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Lesson #6: Understand context and participants to select the right incentives

incentivesWhile an effective selection of participants for a capacity building activity has been pointed out in the previous lesson and by others as a key factor towards its success; it is also important to be aware of the right mix of incentives that will attract good candidates as well as keeping them engaged and satisfied throughout the activity. In that direction, there are many different incentives that work to promote active engagement by participants; to select those that will be effective in your specific capacity building (hereon CB) endeavor you need to understand very well both the context of the activity and the main drivers for individuals/organisations to participate.

However, before delving into these it is important to note, like Alex Ademokun did in this post, that individual and organisational incentives may vary. Alex highlights the challenge of converting organisational support to actual interest/demand at the individual level.  As he points out, “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.”

Thus, thinking widely about a range of incentives might be a good idea before starting. These could include:

  • Links to reckoned practitioners/researchers, and/or to well-known organisations both in terms of trainers/speakers and other participants
  • Identify potential partners in their region or other developing countries
  • Participate in upcoming and related courses
  • Development of concrete products (i.e a policy influence plan) that they can do with or share with other members of the organization
  • Qualified facilitators and focused follow up (i.e. by giving them personal feedback on the mandatory exercises)
  • Access to relevant and high quality practical tools and literature
  • Funding implementation by providing financial support to conduct a specific change related to what they have learned in their organisations.
  • Internships as a follow up to the training in an institution with high reputation
  • Empowerment due to the seniority/authority of the capacity building event
  • Support for a peer exchange/assistance by a colleague/peer organisation
  • Funding to share what they have learned in diverse formats (blogging, creating a workshop, etc.)
  • Doing a concrete project with the coaching of senior experts from different parts of the world
  • Fulfill a requirement made by the donor (this happens too frequently and as stated above and argued by Buldiosky, it is advised to avoid this type of single-purposed participation)

The list is extensive and there are probably other incentives related to diverse types of CBs and profiles of participants. In fact, Hans Gutbrod, from the CB group organised to discuss these topics, emphasized that establishing mechanisms for selection and incentives is very contextual: “I often approached these things, initially, thinking that it would be useful to apply an overarching principle, and then found that I tinkered with the design, because different aspects needed to come together, and because you often had different degrees of reach into a community that you wanted to connect with.”

Indeed, one effective way of fine-tuning incentives is to understand the motives and drivers for participation. As Luis Ordoñez from the CB group clearly explained: “It is very different when you were asked to participate by your superior at the government office than if you are interested because you have to write a paper on the topic at your university! Therefore, the selection must include some previous thinking about what kind of involvement after the CB you expect. I have taught courses in collaboration, with very good participants and excellent projects being produced that came ended right exactly after the course because the motivation of the participants was mainly to get “credits” for graduates courses.”

Linked to this last argument, Hans Gutbrod, added a very interesting and new layer of complexity when analyzing what works in his recent post at P&I:  the importance of personal change. He points to the importance of dispositional theory of thinking, which highlights that we often neglect motivation, the willingness of people to push themselves a bit harder which is essential for sustaining an improvement in performance. This is crucial in terms of assessing incentives: we may find a solid mix of them to carry out an activity or project, but outcomes will certainly differ between a person who is willing to become an excellent policy researcher and so welcomes the challenges this entails and a researcher who is solely focused on being in the right place for the next round of funds.

To sum up, incentives vary among organisations and individuals and also need to be framed under a larger framework that considers their objectives and usual way of working. In fact, a very self-disciplined student may participate actively and deliver very good outputs even if additional incentives are not that high for him/her!