This blog post is co-authored by Rachel Muthoni, PABRA’s KM, monitoring and evaluation specialist

The opportunity for CTA and CIAT to work together on knowledge management arose with the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) in the improvement of the network’s knowledge management awareness, strategies and work plans. We focused our analysis and discussion on one of the three regional networks of PABRA, the Southern African Beans Research Network (SABRN), which comprises 13 countries, and we participated in their annual meeting in Zambia.

Possible solutions

Most importantly, the interactions with the SABRN members revealed their curiosity and interest for trying out new concepts and ways of working, i.e. in partnership arrangements and in reaching end users. The KM team sensed that this interest could be leveraged by PABRA’s coordination and backstopping team, for example through pilot initiatives in some selected countries and / or themes.

Concrete KM interventions suggested by participants entailed:

  • Annual site visits
  • Capacity development on data management
  • Capacity development on scientific writing
  • Set up an internal platform for collaboration, information and data management
  • Facilitated knowledge exchange among network members throughout the year
  • Pilot project for enhanced data management (new tools and processes)
  • Pilot project for learning approaches among partners (innovation platforms, learning alliances)

How did we work together?

The KM team was composed by PABRA’s KM, monitoring and evaluation specialist Rachel Muthoni, CTA’s Senior Program Coordinator of Knowledge Management Krishan Bheenick, CTA consultant Koen Beleen from Co-capacity, and Simone Staiger, leader of CIAT’s data, information and knowledge group. At the outset, we understood through Rachel that a major challenges faced by the networks is the absence of a comprehensive analysis and assessment of KM practices and the KM processes and tools that  accompany project implementation.

Our assumption was that by improving the network’s participatory processes of creating, storing and using knowledge, it can enhance learning and innovation, hence effectiveness and impact. Therefore, the use of PABRA’s knowledge products and services could be optimized internally and externally if we reach our target audiences smartly.

The planning event of the Southern Africa Bean Research Network SABRN offered the opportunity to test the combined application of two methods, namely the “KM Tree” framework and the KM scan (a survey) that CTA has developed for analysis of KM within a network, combined with the application of the KM impact pathway planning tool that CIAT elaborated.

Previous to the face-to-face meeting, Koen and Rachel channeled the survey to all SABRN country representatives and CIAT facilitators, for a total of 23 replies. A discussion of the results among the KM team revealed 8 priority areas that need attention and were raised with the meeting participants (Figure 1).

The theory of change exercise planned to start from the 4 strategic pillars of PABRA and to ask participants what changes in knowledge, attitudes and skills (KAS) needed to happen to improve on PABRA’s research on food security, access to markets, nutrition to then distill the KM elements that can support this change. This did not happen as planned. The KM team observed that the leaders were unwilling to review the theories of change though this would have been useful. Choosing to proceed as planned would have required additional time spent on demonstrating the value of re thinking the theory of change. Instead, we organized in-depth group discussions to explore and prioritize the changes in KAS directly related to the fourth strategic pillar that is concerned with the creation of an enabling environment for PABRA and its stakeholders. This pillar also addresses the functioning of the network.  We asked the participants “To achieve our strategic objectives, what would a perfect SABRN network look like?”

Figure 1 summarizes the activities that took place before, during and after the annual SABRN meeting and the results:

KM session roadmap

Participant’s reactions on what worked and what didn’t during the KM sessions

A short final exercise whereby participants could leave a message on a board about the usefulness of the KM sessions revealed 32 responses. The mainly positive comments relate to the opportunity to raise key areas of improvement and explore concrete ways forward. Participants appreciated the interactivity of the process and that helped to reflect on what is going on the ground, in member countries:

The whole process was good and impressively useful in helping develop country and regional activities. The SCAN as a preliminary evaluation tool gives a realistic and honest picture of where SABRN as a network is with regards to its mandate. The intensity of the group discussions that happened here has created in my opinion a promising atmosphere and platform for SABRN member countries to excel and be more relevant in their activities

The process has brought a new dimension to the SC work plan and has brought out issues that will improve and enhance communication and interactions among members. New activity sets were able to be added which are good for the network.”

Workshop participants

The comments on improvements concerned mainly the KM sessions and survey processes. Participants felt that it was difficult at the beginning to understand what the topic was about and that there was too little time to fill the survey out and stated that the sessions during the workshop actually helped to understand the questions better.

“Questionnaire was too long, but it was quite useful in bringing out the often unspoken / unexpressed and silent challenges underlying.”

“The exercise looked a bit rushed, the questionnaire could also have been sent long time ago to have time to reflect on the questions well.”

Workshop participants

After Action Review of the process

The KM team met after the workshop for an after action review, and discussed the following key points:

The KM team agreed that if we were to run the exercise a second time, we would have to pull out the PABRA program narrative and use it as a starting point, to complete it, discuss it, and articulate it with the participants. We agreed that a closer look and discussion of the existing RBM framework used in PABRA would have been essential.

Best uses of the ToC and KM scan were discussed. It is obviously easier to use ToC if no similar approaches have been applied for project planning. Rachel saw an opportunity for running ToC for the 4 strategic pillars in pilot countries, which allows for the development of a monitoring and evaluation baseline. The scan was seen as very useful as a process to establish a KM baseline, and applied in partnership arrangements, a longer term program, a network, and together with partners to understand the potential to get research into use.

Further discussions will continue among the KM team early 2016 on the possible KM scan in SABRN countries and the possible collaboration on the detected opportunities.

Read also: CTA and CIAT to partner with the Pan-African Bean Alliance on knowledge management

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