Thursday, 18 March 2010

Are multi stakeholder platforms sustainable?

Speaking in the margins of the December 2009 SLP meeting in Addis Ababa ( CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme), Alan Duncan (ILRI) introduces the DFID/IFAD-funded 'Fodder Adoption Project' based at ILRI. He outlines the approach followed in the project - trying to strike a balance between the technological and institutional angles. The project helps groups of stakeholders - farmers, private sector, dairy coops, the government - get together in 'innovation platforms' where they can develop joint actions that address livestock fodder problems. 

Initially the project went with a traditional approach, focusing on technologies. As the process evolved, other issues came in, more actors joined the platforms, and the technologies - growing improved fodder - acted more as a catalyst for people to come together to discuss a wide range of other issues (dairying, health, etc). Fodder proved to be a useful 'engine' for the group to identify a much wider range of issues to address - along the whole value chain. 

He explains that this type of work facilitating stakeholder platforms is "not trivial." But it is essential: "Technology is only one small part of the equation and really a lot of it is about human interactions and how organizations behave." He concludes: "We have lots of promising technologies, but in themselves they are not enough to bring about widespread change in livestock systems." 

Stakeholder platforms are:
  • quite demanding in terms of resources and 
  • there is a question of sustainability of the platform after the project. 
  • Sustainable ways have to be looked into for the long term among prominent representatives of the innovation system.
Ranjitha Puskur (ILRI) explains how the current second phase of the project,  emerged from the realisation that the availability of technologies is not really the limiting factor, policy and institutional factors are the major bottlenecks. 

She briefly introduces the innovation systems approach that underpins the project: 
  • Essentially, the aim is to form and facilitate a network of different actors in a chain or continuum of knowledge production and its use, mobilizing all their various resources and capacities to address a problem. 
  • What outcomes and changes has she seen? At the farm level, farmers are changing their livestock feeding and management practices; there is an emerging demand for technologies, inputs and services that, ironically, were earlier promoted without success. "Farmers are seeing the need for knowledge and can articulate demands to service providers." 
She emphasizes that "getting a network of actors isn't an easy process, it takes time". 
  • Different organizations with different interests and motives have to be brought around the table to contribute and benefit. 
  • "It needs great facilitation skills and negotiating skills which are not very often core competences of researchers like us." 
  • Beyond facilitation of this network formation, "we also see that linkages don't happen automatically" ... we need a facilitating or broker organisation to create them. In her project, they work through key partner organisations: "This works well, but they needed much support and mentoring from us." 
She concludes with two final observations:
  • Policies are a very critical factor and it is important to engage policy makers from the outset, ensuring that we know what they really want, and that the evidence base is solid. 
  • Traditional project management approaches don't seem to work in such projects: We need nimble financial management, and very responsive project management. "Very traditional logframes and M&E systems seem very inadequate."