I thank Paul Hicks from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Axel Schmidt for having invited me to join their team for a workshop on knowledge management for policy influence in Salvador. Agua Verde is part of the Global Water Initiative (GWI) funded by The Howard Buffet Foundation. It looks at how to boost the benefits of rain-fed agriculture for small-scale farmers in Central America, specifically Nicaragua, Salvador and Honduras. “Green Water” could contribute significantly to food security if several conditions were met: 1) better practices in soil and water management; 2) improved human capital through intensified research, better extension mechanisms, and education in rain-fed agriculture; 3) easier access to micro-credits and financial services for water management.
Now, the approach of Agua Verde is innovative in the sense that the team aims for impact through policy influence based on lessons learnt. Together, they formulated 3 learning questions related to each of the three mentioned issues (practices, human capital and financial services). A big first step is the current exploration of past experiences through literature reviews, interviews with representatives of institutions which have been working in this area, field visits to check how past endeavors have impacted agricultural practices and livelihoods. This “state of the art” should be a starting point for dialogues with multiple actors who will formulate together the most suitable recommendations for policy makers.
During the workshop we checked the impact pathway design and discussed strategies for policy influence, analyzed the current process of gathering the information to formulate the lessons learnt, and explored options to approach monitoring and evaluation of Agua Verde.
- The debate on policy influence: “Agua Verde is not a think tank that aims exclusively to influence decision makers at the governmental level”, insists Paul Hicks, the leader of the initiative. We want to go both ways: change policies directly and indirectly, through the empowerment of the farmers. While this sounds great, participants agree that this is easier to say than to do. With respect to the indirect policy influence, the WOLA methodology should help a great deal to enable the team to work with farmers on a participatory approach for policy influence.
- The awareness of the team that Agua Verde is a different kind of animal, which requires a switch in mind set from the usual “research and development of technologies through field work with farmers” to a collective exploration of past experiences. “We need to be ready to read, analyze, write and share” says Axel Schmidt, the leader of the theme on best practices in rain-fed agriculture. Everybody agrees, however it is evident that many in the room struggle with this somehow academic approach.
- The huge experience inherent to this team that should go public: One example is an excellent exercise presented by Luis Vásquez on the lessons learnt on monitoring and evaluation as applied in “Mi Cuenca” a former water management project. The report seems to sleep in some hard drives… Equally CRS-led projects like ACORDAR and A4N in which many team members participated have been greatly documented. I strongly encouraged them to use the reports and systematization of these experiences to participate in international debates and go public. One opportunity could be the next edition of the KM4Dev journal that invites for submissions in Spanish.
Possible next steps in knowledge management
With the already existing building blocks of Agua Verde, a KM strategy will be formulated. Our team at CIAT would be thrilled to support the writing process and the implementation, coaching some of the already emerging KM champions on the ground.
The m&e approach could be fine-tuned with a thorough review of the impact pathways related to the main areas of intervention. While there are clear elements of activities, products, results and impact propositions, the theory of change is not totally formulated and the logic model not yet solid. Equally the qualitative baseline and change indicators need more thinking.
Fantastic if Agua Verde could invest time and resources in research on KM, i.e. how will the design of direct and indirect policy influence turn out in practice? Where will be the struggle and what will work? Will the team grow into their role of inquisitors of past experiences and how will they change their attitude towards learning and sharing? Will innovative monitoring and evaluation practices allow Agua Verde to achieve the expected changes?
We would be thrilled to accompany this potential knowledge expedition.