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An experiment in how best to do R4D: the CPWF launches work on ‘Learning to Innovate’

“Experiments are used by everyone, all the time; whether it’s testing the effects of a drug, or trying to make a new relationship work” (Wikipedia)
The Challenge Program on Water and Food is carrying out an experiment in making the relationship between research and development, often referred to as research for development,  work better by “putting equal emphasis on producing quality research outputs (the things people use) as it does on contributing to developmental outcomes (changes in knowledge and practice resulting from developing and using the outputs).”

The projects of the CPWF use a number of approaches to try to put this into practice, with varying degrees of efficiency, effectiveness and success from which the Program and others have the potential to learn important lessons.

The CPWF has, therefore, decided to carry out a specific ‘experiment’, in addition to its research on improvements in water management and water productivity, on the mechanisms for how best to do research for development.

Learning to innovate

Since the CPWF  believes that there is a “different way of operating” and in the value of innovative science, they  initiated discussions and developed a conceptual framework on ‘Learning to Innovate’ as part of their Phase 2. And this experiment was launched as a Topic Working Group during the Basin Leaders meeting in Vientiane, Laos from the 17th to 20th January 2011. Topic working groups are described as:

Topic Working Groups are communities of practice that address specific, well-defined challenges in relation to water and food that are cutting across basins. They aim to facilitate cross-basin learning and research, and help build capacity of basin teams through sharing of experiences and mentoring.

For more information, see the introductory presentation below given at the Basin Leaders meeting, 17-21 January 2011 in Vientiane, Laos.

View more presentations from CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.
The framework for operationalising this work involves developing a team which will use a mix between a Community of Practice and Learning Alliance models, to carry out a method of:
  • Plan- what you want to do and learn
  • Act-carry out activities for implementation and research
  • Reflect-bring back lessons  to the platform to reflect on them with others–and start to plan again

But what does learning to innovate mean?

During the meeting there was a lot of interest in testing and better understanding how to carry out  and support the practice of research for development. But there are still a lot of questions about what learning to innovate really means.

Olufunke Cofie, Leader of the Volta Basin Basin Development Challenge(BDC)  program proposed that “ it is about learning how to engage with our stakeholders”. Kim Geheb, Leader of the Mekong BDC program said he saw learning to innovate as “trying to answer the question of how do we change things”.

But others still had questions of what is the conceptual framework we are using? What are we  trying to do? How are we capturing this?

Boru Douthwaite presenting L2i

Boru Douthwaite, Innovation Leader of the CPWF and Leader of the Learning to Innovate Topic Working Group explained that “ the L2i platform is for capturing lessons on how to do research for development and what supports it—so we can learn together to support our own business of implementing the CPWF projects but also to provide lessons beyond the Program”.

He gave an example of a concrete activity that could be carried out- “There  could be an activity to build capacity in doing policy influence within the BDCs so they can have new skills and ideas to do policy influence activities within their own Basins— and what comes back to the platform is what has been learned, what worked, and what hasn’t worked. The platform can analyse if we have used the new capacity and how it worked, and also if doing again what would we do differently”.

From my perspective and given the work that I am involved in at the ICT-KM program, it is interesting to think about what knowledge sharing tools and methods can be used to support better research for development and working towards impact. Our knowledge sharing in research framework was also designed to support research projects to use tools and methods to better engage with stakeholders, to learn and to share towards improved impact.

What do you out there think? What are your ideas and experiences? Please share with us to improve this experiement!

“There remains simple experience; which, if taken as it comes, is called accident, if sought for, experiment”. – Francis Bacon. Novum Organum. 1620.

Photo credits:

Blog post thumbnail- Uploaded by 123dan321 on Jan 22, 2010 at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1256556

Photo of Boru Douthwaite by Deepak Shanmuganathan/CPWF (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpwf/)