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Lesson #13: Looking deeper at the harvest of face-to-face capacity building events

As we shared in Lesson #12 the programme Spaces for Engagement departed from a deep conviction about the value of creating opportunities for face-to-face interaction, especially in terms of building a regional community of practice to share knowledge on research and policy. Even if we learned that this type of events are not usually an effective mechanism to create an ongoing and engaged community, we very clearly detected that we generated opportunities to build new relationships as well as to begin creating a growing interest in how to strengthen the link between research and policy at the regional level.

The value of personal relationships as a way to build the so needed social capital to allow for more and better collective or group work is frequently advocated in our field. In that sense, it is claimed over and again that support should be provided to convene face-to-face events where people can get to know each other, discuss lively on relevant topics and exchange useful experience and knowledge.

Even though we felt that this type of gathering paved the way for other capacity building and knowledge generation activities, we also found that the effects of relationships and networking forged through face-to-face events are very difficult to track. In fact, it is very unlikely that participants will continue to be engaged after the event as a community even when they have expressed commitment or interest in continuing to work together. It is more likely that specific bilateral exchanges will take place after this type of CB activities based on very concrete needs and motivations of participants.

This is probably linked to what Ricardo Ramirez has described as readiness, i.e. outcomes in the future are likely to be seen if participants experienced previously a real need/demand for what could be either found or generated through these events. In this sense, we would like to see in the future how we can better link this type of face-to-face meetings embedded in longer capacity building projects, so that they become a part of an effort where individuals meet with a more clear purpose and tangible incentives in terms of how the relationships they are forging can benefit them and their organisations.