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Lesson #9: Engaging others in co-producing knowledge strengthens capacity building

Opening up the field of work to a large and diverse universe of individuals and organisations enables the co-production of knowledge that is relevant and useful, fosters a deep understanding of the complexity of applying knowledge on the field and enlarges the scale and scope of your CB efforts.

At SFE we prioritized motivated trainers from developing countries who had worked in the field of bridging research and policy and could thus understand the practical challenges this implies in regions such as Latin America and Africa. We also welcomed contributions from participants asking them to share experiences and practices that could help peers in future CB activities.

The value this decision brought to the programme is consistent with what Datta and others (2012) have found as lessons learned on capacity building projects in this area: “Large-scale capacity development work tends to be overseen by ‘Northern’/foreign-based experts. While they may have excellent technical skills, they may, for instance, lack an in-depth understanding of the local context and may subsequently not be able to stimulate professional rigour and innovation among actors within the client organisation. Capacity development work could be improved considerably by working closely with local providers. If they lack expertise on content, they could have their knowledge and skills on this improved. There are several advantages in deploying local capacity developers either on their own or in collaboration with international/Northern organisations.

For instance, they may understand the local context and cultural sensitivities; speak the local languages; know the professional, formal and informal networks; enjoy legitimacy and recognition among peers; have knowledge of national institutions; be familiar with the work environment and able to command lower costs; and finally have a better rapport with national decision-makers who prefer to see their compatriots employed in-country rather than losing people to better-paid jobs abroad (Acquaye-Baddoo, 2010).

However, the role of empathy and understanding of Southern trainers in terms of co-producing relevant knowledge should not be over-estimated, as Goran Buldioski so effectively remarked in a recent post at P&I: “…a mature recipient will be able to adapt technical training to a specific context. Also, not all ‘Westerners’ come from rich settings. Many experts have been working in social contexts and poverty settings similar to those in developing countries. Then, one shall not take for granted that people from similar settings can empathize better with each other since this is not always the key determinant of success.”

To sum up, diversity of backgrounds, disciplines, expertise and experience, as well as interests and links will lead to a richer chain of co-production of knowledge that is relevant, useful and  of quality to be applied and used in capacity building.