By Vivienne Likhanga
Information can be a source of change. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision-making, information is a burden, not a benefit. In recent years, scaling up innovations for smallholder agricultural development and rural poverty reduction has been recognized as effective responses to emerging global challenges. This has motivated a renewed interest in local knowledge and in the development and testing of new learning tools to disseminate and scale up innovations.
In this context, the importance of learning from others inspired the PROCASUR Corporation to design "Learning Routes" and other knowledge-management and capacity-building approaches and tools, all with the objectives of valuing local knowledge and facilitating the development of platforms in which experiences and innovations can be exchanged. This methodology has proved effective in providing peer-to-peer training and technical assistance as well as addressing the needs of vulnerable groups.
So what exactly is a Learning Route?
A Learning Route (LR) is a planned educational journey with learning objectives designed to:
(i) address the knowledge needs of development practitioners who are faced with problems associated with rural poverty;
(ii) identify local stakeholders who have tackled similar challenges successfully and innovatively, recognizing that their accumulated knowledge and experience can be useful to others; and
(iii) support local organizations in the systematization of these best practices in order for local stakeholders to proficiently share their knowledge with others.
The LR capacity-building tool has a proven track record of integrating and promoting local rural development knowledge and experiences that includes exchanges among project staff, grass root organizations, the private sector, and local champions from the fieldin order to determine the best practices with scaling-up potential. This interaction usually continues after the end of the LR journey, allowing projects to develop the methods and tools to adapt and expand innovations and best solutions for the rural poor communities. The end goal is for the local participants to become more effective and strategic in their own context. The Learning Route encourages each participant to come up with a concrete innovation plan for actions.
Training Workshop on Learning Route implementation:
The PROCASUR Corporation, in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Country office in Sudan, organized a Training Workshop on 18-21 September 2016 in Khartoum Sudan. They convened representatives from IFAD-funded projects, the Central Coordination Unit for IFAD (CCU), and Sudan’s Ministry of Animal Resources (MOAR), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF) and Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP) to discuss Learning Route implementation.
The training workshop is one of the activities organized under the project: "Knowledge Management Tools for Enhanced Project Performance" organized by the IFAD Country Office in Sudan in collaboration with ProcasurAfrica. The key objectives were i) to enhance knowledge-management skills among IFAD’s supported projects in Sudan for the transfer of methodological toolsand ii)to provide skills and empower IFAD-funded projects in the organizing and implementing customized, country-scaled “Learning Routes”.
The intense four-day programme included myriad presentations, reflections, discussions, and question–answer sessions to help representatives learn from PROCASUR about how to implement a successful learning route. Another key aim of this training was to share the lessons learned, project results, impact evaluation, and replication of good practices gained from the implementation of past LRs, all in order to capitalize on this knowledge in determining how to scale up good practices.
For Aisha Mahmoud Mohammed, inspector of Animal Protection at the Federal Ministry of Animal Resources in Sudan, it was the first time to participate in a training on the Learning Route methodology. She found it interesting to learn about how to prepare a Learning Route and the selection of the right case studies:
"The workshop is a good opportunity for me to increase my skills and knowledge aboutLearning Routes as a way of sharing knowledge. I will go back to the Ministry of Animal Resources, and share what I have learned with my colleagues."
The participants were able to understand the differences between an exchange visit and a Learning Route. One of the key take-home messages for the participants was that the Learning Route is a continuous learning process: organizers of a Learning Route need to understand what they want to learn, how to share knowledge during field visits, and how to make use of new knowledge after the LR.
Participants also learned about the selection of host case studies, the construction of knowledge products, the involvement and roles of the different stakeholders in a Learning Route, such as the technical coordinator, the methodological coordinator, and the local champions, who have the requisite knowledge and are willing to share it with others and act as trainers.
“The connection between the roles and responsibilities of Learning Route actors and the systematisation of the host cases is an important insight. It is essential for us to understand how to define the different actors, their responsibilities, and roles, in order for us to adequately prepare them for the presentation of the host cases to the Learning Route participants.” ~ Tarig Amin Abu Albashar, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Western Sudan Resource Management Programme (WSRMP).
In the subsequent sessions, PROCASUR associate consultantMs. Barbara Massler and Methodological Coordinator, Mr. Fred Iga Luganda, presented the different learning instruments of a Learning Route. They included an experience fair, field visits, case analyses, and the development of an innovation plan. The innovation plan is a concrete plan of action that outlines how LR participants can incorporate new products, services, or processes from the lessons learned and best practices into their own strategic framework and corresponding activities.
Planning the implementation of a Learning Route on Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Productivity:
The objective of one of the training sessions was to assist the participants in the organization of a future LR: a Learning Route on Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Productivity24 October to 2 November, 2016.
Participants discussed the list of activities the organizers need to do to prepare for the Learning Route, including logistics and production of learning material such as write-ups and case studies. They were guided on the systematisation of case studies and they discussed how the existing draftcases can be improved. The facilitators also highlighted the importance of including specific learning mechanisms and incorporatingthe role of different actors. Focus was also given to the practical arrangements related to organising a Learning Route.
It became clearer to the participants what kind of information they need to collect during the coming weeks. The exercise was a reminder of the hard work of organizing a complex training activity such as the Learning Route. In the afternoon, PROCASUR staff presented different ways to monitor and evaluate a Learning Route and how projects can monitor the implementation of Innovation Plans.
The participants have so many lessons to take home with them from the training.
“A good practice is when the experience is achieving what it was designed for, has a positive effect and can be replicated.” ~ Dr. Nadir Yousif Hamdan, Director of the Livestock Marketing and Resilience Project (LMRP).
“A local champion is a community member who has good knowledge in certain practices, is well trained, has facilitation skills and is able to share this knowledge with others”~ Aida Adam Osman, Community Development Officer from Butana Intergrated Rural Development Project (BIRDP).
The Ex-Post Follow Up Session:
“Learning experiences are like journeys. The journey starts where the learning is now, and ends when the learner is successful. The end of the journey is not in knowing more, it is in doing more.”~ C. William Pollard.For this reason, PROCASUR advocates for the Monitoring and Evaluation of the impact of a LR as an important aspect of the follow up phase.
The last day of the training workshop focused on the Ex-Post LR phase in relation to lessons learned, project results, and replication of good practices. Participantsshared their past experiences from previous Learning Routes and implementations of innovation plans. The elements needed in order to successfully implement an innovation plan were highlighted as follows: i) the existence of a model that works a community level and has been promoted as a good practice ii) a visionary leader to take the agenda forward iii) incentives to raise interest inreplicating the practices among participants. Other factors that influence the implementation of innovation plans are allocated funds, policy and legal conditions, capacity among institutions and organisations, political support, project and environment support for a bottom-up approach, and cultural feasibility. Some of the take-home messages for the future were i) that Learning Routes enhance participants’ knowledge, which can then be transferred in project activities outside an innovation plan; ii) that it is better to prepare an Innovation Plan in a group; iii)that projects or initiatives presented in the Innovation plans should be embedded in existing project initiatives or components instead of being stand-alone concepts; and iv) that it is important to agree with decision-makers on how to secure funding for the proposed innovation plan.
Some of the examples presented as planned and implemented activities after LRs were i) designing and constructing a slaughterhouse, ii) improved rangeland management, iii) sponsoring goat production through the IFAD-funded BIRD project, and iv) GALS ToT trainings in WSRMP and better use of the community-development fund as a result of GALS training in BIRD.
The workshop was an intensive, knowledge-enriching and fruitful four days where theory, practice, and exchanges were perfectly combined. A lot of information was shared and learned. The participants were well versed on the Learning Route instruments and empowered by Learning Route stakeholder selection and the list of activities that organizers need to do to prepare for the Learning Route, including logistics, write-ups and finalization of case studies.
The group left the workshop in high spirits, feeling enthused, hopeful, and empowered on their journey towards implementing their self-organized Learning Route on Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Productivity scheduled for the 24th of October 2016. This training workshop has enabled the transfer of practical approaches towards the selection of good practices and has significantly contributed to clarifying what organizers need to do in order to implement a successful Learning Route.
IFAD is funding Learning Routes across Africa, Asia and Latin America through the international knowledge-broker PROCASUR and the inter-regional program 2016-2018: "Strengthening capacities and tools to scale-up and disseminate innovations". A global catalyst for change and knowledge sharing, PROCASUR's work positively impacts the lives and livelihoods for rural talents across the globe.
To have more information on this workshop and to download the Training Toolkit and Program of the activities, please visit this page.