Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Sharing project outcomes using a “cattle corral”(FishBowl) approach: What’s in a name?

Knowledge sharing tools and methods come in all shapes and sizes, and with some very interesting names often too. Many can be found on the

 Knowledge Sharing Toolkit.

Have you ever heard of a Samoan circle, brown bag lunch, world cafe, chat show, DeBono’s six thinking hats, icebreakers, knowledge expeditions, open space, round robin or speed geeking?

The names may be quite random or may have been chosen for something important that the method was based on, but despite the name  it is what the method helps to achieve in terms of facilitating, brokering or unlocking better engagement between people and better sharing of knowledge that is important.

However, despite the usefulness of the method, it may sometimes be hard for people or groups to identify with the methods being introduced and used if they, for example,  aren’t Samoan, never had lunch served in a brown bag, never had to break any ice, never been on an expedition, don’t know what a robin is or unfamiliar with the term geek(ing)–let alone it being something speedy!

It may sometimes be useful, therefore,  to change or modify the name of an approach- and even the approach itself- to relate it to the people or project with which you are working–so they feel comfortable, can understand the concept better, and to make it  tailored to them and what they are doing.

This was my recent experience and lesson learned from facilitating the regional ASARECA workshop on ‘Mitigating the impact of Napier grass smut and stunt diseases for the smallholder dairy sector: Sharing results’ held June 2nd and 3rd 2010 on the ILRI Campus, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This workshop, the final gathering of the project team and key stakeholders of the ASARECA-funded Napier grass disease resistance project, had a key objective to explore the achievements and outcomes of the project from the perspective of the project team as well as a variety of stakeholders with whom the project interacted. In order to have some meaningful discussions and be able to ‘tease out’ some of the achievements and outcomes from this three year (2007-2010),  three country (Keyna, Tanzania, and Uganda) project it was necessary to use some more innovative knowledge sharing methods in addition to the usual workshop activities of presentations, keynote speeches and plenary discussions.

On the first day(Wednesday 2nd June) of the workshop-aimed particularly at identifying and discussing the outcomes and achievements of the

 project- we planned to use a FishBowl method to facilitate an interactive discussion on outcomes and impacts of the project on smallholder dairy farmers in East Africa, as perceived by a range of stakeholders. The choice of this method seemed appropriate to the objective since:

Fishbowls involve a small group of people (usually 5-8) seated in circle, having a conversation in full view of a larger group of listeners. Fishbowl processes provide a creative way to include the “public” in a small group discussion. They can be used in a wide variety of settings, including workshops, conferences, organizational meetings and public assemblies. Fishbowls are useful for ventilating “hot topics” or sharing ideas or information from a variety of perspectives. (KS Toolkit)

The fishbowl worked well. It allowed a more structured, yet easy-flowing discussion amongst the 5 people in the middle of the fish bowl, which resulted in key ideas emerging and being properly evaluated and refined. It also encouraged more active listening amongst the ‘public’ whose silent focus was directed towards the discussant group in the middle. As the discussion grew and others felt more comfortable and confident to make a contribution, a wider set of perspectives were shared as members of the ‘public’ took over places in the centre group:

Sometimes the discussion is a “closed conversation” among a specific group. More often, one or more chairs are open to “visitors” (i.e., members of the audience) who want to ask questions or make comments

In the evaluation at the end of the workshop- Dr Shirley Tarawali, Leader of the ILRI Theme on People, Livestock and Environment under which the Napier grass project is hosted, commented that “the Fish Bowl was really effective at getting lots of ideas from the various stakeholders and project team members on what this project may or may not have achieved. Different people could share their ideas and these were discussed in a small enough group to properly examine to what extent such an outcome really was achieved. I am amazed at how much useful information was shared”. Many other participants from Ministries, NARS, Universities and even a farmer commented that they had never been exposed to such a method, but they found it ‘energetic’, ‘exciting’ and a ‘very positive approach for talking to each other’.

But what also became apparent when evaluating the workshop and use of new approaches such as the FishBowl was that in the midst of using a new, innovative method which people are not familiar with, they were also grasping to understand “this whole fish bowl thing”- as one participant described it. Since fish bowls, fish tanks and aquariams are not as commonplace in this region- the name did not immediately reflect the concept and how the method would work-so it took a bit longer to explain and for people to get into the method.

It would have been more applicable to describe this method as a cattle corral” suggested Dr. Jean Hanson, ILRI Genebank Manager. “People in this project are working on livestock forage issues, so they are more aware of the concept of cattle being kept in a circular corral made of wooden stakes and branches being watched by all from outside-than fish in a glass bowl! They would have more quickly grasped the concept of the method if it had been framed in language and context that is more familiar to them.

Good point-well taken! Thank you!

On day 2 (Thursday 3rd June) of the workshop two more knowledge sharing approaches were used.

A modified Peer Assist approach was used to explore how relationships between this project, with its valuable set of  knowledge and results, and other projects could be forged. Three tables were set up with a representative from other projects and lots of flip chart paper. There was also a fourth table known as the ‘open bucket’ table, which was hosted by the Project team. 

  • Dairy in East Africa project (Ben Lukuyu, ILRI)
  • Napier grass as a tool for increased milk production (Hizikias Ketema, FAO)
  • Modeling results (Bruno Gerard,  CGIAR System-wide Livestock Program)
  • ‘Open bucket’ table (Julius Nyangaga, Napier grass project)

 The workshop participants were invited to visit three out of the four tables, for a 20 minute session each time. Each of the project tables introduced their project for 5 minutes and then asked the participants to discuss and brainstorm ideas for how those projects could link to the Napier project, make use of its results, and extend the work beyond the current (and ending) project. The ‘open bucket’ table was provided as an opportunity for participants to provide ideas on other projects, initiatives and opportunities for linkages, outreach, sharing of data and carrying forward the work of the Napier grass project.

This approach elicited alot of ideas for moving the results and knowledge from the Napier grass project forward through other projects and institutions. This idea of achieving outreach and outcomes through sharing knowledge with key boundary partners to take forward with their own networks was particularly pertinent for the project  which also made use of Outcome Mapping as a participatory planning, monitoring and dissemination approach.

At the end of the day, the workshop moved into a World Cafe  for ‘looking back, looking forward’.  With five topic tables, participants were given the chance to spend time at up to 4 tables to both evaluate how a particular topic was handled during the project and to share ideas about how this can be taken forward. This included:

  • dissemination of best management practices and resistant clones to mitigate the diseases
  • provision of key recommendations to other countries in the region where Napier grass is important and that either are not aware of the Napier grass disease or where they already have a  serious problem
  • what policies and regulations are needed to suport R&D
  • use of participatory planning in the project and for the future
  • communication of knowledge during and after the project

In this session some achievements in communication efforts during the project were highlighted. One of the greatest outcomes noted from the project was the awareness raised about the smut and stunt disease affecting Napier grass. Through posters, brochures, radio programs, focus group discussions, stakeholder workshops,  presentations at agricultural shows and  field visits, farmers were provided with more information about the disease, its effects, and how to address it through formats applicable to them.  Scientific knowledge from the project was made more accessible through journal articles and presentations at scientific conferences. Still lacking, it was decided, were communication efforts to policy makers.

Additonally, there was alot of focus on how to make the results of the project more available, accessible and applicable from now onwards to the various target groups who could and should make use of them. Because alot more research questions have emerged from the project, it was felt that this was a key outcome of the project and efforts should be made to stimulate and support ongoing research through sharing the results and gaps from the project. Some other key ways of sharing knowledge from the project or for future projects (since this one is now ending) that were identified include:

  • Use of video to capture and disseminate information
  • Supporting capacity building  efforts throughout projects and with the results
  • Using more photographs and images to raise awareness and share best practices
  • More scientific papers
  • Include farmers in scientific workshops
  • Make use of more local media (newspapers, radio, television)
  • Take part in agricultural shows and exhibitions
  • Presenting at International conferences
  • Field visits and field days for farmers, but also for policy makers and others
  • More promotion and use of the project website and embedding it in longer-term institutions (e.g ILRI, ASARECA)

These are interesting ‘pathways’ for making research more accessible, which will provide me with more ideas, information and case studies to be documented and shared with others through the global initiative on ‘coherence in information for agricultural resarch for development’ (CIARD).

Photo credit: Observing through the fish bowl image http://aviary.com/artists/momo14/creations/fish_bowl

Photo credit: Traditional livestock corral in Africa sketch http://www.dbarchitect.com/6600ThirdStreet