Taking a Big Picture View of Capacity Development

21 May 2013, Mchinji, Malawi- Flora Chimtolo, right, Agnes Chioko, left, Alinafe Mduwa, centre, and girls Brenda Kapeni, near camera, and Regina Bauti, 2nd right, are harvesting groundnuts in Mduwa's field at Mzingo Village, Traditional Authority Mavwere in Mchinji District, central Malawi, May 21, 2013. PHOTO FAO/AMOS GUMULIRA

We who are committed to agricultural innovation, enterprise and societal well-being need to ensure that human, organizational and institutional capacities are developed to meet the needs of today and the aspirations of the future.

Over the past several months, CGIAR has been discussing with partners and stakeholders on how the new draft Strategy and Results Framework (SRF) will guide the CGIAR, including its work in capacity development. This consultation forms part of the broader GCARD3 consultative process that will continue through 2015 and into 2016.

I had the pleasure of hosting one of a series of webinars that GFAR and CGIAR have set up to discuss aspects of the draft SRF.   We discussed the topic of how capacity development has been addressed in the new version of the CGIAR’s SRF. I was joined by 17 representatives from across the agricultural research for development sector, including representatives of national public research, CGIAR Research Programs, international research partners, development organizations, Regional Fora, advisers and consultants, youth and gender networks and the CGIAR Community of Practice on capacity development. It was a lively debate that, I believe, can contribute significantly to the overall consultation process of the SRF.

It was evident to me that, overall, those at the webinar were encouraged by the broader definition of capacity development in the SRF as, “a strategic enabler of impact” and a form of intermediate development outcome in itself, equipping national systems to address their own challenges. This goes beyond traditional processes of training and knowledge transfer to include tools and approaches that cut across individual, organizational and institutional levels and lead to measurable outputs and impact on the ground. But – perhaps echoing a lack of consistency in the SRF – more work is needed to ensure capacity development is   consistently defined in the different sections where it has been discussed. There is an opportunity here to better clarify what we mean by capacity development, and to emphasize a more holistic and integrated approach which goes beyond enabling “the conduct of applied research”, to building system capacities to innovate and spark change in rural  development.

The participants agreed that CGIAR also needs to articulate its vision of success for capacity development in the next 10 years, to shed remaining linear thinking and replace it by a comprehensive, holistic and integrative approach to capacity development, which better reflects the complex realities of agricultural innovation and requires real interaction between diverse partners. A vital need is to describe not only what needs to be done but the “concrete actions” CGIAR will take to get there, along with what indicators it will use to   measure the results.  There is no doubt that partnership will be key.  

The quote from Peter Matlon, Board Chair of the Africa Rice Center, in the draft SRF document resonated with many at the webinar, who suggested that it be used to review the SRF sections on capacity development and could be adopted as the vision of capacity development for CGIAR: “Capacity development is about enhancing individual and organizational capacities over time to play lead roles in technology generation, not limiting partners only to taking forward CGIAR research products. CGIAR should embrace a more dynamic comparative advantage perspective in which the roles of centers and national partners evolve over time. This means it isn’t just what the centers will do working with partners, but also how they work in partnerships: in ways that empower partners to expand their responsibilities and capacities, rather than limiting them to secondary, dependent roles.”

Webinar participants suggested that the CGIAR should be clearer about how it will resource capacity development – what it can do directly to develop capacities, and what it can partner to do. Beneficiaries of capacity development along the value chains and beyond  research partners should receive adequate focus – farmers, universities, producers and consumers and the SRF needs to state how they will be included here.  Specific plans should be developed to address the capacities of young men and women to lead research and development in their countries and regions. Said one participant, “We should be aiming for successful capacity development of national institutions and partners that will also evolve the work of the CGIAR out of its current roles to new areas where it may be more needed in future”.

The importance of consolidated funding for capacity development in national systems, to ensure consistency and ability to partner the CGIAR’s programs was stressed. Also, the group emphasized the importance of considering research on capacity development as a CGIAR research priority in its own right, as with gender, policies and institutions. This is especially true as CGIAR begins to develop capacities to innovate, to manage the resulting changes in roles and measure the impact of its different interventions. Results of research on capacity development should be captured and used to improve current approaches. Finally, the value of capacity development in achieving impact at scale, a target of CGIAR, should be systematically assessed, to demonstrate the importance of capacity development as an intermediate development objective in itself.

This is but a   brief summary of our discussions. For more notes on the webinar and a full recording you can visit the SRF consultation results page.  Personally, I very much enjoyed participants’ enthusiasm and the flow of information and exchange of knowledge during the discussions. I believe there is a huge pool of expertise and experience that CGIAR can benefit from during this consultation process, and I look forward to seeing how this input becomes reflected in the SRF.

Stay engaged with the SRF consultation
And join in the public Chat Room (e-consultation)

Blogpost by Iman El-Kaffass
Picture courtesy FAO/Amos Gumulira

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