[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at Practising Development, managed by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP). It is part of a series produced by Vanesa Weyrauch and Leandro Echt from Politics&Ideas to share what we learn through the development and conduction of an online course aimed at building the capacity of Latin American policy makers to promote the use of knowledge in policy making.]
Selecting a promising group of participants
As already shared in previous posts at P&I, our think net launched a call last February to engage Latin American policy makers interested in promoting the use of knowledge in their organizations through their participation in an online course.
We received more than 350 applications from most of the countries of our region and were then faced with the challenge of selecting only 25 of them to fill the available spots. For that purpose, we used a mix of criteria such as geographic diversity, experience in the use of research/evidence in their working environments, needs and motivations to learn and use that knowledge within their organizations, and individual and organizational commitment to share knowledge with other peers.
We now have a very rich and heterogeneous group from Guatemala to Argentina, working at the national, subnational and local levels, and with diverse profiles ranging from a member of a public/private corporation in Colombia committed to strengthen research on rural issues to a member of the National Council for Science, technology and Innovation in Peru engaged with developing policies and tools related to science and technology.
Without this course, these people would probably never have had the opportunity to “meet” each other and learn together for any period of time. The whole project budget would not have allowed us to bring them all together for a week but it has enabled us to develop all of the content and conduct the seven-week online course so that they can share knowledge and experience virtually. It has also enabled us to partner with a South Asian organization to adapt the content to a new setting.
A unique capacity building opportunity
What else makes this capacity building offer unique and so far attractive to its participants? One might think that the lack of possibility for participants to meet face to face and get to know each other would hinder the chance to interact and discuss their relevant challenges as well as share relevant experiences. However, we are finding that the online platform combined with theoretical modules and practical exercises, plus a series of webinars, are providing them with a good opportunity to significantly develop their own and others´ capacities to tackle this complex interaction between knowledge and policy.
First of all, one advantage of the online course in comparison to a face to face workshop (although ideally we would have loved to combine both!) is that participants have a longer time to digest content and link it to their on-going work. The course takes place over seven weeks so we are able to space out the knowledge – a crucial strategy due to the high level of complexity and depth of many of the issues we reflect upon: starting from internal capacities to how the overall political context or the behaviour of other stakeholders can pose several challenges to this type of work.
Second, online tools allow us to promote horizontal learning. It provides the feeling of a network, where many can bring both ideas and problems and where the experience of one can shed light on the question of another. As the weeks progress, participants get engaged and share very real life examples of what they are doing well, as well as current dilemmas and obstacles. Reading each other, pausing one or more times a week (many do it on the weekends!) and selecting when to process the modules all contribute to the possibility of each participant finding his/her unique pace. They can also select which topics to bring into discussion.
Inspired by Acumen´s online courses, we have also a weekly ‘Ahá’ moment where participants are invited to share what they have discovered as novel or some sort of awareness/realization about their work that took place due to modules´ content or discussions. This practice enables them to highlight (from the quite dense content) the specific knowledge that best talks to them and their real challenges/environment.
Course content: co-constructing knowledge with policymakers
The content of the course is also quite original – we developed the curricula with the help of a Strategic Group made up of eight former or current senior policy makers (national and provincial ministers, secretaries and directors, among others) with a significant academic or research background from different Latin American countries (see more here). We have also made the decisions to focus not only on supporting the development of technical ability but also on how to approach common challenges that arise when seeking to strengthen the use of evidence taking into account political economy in these processes. Therefore, we cover issues such as detecting different decision making styles in order to better assess what type of knowledge should be shared and how, and how the prevailing mode for making decisions including who participates means different opportunities and challenges.
Additionally, we interviewed a range of public officials in different countries and with different positions to understand how they are currently using evidence so as to ensure that we incorporate a more realistic view on the several issues in the curricula. Some of them along with members of the Strategic Group were invited to share their experience and reflections in our webinars.
Right now, in the fifth week of the course, we feel inspired by what participants have shared so far. Their continuous engagement in relevant discussions, their concrete experiences that will expand and refine the content of upcoming capacity building activities, their unanswered questions and the collective spirit of starting to think about new ways of thinking about this complex interaction are all working to make it more effective and fruitful.