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Challenges in Practice – Thoughts on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Part 2)

[Editor’s note: This is the second post by Alex Ademokun reflecting on the recent Politics & Ideas paper ‘Lessons learned promoting links between researchers and policy makers’. Alex manages the Evidence-Informed Policy Making programme at INASP.]

My first post talked about challenges to applying these lessons in practice such as identifying at which level capacity needs to be built and issues to do with carrying out a needs assessment.  In this post I will touch on selection of participants and challenges with demand for capacity building.

Selection of participants – At INASP we believe that selection of participants is an important step in the successful implementation of any capacity building project as discussed by my colleague Antonio Capillo, here.  Put simply if you do not identify people with a need for, or the opportunity to use the skills you are trying to build in their jobs you are unlikely to have a long term impact on capacity.

Standing out from the crowdLooking for the right people

The VakaYiko consortium is working on how to strengthen the selection processes for all our activities to ensure they are useful both to the ministerial departments we work with and to the individuals in the room.

One approach when we discuss selection of potential participants with heads of departments is to provide profiles in terms of roles as opposed to by job titles or career level.  This is because job titles do not always reflect what people actually do whether because prestige associated with a particular position means the wrong person is in that position or because people carry out multiple roles due to staffing problems.  So instead of saying ‘a grade 3 Civil Servant’ or ‘a policy researcher’ we describe a role such as ‘’the person responsible for sourcing research data on key policy issues in the department.  The individual may also be responsible for interpreting research data and summarising the key points to the Director of the department’’. 

We will then discuss the profiles with the department heads as part of a needs assessment before the relevant participants are identified.

This approach of course presumes that there is someone with that particular role in the departments.  In discussions with Senior Civil Servants it is clear that roles overlap and are often carried out in an ad hoc manner which in itself provides useful information about the working environments individuals come from.

A second approach across the programme is to work with institutions that already have a remit to support and train Civil Servants or other policy support staff.  In Ghana for instance CSTC offers a mix of courses to different levels of Civil Servants.  Courses are approved based on input from Directors in key departments, HR directors and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service to ensure they meet a need within the Civil Service as an institution.

Capacity Building works if participants demand it – This seems obvious but is rather difficult in practice.  At a basic level, demand for capacity support and the availability of resources do not always coincide.

As noted in the paper, it is important to get top level buy-in along with organisational support in the form of resource contribution or other demonstration of commitment (such as a formal agreement).  However, one challenge I foresee is that of converting organisational support to actual interest/demand at the individual level.  Organisational support is good for getting participants in a room but it does not guarantee you their engagement, attention or indeed the suitability of the participant.  In VakaYiko we aim to demonstrate the advantages of any activity not just to the organisation and management but we see demonstrating the advantages to the individual as key for success.  In Zimbabwe we will not only run sensitisation workshops for Senior Civil Servants we will also bring in the researchers and support staff who will ideally be the audience for any training.  This allows them to see the buy-in from management but also creates a space for their input into the design of the training.

In this regard the tips on p23 of the paper will be useful as we plan interventions in detail.

Working with partners – This is a core principle of INASP, our work is built on a network of champions who lead projects in their own countries.  VakaYiko, like all INASP projects, depends on the knowledge, expertise and networks of such partner organisations.  This consortium allows us to strengthen those relationships, build new ones and learn how to be better at supporting locally led capacity building projects.

The paper from Politics & Ideas has many lessons that apply to this programme and others like it.  We will continue to share our reflections on how to apply these lessons in practice and hope to be part of a wider conversation about how to improve the way capacity building programmes are designed and delivered.