An interview with Natasja Sheriff from the WorldFish Centre about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Applying KS tools to impact monitoring and evaluation’
Human beings have survived through adaptation. And for centuries people have come up with ingenious ways of coping with environmental extremes. In some parts of the world there is a dry season which is followed by not only a wet season but by flooding. Where crops stood a few short weeks ago, water now rolls and laps. What can a rice farmer do with this situation? Sit by for the months while his land is covered and simply wait for the season to end when he can plant crops again?
For most, struggling to get by, this is not an option. And so they adapt- making use of the water and its resources; they turn to fishing. This is the reality of the situation in the Mekong region of southern Vietnam.
But fishing is time consuming and doesn’t always yield that much for each individual.
Recognizing this predicament, the WorldFish Center set up a project in 2005 entitled ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh and Mali to look at the possibility of developing appropriate fish culture activities in seasonally flooding areas through an adaptive learning approach.
The project aimed to help farmers to set up collective fish culture, develop better techniques for breeding fish, find effective ways of managing fish culture and pool their resources to reduce costs. The project wanted to help them to achieve successful fish culture, so that they can be productive the whole year round.
“The principle behind the project is that working together can reduce the cost of growing fish,” says Natasja Sheriff, KSinR pilot project leader for Worldfish, and leader of the Community-based fish culture project. “During the flood season, the costs of enclosing individual plots of land for fish culture would be prohibitive for a single household. By combining their land resources and culturing fish in a larger enclosed area, farmers can share the capital and labour costs of fish culture.”
But as we all know, working together is easier said than done. And fish culture activities have suffered from issues of diverging goals and actions of those who should be working together—and the system has not succeeded in many cases.
Achieving successful community-based fish culture in Vietnam therefore has proven challenging for WorldFish and national project partners at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.
The project recognized that in order to do achieve the goal it would be necessary for both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results.
Early attempts at introducing monitoring and evaluation came in the form of lengthy, complex surveys undertaken by the project team-which was limited in its structure, cumbersome to process results and hardly ever filtered back to the stakeholders. Little learning was being achieved. The project then felt that a more participatory approach to impact monitoring would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the local conditions as well as project impacts, with project beneficiaries being able to both share and receive information better.
Something different was required…something that focused more on sharing of knowledge. And so with a grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project, it piloted the use of knowledge sharing (KS) tools to help.
Outcome Mapping was the tool that was chosen to help with monitoring and evaluation in the project, but in a way more focused on effective knowledge sharing; and this was applied to WorldFish’s work in Vietnam.
“When the partners in Vietnam suggested Outcome Mapping, I had actually not heard about it before,” admits Natasja. “Outcome Mapping is a process that can be used to monitor change. It can also influence change by getting people together to talk about what it is they want to achieve and then developing markers or indicators to track progress. They say ‘how do we need to change in order to reach that goal?’ . A series of markers can be set up showing how we are all progressing towards achieving that goal.”
Natasja felt that Outcome Mapping could provide them with, not only a means of tracking their progression with the fish culture activities, but could additionally encourage them to look at what they themselves need to do to achieve their visions and commit to those activities by setting up regular monitoring towards achievable targets.
“We spoke to the farmers in Vietnam and we asked them to imagine a vision of the future, asking them to ‘Imagine you wake up at the end of the project, how have things changed?’ The vision they had was of more income: they were able to send their children to school, they have electricity in the village, they work together better, there is increased solidarity. That is what they hope to achieve with the project, and it is fairly ambitious. That identifies for them as a group their aspirations, their hopes and dreams which should be realised from their efforts. But these changes do not happen on their own”.
What outcome mapping does is to help groups like this to then share with each other, what needs to happen, who needs to be doing what—for those aspirations, hopes and dreams to be realized.
The impact of the fish culture project in Vietnam will not be known until the fish are harvested. It’s success will depend on factors such as whether poaching has been dealt with and what the community itself has decided to do with the money they have earned.
But it is not too early to begin to assess the impact of applying knowledge sharing tools.
“Knowledge sharing in itself, I think, is really useful,” concludes Natasja. “It is a way of getting together and sharing ideas, being more participatory in the way that we do research, and the way in which we work together with beneficiaries. I think it is a worthwhile investment to apply these approaches as tools for monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment. I think if you prioritize such tools at the beginning of any project they can lead to improved relationships with both project partners and beneficiaries, more effective monitoring and ultimately greater impact. As scientists, we need to spend more time actually talking with the people we are trying to help.”
Knowledge sharing can help to better understand and hopefully realize some of these Vietnamese visions.
For more information and outputs from thsi project- see the WorldFish KSinR pilot project page