Tag Archives: sustainability

Linking research to policy – my new project

I have recently joined an interesting project to establish a South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (funded by the Asian Development Bank).  I will have the opportunity to work with research institutes in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (to start) on sustainable development issues in the urban sector. My role as knowledge management specialist is to build capacity of the researchers to undertake outcome focused research for policy influencing.  I am tasked with creating a template to help the researchers develop policy influencing strategies, improve technical writing skills for policy briefs, provide a 2-day training workshop and will also act as a mentor on an ongoing basis for two years.  For anyone who knows me, this sounds like a dream!

In some ways, it is a dream and in other ways, I have gone down a rabbit hole of jargon that is giving me nightmares.

evaluator_jargon_evalblogAs I consider the assessment I need to undertake as a first step, I cannot imagine asking people about their familiarity or confidence level in using tools like: problem trees, objective tress, force field analysis, stakeholder maps, SWOT, theory of change, the RAPID framework, alignment/interest/influence matrix, outcome mapping, advocacy strategy, communications strategy, etc etc etc.  Don’t you feel overwhelmed just reading the list of available and suggested tools? I do.

This is forcing me to really take a step back and figure out what I need to know from the participants beforehand in order to design a good training and what is the best way to get the information from them (this is before I even start doing the real work!).

While originally I thought a simple online survey would work, I have decided that this is not the best tool given many people may not use the same terms for undertaking analytical tasks.  My simple assessment could get wordy and complicated.  Moreover, if I leave the online survey open-ended, I won’t have the opportunity to really understand the responses provided without proper follow-up.  This leads me to the idea of conducting group interviews with each centre.  This way, I can probe into the questions I ask with the group from each centre and build on the conversation as it evolves. I believe I will gain a better understanding of the types of methods they have used (or not used) previously.

I have already had one introductory Skype meeting with each centre so this is also a nice way to build our relationship given I am going to be working with them for the next two years.

Sooooo…given I want to learn about what experience (or lack of experience) the centres have with undertaking outcome oriented research for policy influencing these are the questions I’m considering using to guide my interviews.  The results need to inform the design of a template for policy influencing as well as a 2-day training for the centres.  I would love your feedback as its still in draft form.  Or maybe you work in this area and have other bits of advice for me?  If so, thanks for sharing!

1.    Please share an example or two of research you undertook in the past specifically with the purpose of changing policy:

  • How was the research topic decided?
  • Did the research lead to a change? If yes, what were the key factors?
  • Did you document your assumptions for creating change? If yes, how?
  • Were other actors/partners involved? How so?
  • Did you have a strategy in place that you followed?
  • Did you use specific tools or techniques to understand the different actors/stakeholders involved?  Those who would support or challenge your research?
  • How did you monitor the change that took place?
  • How do you know your influence on the change, as opposed to other outside forces?
  •       If not, have you used a strategy for other advocacy work? If yes, please describe what this looked like.
  •       If not, how do you feel embarking on this type of work in the future? What are you most excited about and most concerned about?

 

2.    Please describe how you typically disseminate the knowledge generated from research.

  • What methods do you use? Example strategy?
  • What has been most successful? What has been least successful?
  • How do you define your audiences?
  • Do you typically write different messages for different audiences?
  • Do you work with communication professionals?
  • What type of communications products do you think policy makers find most useful? For example:
    • Policy briefs
    • Opinion articles, News items
    • Media, Community radio
    • Working groups
    • High profile events
    • Public pressure

3.    To what extent are policies in your field evidence-informed?

  • What are some of the factors that determine whether, and to what extent, evidence informs or even influences policy decisions?
  • Is demand a necessary condition for the uptake of research?
  • Do you think well-conceived and compellingly packaged research findings stimulate the interest of policy makers?
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Sustainability: Rear View Mirror and Crystal Ball

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the 5th Building Sustainable Communities conference that reflected back on Rio (1992) and looked ahead to Rio+20 in terms of sustainability.  Given I am usually making presentations for others or coaching clients on messages for their presentations, I was excited to write my own talk.

Sustainability is at the core of my work in terms of the ultimate impact I hope to achieve.  However, my day to day reality often manifests as bringing people and their institutions together. The main message of my 10 minutes was that collaboration (the power with) is a key ingredient to address the sustainability challenges ahead. The slides are posted on slideshare.

I decided to use a mix of hand-drawn images (via my iPad) and photos from real places where I shared field experiences from Guyana, Senegal and British Columbia.  I received great feedback after the session on the visuals and the stories I shared (thanks to those who shared your thoughts, always appreciated!).

Some of the tactics I used included starting with a personal story, asking compelling questions, simplified design with hand-drawn images, and aiming to inspire others to make the changes I believe are necessary.

My final questions for participants to ponder included:

What are you currently working on that could be enhanced by collaborating with others?  Where could you achieve more if the scale at which you work was enlarged?  Where can you achieve more together than alone?

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David Suzuki came to town

Last night I had the honour to listen to David Suzuki, one of Canada’s national heros, in Castlegar, B.C., Canada as part of the Mir Center for Peace Lecture Series.  He is an inspiring and passionate speaker on the environment.  It is clear why we have all been glued to his TV shows, such as CBC’s The Nature of Things, since the 1970’s.  Dr. Suzuki reflected on being an elder (i.e. 74 yrs old), and that the questions haven’t changed much over the years.  These questions include: Who are we? How did we get here? and What’s it all about?

The lecture summarized some key points on the need to recognize the basics of life, biodiversity and role of the human brain in getting us to where we are today.  He wholeheartedly emphasized the need to put the eco (house) back into economics and start valuing the very elements in this world we need to survive.   He challenged us to see the world as it really is, to slow down, and reimagine the future.

While I respect this man and all he has done to communicate environmental issues to the public, I found his talk lacking on some key points, namely that of equity.  Firstly, the lecture focused on the footprint that 6.8 billion people have on the world. This aggregate number misses the point that most of the population is living in poverty and that the impact is our responsibility as North American/Western consumers.  Secondly, he spoke of the need to limit growth.  Again, there are many countries in this world that need growth while others need to question their growth, both quantitatively and qualitatively.   The rights of less developed countries to develop should be recognized.  Thirdly, Dr. Suzuki challenged us to see the world as it really is, i.e. a tree can be lumber or a tree can be the lungs of the earth.  He was referring to the latter.   My question is who decides the definition?  In a globalized world, we need to respect the rights of local people and hence poor people often see resources differently than we do (i.e. that tree is shelter, energy, medicine and food).  Sustainable use is a more equitable option than preservation in many cases.

Suzuki focused on his world view, a deep green view in which we are all animals.  My take on the situation is slightly more pragmatic.   It’s not a one-sized fits all for the planet.  Biodiversity is key, including human diversity. This means there will be trade offs and everyone will have to give a little, some will need to give more and take less.  We are fortunate here in Western Canada. We need to expand our world view beyond the geography in our backyard and support efforts for others in the world to gain access to their land, resources and rights to an income.  Recognizing the needs of poor people and the planet will hopefully lead to a healthier planet for all.   With a captive audience at the Mir Center, Suzuki missed an opportunity to provide the fuller picture of our global dilemma.

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Vancouver’s PechaKucha on Sustainability

City of Vancouver is starting a conversation on sustainability, this is from their website.

Last night, the City of Vancouver launched a conversation on sustainability with an evening of PechaKucha.  This is a group- chit-chat on a design topic where people have 20 seconds for 20 slides over the course of six and half minutes.  I wasn’t sure what to expect in the 2000+ packed theatre but it was indeed an evening of inspiring stories and thought.

In terms of a process for engagement the room was too big for group interaction so conversations are expected to happen on line after the event.  However,  I do think (and have heard) that in smaller settings, this can be a great format for stimulating real time innovations.   In a venue where interaction could take place, the presenters could share their greatness, stimulate people to act, AND ALSO seek feedback on their projects, figure out new ways forward together and hence collaborate and group-think on the future of design and ideas throughout the evening.  This could also be a useful format in the workplace for stimulating new design theories or generating new projects.  Donors could use the method to get ideas around project funding.  It could also be a great way for staff to report out on what is happening around a company in different divisions.  The qualifier is that people need to put effort and thought into their presentations to ensure they are interesting and snappy.

The presenters with the most impact last night told stories, built up their messaging, and included simple concepts with repetition.  I really liked those that helped us imagine the future (rather than only think about the past/present) and provided a place for us, the audience, to imagine ourselves in that new future.  These are worthwhile tips for anyone that goes out to present ideas to an audience.

So what interesting tidbits did I get out of last night’s chit-chat?  Here is a smattering of fragments that stuck with me:

  • Think about our city and our world as a living laboratory
  • Vancouver has the greenest building code in North America
  • Human power is inspiring
  • Contention is okay, difference is a point of negotiation
  • Take things apart and put them together in new ways
  • We have islands of sustainability in the swamps of business as usual
  • Flash mob potlucks with secret locations and celebrations of food
  • Stories are the best way to share, engage and help people to remember
  • Change the story, change the culture
  • All scales needed – The grid (establishment), the wave (the societies, community groups), the shire (toilers of the soil)
  • Have intent
  • Step deeper into stories and culture..its not always about a lighter footprint
  • Connections provide added value, i.e. think computers as stand alone boxes and then computers working on networks and using the internet
  • Incremental change
  • Go beyond the property line to the next level of intelligence
  • Other peoples problems are my problems
  • Humour in activism
  • Eco-equity
  • Live a little, change a lot
  • The U generation (based on the U-turn), no matter your age we all have a role to play

Thanks to the hosts and presenters for a very interesting evening!

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