CRP5 / Event / ILRIComms / Knowledge and Information / West Africa

Communication the focus of Volta Basin workshop – when the Nile visits the Volta, knowledge flows like water

VBDC participants at the communication workshop March 2012 (Credits: Joachim / VBA)

VBDC participants at the communication workshop March 2012 (Credits: Joachim / VBA)

Effectively communicating research for development is a crucial challenge for everyone in the CGIAR. Sometimes, having an external view about one’s own issues frees up some ideas and can help turn challenges into opportunities.

It was in this spirit that the Knowledge Management and Information Services team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) supported a workshop on ‘effective communication of research for development’ in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 27 and 28 March 2012.

The Volta Basin Development Challenge (VBDC) requested support from ILRI’s Ewen Le Borgne to design and facilitate a workshop and share recent experiences from the sister Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC).

The workshop was held at the Volta Basin Authority (VBA) and brought together nine participants, spanning all five individual Volta projects. It aimed to review the communication strategy drafted by the coordinating project team (from project V5), to finalise action plans for each Volta project and to discuss other communication aspects.

Support provided was to design, facilitate and documenting the workshop.

  • The design of the workshop was done together with Olufunke Cofie (Volta Basin Development Challenge leader), Mahamoudou Sawadogo (communication officer in the VBDC) and with Michael Victor (Communication leader in the CPWF);
  • The workshop took place on 27 and 28 March with nine participants across the two days, though often no more than six at any time. The program of the workshop included a presentation featuring the communication approach of the NBDC;
  • The workshop was documented with pictures, blog posts (this one and another in French on the VBDC website and its English version on the CPWF website), capturing some short video for internal use and reporting progress on the CPWF Yammer network (access restricted to members).

Lessons from the workshop and from cross-basin support: It was very useful indeed to bring other perspectives about the VBDC (in addition to the NBDC/KMIS facilitator, the communication officer of the VBA also attended the workshop and could question and challenge VBDC activities). The small number of participants was rather disappointing, although it ensured a good engagement from participants. The profiling of communication workshops remains challenging as it appears as ‘something for communication specialists’, although this workshop aimed to bring together Volta project members that have a good overview of the research work, not just communication specialists.

The limited size of the group turned out to be somewhat challenging too for the facilitator, as all discussions had to take place within the same group, without offering much room for diverse dynamics which mixed groups usually provide. Nonetheless, group discussions were very useful.

The objectives of the workshop proved very ambitious: the strategy was not reviewed, monitoring of communication was only touched upon lightly. This had to do with the limited knowledge of the facilitator about the level of communication interactions across the VBDC and with the fact that some basic communication blocks were not familiar to the participants (e.g. the tools and platforms in use).

This visit was made possible through the financial support of the V2 project (focusing on integrated management of rainwater for crop-livestock agroecosystems). Such a visit reinforces cooperation across CPWF-supported Basins (Volta participants in a Nile’s Basin science workshop in 2011 had a similar positive influence) and aligns well with the monthly virtual peer-assists (structured cooperation around a concrete case) that bring together mainly communication specialists from the Andes, Volta, Nile, Mekong and Ganges basins. As the CPWF is increasingly focusing on integrated research and efforts across all its basins, this visit contributed to those aims.

Mahamoudou Sawadogo and Ewen Le Borgne remain in contact for possible follow-up, formally or informally, as the hope is that more demand is generated for communication and its support in the VBDC, through this workshop and the recommendations that emerged (see more reflections on the results of the workshop and on the recommendations in this CPWF blog post).

The workshop certainly opened up the eyes of some participants about what is at stake and what is possible with communication in the VBDC.

Communication is not anything new, they (project teams) are all doing it already… they should open up (…) and get interested in what others are doing (Olufunke Cofie, Volta Basin Development Challenge leader)

The communication workshop was useful, and has opened new perspectives in my mind. (Philippe Cecchi, one of the participants)

All outputs are available online:

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