pour améliorer l'identification des besoins des agriculteurs et la diffusion de nouvelles variétés de bananier plantain (CARBAP-Cameroun; Pays concernés: Cameroun, Bénin, Gabon, Guinée)
- Farmer Access to Innovation Resources. Action Research on Innovation Support Fund (Farmer Support Group-South Africa; Countries involved: S. Africa, Uganda, Cambodia, Sudan)
- Innovations et savoirs paysans dans les pratiques de gestion des écosystèmes forestiers humides d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre : diversification des systèmes d’exploitation associant cultures pérennes et vivrières (IRAD-Cameroun; Pays concernés: Cameroun, Ghana, Guinee)
- The implication of the local knowledge in the increasing integration of animal husbandry in the farming systems of disadvantaged communities (National Institute of Soil and Fertilizer- Vietnam; Countries involved: Vietnam, Laos)
- Valoriser les savoirs paysans sur l'intégration agriculture élevage pour une gestion durable des écosystèmes des savanes subhumides de l'Afrique (CIRDES-Burkina Faso; Pays concernés: Burkina Faso, Mali, Tchad, Cameroun)
- Approche intégrative de la gestion des nematodes phytoparasites en systèmes maraîchers mediterraaneens et sahéliens (Société MARISSA Groupe AZURA – Maroc; Pays concernés: Maroc, Algérie, Tunisie, Sénégal)
- Appropriation par les Organisations de Producteurs d'Afrique de l'Ouest de la technologie d'inoculation avec des microorganismes améliorant la production végétale (CLCOP de Keur Momar Sarr- Sénégal; Pays concernés: Sénégal, Burkina Faso)
- Linking farmers to markets through valorisation of local resources: the case for intellectual property rights of indigenous resources (University of Pretoria – South Africa; Countries involved: South Africa, Namibia)
- Improving the pig and pig meat marketing chain to enable small producers to serve consumer needs in Vietnam and Cambodia (Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute; Countries involved: Vietnam, Cambodia)
- Poverty and Pace Setters (POPS). From sector support for farm products marketing to targeting entrepreneurs by building networks among poverty struck (Centre for Rural Economic Development Research-Vietnam; Countries involved: Vietnam, Kenya)
- Production de malts de sorgho ou de mil de qualité pour la production alimentaire artisanale ou semi-industrielle en Afrique de l’Ouest (CERNA-Burkina Faso; Pays concernés: Burkina Faso; Bénin)
Almost at the end of the time period, two separate workshops were organized in 2008, aiming at documenting and analyzing the experience gained in building multi-stakeholder partnership in implementing the 12 DURAS-funded projects. The first workshop (held on 16-19 January 2008 in Hanoi, Vietnam) was for the 7 anglophone projects. It gathered together around 20 participants from three Southeast Asian countries (i.e., Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam), from Kenya and France. The second workshop (held on 11-15 February 2008 in Cotonou, Benin) was organised for the francophone projects. A total of 32 participants from eight West African countries (i.e., Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Guinée, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal) and from France took part in this event.
During the workshops, participants discussed and defined indicators which can be used in analyzing and evaluating success and partnership quality of their respective projects using different criteria (e.g., participation, knowledge management, capacity building/ empowerment, and institutionalization). Thereafter, each project was to prepare an article highlighting the process and partnership dimension of their respective initiative. ILEIA provided support during these workshops. Jorge Chavez-Tafur and Karen Hampson co-facilitated the anglophone workshop, while francophone event was co-facilitated by Awa Faly Ba Mbow of Innovation, Environnement, Développement (IED-Afrique), Frank van Schoubroeck (ILEIA) and Henri Hocdé (CIRAD). These lessons learnt were presented in the DURAS Project Closing Workshop, in June 2008, which was organized under the auspices of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR). A special publication that will feature lessons learned on each of the 12 projects as well as their research findings will be prepared and disseminated.
How did the documentation process go?
Two separate workshops were organized in 2008, aiming at documenting and analyzing the experience gained in building multi-stakeholder partnerships through the implementation of the 12 DURAS-funded projects. The first workshop (held on 16-19 January 2008 in Hanoi, Vietnam) was for the 7 anglophone projects. It gathered together around 20 participants from three southeast Asian countries (i.e., Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam), from Kenya and France. The second workshop (held on 11-15 February 2008 in Cotonou, Benin) was organised for the francophone projects. A total of 32 participants from eight West African countries (i.e., Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Guinée, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal) and from France took part in this event. The documentation process continued after the workshops.
The workshops mentioned above were the starting pioint of a documentation process which continued for several months. How did this go? This section looks at this broad process, focusing on four main issues:
- the process: our role as facilitators and organisers of the workshops, the distribution of roles and responsibilities; the “post-workshop” activities, etc.,
- the interface between ILEIA and the “client”, focusing on the role which ILEIA had or is to have (as a provider of a service, as training organisation, etc.), and on the general objectives of the “client”, the relationship established between ILEIA and the “client” (in this case DURAS and the different projects);
- the method used and its appropriateness (especially considering the main characteristics of this “client”: researchers, multi-stakeholder processes)
- the documentation process as a whole: ordering information, analysing it and sharing it.
In general terms, it was interesting to hear that DURAS and the different projects were satisfied with the final outcomes of the documentation workshops, and that they all recognized the importance of documentation. This was also mentioned by some of the guests invited to the final DURAS meeting (such as Alessandro Meschinelli, from IFAD, or Jamie Watts, from ILAC). The most important opinions, however, came from some of the participants themselves. During the final meeting which DURAS organised, we were able to talk to 12 of them (Moses Nyangito, Valentine Yapi-Gnaore, Anton Krone, Pierre Marie Bosc, Hamet Aly Sow, Seyni Hamadou, Hadriana de Rouw, Anders Hjort, Pham Bich Ngoc, Johan Kirsten, Oliver Oliveros and Jacques Lançon). What follows summarises these opinions, trying to reflect them in their entire diversity.
ILEIA’s relationship with the DURAS project started at a FARA meeting, in Johannesburg, in June 2007. Oliver Oliveros was interested in documenting the activities and results of the 12 different projects which had been selected by the project. After many discussions it was agreed to hold two documentation workshops: one for the English speaking and one for the French speaking projects. It was later decided that the first one was to take place in Hanoi, in January, and the second one in Cotonou, in February. ILEIA was to facilitate both workshops, and then contribute to the overall documentation process (with the help of IED Afrique for the second workshop and the French language documents). The documentation process was to follow the methodology described in ILEIA’s 2007 publication.
The participants in these two workshops expressed different opinions. Some expressed their satisfaction with ILEIA’s role, but some mentioned that the second workshop was less successful: “it was too abstract in Cotonou”, “too complicated and confusing”. This is partly explained because there was no time to plan this workshop in detail in the days before it started, and it was not possible to co-ordinate better, and decide who among the facilitators was going to do what. Another explanation given for the difference between both workshops is that which can easily be seen between Francophone and Anglophone individuals and organisations: “the French are all philosophical, the English speaking are more empirical… There is a big difference between the rational and the emotional…”. To others, the main difference was the different approach followed, basically because a series of additional tools were used in Cotonou. While this helped participants get started with the documentation process, “some participants were very confused, didn’t know what method they were following”.
Different participants (from both groups) mentioned the difficulties they felt when the workshops started (“at first I didn’t understand what they were talking about”), and that they were not really convinced that such a workshop was necessary. It was also mentioned that time was short, and that it was difficult to get everything done in only a few days. Other participants also mentioned the number of groups working at the same time (comparing the first workshop, when only three groups were present, with the second one, where there were seven) and also the number of participants per group. It was clear that it was difficult to get all the people involved in one particular project together for a documentation workshop.
Another complain was the feedback provided as part of the process. While only one participant mentioned that the facilitators did not show interest in what they were doing during the workshop (“did not seem really interested in seeing what was written in the tables”), the lack of support after the workshop was mentioned on several occasions. “I did not have any contact after the workshop”, “I tried different e-mail addresses, but there was no response”. it must be mentioned, however, that a very clear Action Plan was drawn and discussed at the end of both workshops, with deadlines jointly agreed with the participants. The email addresses of people who are supposed to receive the draft articles were clearly written on it. Apparently, there were different understandings as to what ILEIA’s role had to be after the workshops, and the support we were expected to provide during the writing up phase (even though it was clearly mentioned we were to provide editorial support). Having had so many participants involved may have led to this. But then there were also positive comments: one of the participants recognized the benefit of having had information posted on the internet, and thanked for the comments received.
The post-workshop period was also weak in terms of socialization and the dissemination of information within each project. Several interviewees said that they wanted to share the methodology and the results with colleagues, but that they hadn’t done it yet. Two interviewees who were part of two different projects, but who did not go to the documentation workshops, had no idea about them – they received no feedback, nor did they participate in the preparation of any material. In addition, nobody seemed to have looked for more information from other sources. This is obviously a problem of group dynamics and communication. As is often the case, those who attended workshops fail to provide feedback to colleagues who may be potentially interested in the topics discussed. To make matters a bit more complicated, the fact that there was no extension for the DURAS project and that the co-ordinator had to leave made everyone lose the momentum in following this all up.
The interface between ILEIA and DURAS
Although ILEIA signed a contract with DURAS, specifying the basic roles and responsibilities, it is also interesting to see if this division was clear, and the effect that this clarity (or unclarity) had on the documentation process. This is especially relevant for future contracts and agreements with other organisations.
According to the contract, DURAS was to organise the workshops, identify the participants and make arrangements locally, and also “ensure that the twelve concerned projects are responsible for the final editing of their papers, and that these papers will be ready before their closing workshop” (something that did not hasppen as most articles had not been completed before this meeting). The ILEIA editors were to act as co-facilitators in the two workshops and “provide follow-up support, in the form of comments and suggestions, to the participating projects in writing short reports”. Through its partners, DURAS organised both workshops, invited all participants, and made sure that there was someting to present andf discuss during the final workshop.
The interviews held with the participants highlighted some important aspects here. First of all, in terms of the participants to each workshop. Apparently, it was not totally clear who was to participate, nor how were these persons selected. This is something in which ILEIA had no influence, but which had important consequences: “Shouldn’t there have been a selection according to what we wanted to achieve?” “Only at the very last day we were told how many were invited, and who was going to participate”. This was even more important in the case of projects which involved people from different countries, and which involved different type of stakeholders (farmers, researchers, extension workers, etc.). Just as important was the number of participants from each project. While in Vietnam there were at least three of four representatives from each project, in Benin there were projects for which there was only person present (although some of those attending the Vietnam workshop arrived late, and “we lost quite a bit”). This was a reposnbility of each group, as the DURAS co-ordination invited 3 or 4 participants from each group, and requested them to select their own representatives.
This is directly linked to the “width” of each project. Several DURAS projects covered different countries, with different partners in each country and with separate activities. Being one project, they were expected to be documented as one case. “In Vietnam they were doing something, in Kenya something different. To report all that under one name was very problematic…”
DURAS was interested in trying the documentation methodology presented by ILEIA. Although there were some improvements from the first to the second workshop, they wanted all partners follow the same approach so that they would analyse all cases with similar indicators, and so that there could be possibilities to compare results. But this was not possible: the two South African projects were unable to go to the workshops, and one of them decided to follow their own methodology, as they had “already started using it” (and then asked to see “if we covered or not all the aspects you wanted us to cover”). We were also unaware that some of these projects had already been documenting their work, in different ways. (One of the participants mentioned that it would have been better to have these workshops earlier: “as these workshops took place at the end of the project, maybe everything is already written down...”)
Another aspect to consider is the way participants to the workshops shared what they had learned and done with their colleagues back home. The original idea was that the tables would be improved with the participation of other team members, or with interviews to farmers and other stakeholders. ILEIA had no possibility to influence this. According to the interviewees, they were (and are) interested in sharing their work with their own partners and colleagues, but this has not happened. One of the few reasons given is that the team co-ordinator is very busy, or that they have little time. Another participant also mentioned the general difficulties they all had with DURAS, basically because the money arrived too late, or because not much money was allotted for monitoring or evaluation activities. Naturally, fund disbursement is tied up with their financial reports: the later they sent their financial reports, the later they received their funds (a rule that had to be followed as it was set by the donor agency).
The most important aspect seems to have been the division of roles and responsibilities after the workshops. As mentioned above, we were to provide editorial support, and DURAS was to make sure that the documents were written. But this was not always easy. We got support from IED Afrique for the Benin workshop, but the participants received no feedback after that workshop. At the same time, ILEIA’s feedback to the participants of the first workshop was limited because of time. Some interviewees put it clearly: “we didn’t know what to expect” (although there was also the comment that “we got a lot”).
The method used
This is a good tool for communicating with our colleagues
It was interesting to hear that most participants were satisfied with the documentation method, and that they found it useful. “It was very easy to use the templates, we had no problem... our colleagues did it without having been in the workshop.” “At first I thought this is obvious, its old wine in a new bottle…” Another one mentioned its simplicity as a big advantage: “it is stupidly simple”, adding that “just by reading it you know what to do”, as was shown by one of the teams. “It is simple, and that is how is has to be.”
Another comment was that the tables are helpful, especially for writing the final document: “when the tables were finished, then it was much easier to write”. “I came back to the tables when writing article, it was then much easier.” Other participants also mentioned that using these tables is “a good way to put fragmented information together”, or “a good way to structure information”. Finally, it was also mentioned that working with these tables helped them share information, and involve others as well: “This is a good tool for communicating with our colleagues”, “different stakeholders can add their opinions… we can thus fill in common knowledge and also different views”.
At the same time, some participants mentioned the need to have additional “tools” to help clarify each phase, and the advantages of having had these in the second workshop: “In Benin, with these tools as ‘warm up exercises’, it made some things faster … people were pre-conditioned to do the exercise, more in the mood to fill the tables…”. One of the participants stated that some of the tables are “a bit tricky”, and that there is a need to “sensitize” those who are using them so that they find the information which is wanted, and so that they show “what people might want to know”. The main reason behind this is that “this is a different way of writing…”. According to one of the participants, “we are used to presenting methods and results, while here they want us to show our experience and the way we felt about our work… Usually we don’t put these things when we write”. Although difficult, “this is good, as not everyone wants to read scientific articles”. As the same participant mentioned, describing and analysing an experience makes a document more interesting for a wider public.
The participants also mentioned a few issues that needed to be improved. Among these, for example, the need to start, from the beginning, with one component and not a whole ‘experience’. This was especially important in those cases which involved many different organisations (in different countries). It was also recommended to present a clear example during the initial workshop, and to dedicate more time to the whole process. One of the interviewees mentioned his unhappiness with having to fill a series of tables as “we wanted something quick”. Two of them also mentioned the difficulties they had when trying to make an article out of the tables.
A point which we specifically wanted to ask was the participants’ opinion about the suitability of the documentation method for describing and analysing partnerships and multi-stakeholder processes. Several interviewees answered directly: “I can’t see why not” – the way of structuring the information available and of analysing can be the same, regardless of the type of project. The problem “is not in the activities or processes being documented, but in those who are involved in the process”. This was repeated more than once: not all participants (or not all the stakeholders involved in one project) can participate in a similar way; not all have interesting information, and some may not even have an opinion in relation to a certain topic. At the same time, it is very difficult to get all the relevant stakeholders present in a workshop like those organised this year. This was clear with all projects, but even more so in those cases which involved many organisations from different countries. One of the participants put it very clear when he mentioned that, as in one or more cases there was one representative of the project in the workshop, “the method could not really be tested in this situation”.
The documentation process as a whole
A few points come out in relation to a documentation process in general. Among these, that it is important to focus on one particular case and not necessary on a whole project – and thus the need to balance “width” vs. “depth”. The different cases showed that it is more difficult to focus on abstract or non-technical issues such as “partnerships” when researchers are more interested in showing the topic of their research (most of the presentations made during the final workshop emphasised the technical results, such as rhizobium inoculation or pig production, even though they were specifically asked to look at the linkages between different actors and institutions). This is related to another point: the need to consider the audience, or those who are expected to read a document or benefit from the process.
The large amount of information with which all projects work, and the need to focus on one particular “case” or “component” showed the importance of starting the process with an effort to put some sort of order. Most participants were happy with this approach, showing not only that it necessary, but also that it works. As mentioned, this approach helped them see what they have, and easily realize what is missing. A couple of people also mentioned that this step helped in sharing what they are doing and in inviting other people to participate. The matrices “are a good way of ordering information”, but some guidance in their use is always necessary.
The different cases also showed the importance of doing a detailed analysis as part of a documentation process. As in other processes, this is the most difficult step, basically because it implies “looking” at an experience in more detail and at the same time giving an opinion. As one of the interviewees put it, this is different to what many people are used to. An advantage in this case was the use of common indicators, already defined before the workshops started. This is something which must be tried again.
To Oliver Oliveros, the DURAS co-ordinator, a critical aspect is the need to define the the prerequisites for undergoing a joint documentation exercise. "Participants should be open minded and free to express their opinion and follow it through the end of the documentation process. The way how such diversity of views and opinions are reflected in a single case is what makes that particular case all the more interesting.. This is precisely what I was hoping to achieve through this exercise, that there is such diversity of experiences, views and knowledge and that the project could serve as a platform to explore how such differences can be exploited and put into good use, eventually helping people to learn how to work together… Sadly, this was not (well) reflected in the outputs. There are surely various reasons: (1) being researchers, many project participants may not really be interested on such issues; (2) or they simply do not feel confortable with writing in such fashion and they need a sort of training on writing (the way proposal writing trainings are organized); (3) there is not much time to write; etc."
The DURAS experience also showed the importance of some post-workshop actions. Considering that one of the objectives of a documentation process is to share the lessons learnt, then attention must be given to the way in which this is done (considering, but not limiting it to writing an article). The different cases provided some lessons: the need to define roles and responsibilities; the need to monitor each case thoroughly and to provide regular feedback. These cases also showed the advantages in some particular situations: it is certainly easier to share and exchange information if the organisations involved know each other, or if they have established contacts (if “they are friends already”). It is also necessary to assign resources for these actions.
The different interviews also showed the differences between those teams with previous experience and those without. Some team members mentioned that “this is what we normally do”, and thus found it easier to write down their experience, while for others this was clearly the first attempt to document their work in detail. The different cases also showed the need to consider these skills and abilities from the moment a workshop is planned.
Please write to Oliver Oliveros, at the DURAS Project Office
Cellule du Projet Agropolis International
Avenue Agropolis F-34394, Montpellier CEDEX 5, France