Mainstreaming a participatory approach

Botir Dosov

Many agricultural practices and potential solutions to the problems seen in the rural areas are not adopted by the producers, and many times are not even known, as a result of the poor linkages and the lack of interaction between the different actors of an “innovation system”. Agriculture is increasingly becoming knowledge-intensive, and the poor access and availability of information at the right time, in the right format, and through the right broker, is still the main obstacle for the promotion of agricultural innovations and best practices.

This is very clear in Central Asia. Despite having many agricultural innovations in the region playing an important role in the local agri-food systems, the possibility to access information and knowledge about good practices is still not widely there. Poor linkages between researchers, extension agents, farmers (especially women farmers) and policymakers, in particular those working in different countries in the region, is a cross-cutting regional challenge.

Participatory Experience Capitalization as a solution
As it facilitates a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholders process, Experience Capitalization is one of the key elements of the strategic vision of the Central Asia and the Caucasus Forum for Rural Advisory (CAC-FRAS) in its efforts towards an integrated and holistic approach to enhance the adoption of innovations.

CAC-FRAS has seen that this approach should be based on a participatory and multi-disciplinary planning process, with strong links to the end-users and beneficiaries, in order to generate knowledge and ensure the adoption of innovations and technologies. We feel that Experience Capitalization can help identify bottlenecks and opportunities in the production, marketing and in the policy sector – mostly by framing, describing and analysing ongoing development interventions, and in this way drawing lessons that will help generate the changes that are in demand. It is a collective process and a space where for different players can interact to pursue technological, institutional and policy options for enhancing productivity and managing risks in an organization. This approach is seen as one of the best ways to help adopt and scale-up the outputs and impacts of development interventions, largely by :

  1. facilitating the exchange of ideas, perspectives, knowledge and information between all AIS stakeholders;
  2. enabling an innovative partnership for implementing collective actions;
  3. providing a diagnostic tool, identifying and justifying actions and changes across the economic, social, environmental domains, livelihoods and welfare of end users and consumers; and
  4. supporting technological, institutional and policy options for reducing vulnerability, improving productivity and implementing innovations.

CAC-FRAS sees that in the Central Asia and Caucasus region, experience capitalization must be accompanied with steps that ensure the inclusive participation of all stakeholders in the development and scaling-up of innovations, moving away from linear approaches of technology development and dissemination, and thereby addressing the needs of rural communities and farm households. A participatory capitalization process can play an important role in catalyzing joint action and in addressing the challenges regularly seen in contexts where multiple interdependent stakeholders operate in complex settings, and where institutional barriers hamper the development and competition or cause social conflicts.

Our work has shown that Experience Capitalization uses a combination of joint learning processes and approaches, and that this can catalyze the robust engagement of relevant stakeholders. This is the result of

  • participatory approaches and collective action, such as participatory planning, analysis and extension approaches;
  • dissemination pathways that include interactive learning between different innovation stakeholders, farmers collective action, market led technology adoption, and participatory market chain approach; and 
  • functional learning through systemic joint analysis, knowledge management, support methods, documentation, sharing and scaling-up innovations.

CAC-FRAS is working so that experience becomes a core part of its operational processes, activities and strategies. As the general mainstreaming efforts to embed a concept or practice in an organization in a permanent manner, the institutionalization of an experience capitalization approach covers four main phases, as shown in the picture.

1. An ad hoc experience capitalization exercise: when a one-time capitalization exercise is done at the end of a specific activity or project in order to draw lessons. The lessons learned and the experience gained from this exercise informs the next phases of the capitalization process.

2. Early stages of the capitalization culture: the process is known, and mid-level actors provide support for new initiatives.

3. Capitalization mechanisms begin to be put in place: there is interest and buy-in from some senior management actors. These are the early stages when mechanisms and processes are formalised.

4. Full mainstreaming: widespread interest and support from all levels, including senior management. Mechanisms and processes fully systematized.

Considering all the potential benefits and advantages it brings, CAC-FRAS has included the need to promote and mainstream Experience Capitalization, including it in its General Strategy and Action Plan for 2019-2020. This means that Experience Capitalization will be integrated into all its operational processes and activities, as well as into those of its member and partner organizations. CAC-FRAS expects Experience Capitalization to be fully institutionalized by 2020.

Since 2017, Mrs. Sophie Treinen, Information and Knowledge Management Officer at the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (REU), has been providing the necessary technical support to inform and support different Experience Capitalization pilot processes in Central Asia. She directly works with me as CAC-FRAS focal point, and helped adapt the e-learning course on Experience Capitalization for Russian-speaking countries. In 2017 we also conducted two short pilot training courses in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

After the inclusion of Experience Capitalization in the CAC-FRAS General Strategy Forum, and once the e-learning course in Russian became available in November 2018, CAC-FRAS started promoting the methodology and conducted an introductory workshop for the Khorezm Rural Advisory Support Service (KRASS) in Uzbekistan in January 2019. The workshop validated the Experience Capitalization approach as one that creates the space and facilitates the interaction of all stakeholders in a participatory manner. Since there are different actors working in a particular context or project, the process allows them to share the common challenges and factors that affect, both positively and negatively, the efficiency and effectiveness of a given intervention. This is a multi-disciplinary process where the situation is collectively reflected and analyzed, and where solutions are identified with shared responsibilities and a comprehensive action-plan.

CAC-FRAS is passing the “proof of concept” phase and is smoothly moving to a “piloting” phase which will be followed-up by “scaling-up” phase. For the moment, CAC-FRAS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with two organizations, stipulating that we will provide technical support, especially focusing in the documentation, sharing and scaling-up of good and promising practices in those organizations. These efforts will also be scaled-up and out, engaging more and more adopters and practitioners of the Experience Capitalization approach in different sectors, something which in turn will help strengthen the linkages and interactions between AIS actors at an organizational and at a sectoral level, and between the different countries in the region. In this way, Participatory Experience Capitalization will play a key role in enhancing the Agricultural Innovation Systems in Central Asia.

© 2018, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint institution operating under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the ACP Group of States (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) and the EU Member States (European Union). CTA is funded by the European Union.