Training the ASSAR-WA team in Research into Use and Transformative Scenario Planning

12 Nov 2015 - 12:45
Participants at the RiU training workshop

By Prince Ansah

I don’t want a situation whereby the research will be done and then it will be shelved. I want a situation where we can translate the research information into a product, where it will be useful for the people in the community, so that a mark will be left. Because at the end of the day if we are not involved in the development process, then what is the essence of the research?” – Stephen Omari (PhD student, University of Ghana), reflecting on the RiU workshop.

The ASSAR Research into Use (RiU) training workshop was organized in Accra, Ghana for the ASSAR West Africa team from the 28th September to 2nd October, 2015. The training workshop brought together thirty ASSAR researchers, technical officers and students from both Ghana and Mali. Its purpose was to introduce and expose participants to methodologies and approaches that could help both students and ASSAR academics enrich their research by means of engaging with stakeholders in a more meaningful and participatory way during the research phase of the ASSAR project. 

Facilitated by Oxfam GB (Mr. Jesse DeMaria-Kinney and Mr. Daniel Morchain), ASSAR’s RiU lead partner, the objectives of the training were to develop a common understanding of the philosophy, benefits and potential of the RiU processes, to finalize national and sub-regional specific RiU plans and activities, and to develop skills in selected methods such as Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP), Stakeholder mapping & analysis, and Vulnerability & Risk Assessment (VRA) methodologies.

In the stakeholder mapping exercise, participants went through the process of identifying key actors from different governance spheres (who emerged from the diagnostic phase), and who the ASSAR-WA team could engage with to varying extents (from sharing information to direct influence) in the context of the West Africa research theme of agriculture intensification. In the associated practical exercise – which revolved around identifying who influences the adaptation agenda and the responses of vulnerable groups in decision-making processes happening in the context of climate change and agricultural intensification in semi-arid Ghana – four different versions of key stakeholder maps were developed. 

RiU stakeholder mapping

In this exercise, workshop participants impersonated either non-governmental organizations, researchers, government institutions or community level stakeholders. Having different versions of stakeholder maps helped understand how different groups of stakeholders vary in their perceptions of power dynamics, how they interpret relations between stakeholders, and who they view to be more or less influential. The linkages and relationships between these categories of stakeholders were examined and debated, analyzing formal and informal lines of authority, how information and knowledge flows, the flow of funds and aid, who provides technical training and inputs, as well as access to infrastructure and services. At the end of the exercise, it was surprising to participants that two out of the four groups considered farmer associations and traditional council as the most influential set of stakeholders in semi-arid Ghana. Other highly influential stakeholders considered were the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP) and the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet).

The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA ) methodology was also presented as a participatory tool to engage stakeholders in the process of narrating and assessing vulnerability. The VRA aims to develop a common understanding among a wide range of stakeholders about the main hazards and issues affecting people in a landscape; and subsequently seeks to co-design measures to reduce risk and promote resilient development of people and environment in that landscape. In the context of ASSAR, the VRA can contribute to enhance the understanding of researchers and other stakeholders with respect to relevant hazards & issues at community and district levels, as well as contribute to building and strengthening stakeholder relations.

The Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) training sessions, led by Reos Partners, were facilitated by Mrs. Colleen Magner and by Mr. Dinesh Budhram. The two-day highly interactive sessions introduced participants to scenario planning methods that engage and incorporate a broad range of stakeholders in the construction of particular scenarios around a specific issue of concern. The training also enabled the facilitators and participants to test the TSP methodology in the ASSAR West Africa context and inform the Regional Research Programme (RRP) phase of the project. In order to learn about the process involved in conducting a successful TSP process, participants were exposed to its five steps, which include:

•    the ability to convene an initial team from the whole system (co-initiating),
•    observe what happens within the system (co-sensing), 
•    construct stories about what could happen (co-presencing), 
•    discover what can and must be done (co-creating), and finally 
•    act to transform the system (co-evolving). 

TSP group assignment

A simulation exercise was conducted on the possible futures for managing natural resources under agriculture intensification in semi-arid areas of Mali and Ghana, using the TSP process. The exercise produced four optional future scenario pathways using rainfall variability and the nature of the governance system as the two most uncertain driving forces in the region. Participants had the opportunity to build four storylines under each scenario which looked at what could happen, between now and 2035, at the intersection of low or high impacts arising from rainfall variability and a centralized, versus decentralized, governance system. Stories went from meager futures – characterized by land grabs by central government, migrating youth, fortress conservation approaches in protected areas, increasing disparities and political uprising – to more upbeat futures, where traditional authorities release more land for farming and investments are made in drought-resistant varieties, community-based silos and school feeding programmes, thus increasing resilience, education and food security. From these stories, in a “real” TSP, participants would move on to deciding what can and must be done, and what role they could play in order to influence the system – thus bringing to life the “transformative” defining feature of a TSP process. 

As participants expressed their satisfaction with the RiU process and shared the various ways their research would incorporate RiU, Masters student Thelma Abu shared: “It’s about getting the stakeholders involved, especially those managing the resources, those managing conflicts and those involved in the agric intensification. It’s not just about doing my work and going away”. “The training helped me to really not just see my work as a requirement for my Masters of Philosophy degree, but as something that I can do to actually help society”, added Abass Adam Yidana. Mr. Prince Ansah, a Technical officer for ASSAR project in Ghana, also commented: “the training has equipped me on how to work with the rest of the ASSAR team to identify relevant stakeholders who can contribute to agriculture intensification at the national and district levels where we are working”.

On the last day of the workshop, Ms. Lucia Scodanibbio, representing ASSAR’s Project Management Unit (PMU) helped the ASSAR West Africa team in the final linking of the key messages from the Regional Diagnostic Study to the key target audiences that were identified during the previous day’s stakeholder mapping exercise (i.e. farmers, extension officers, policy-makers, researchers, traditional leaders, NGOs, the private sector and radio). Ms. Scodanibbio also led the team to select appropriate communication tools, from documentaries to radio shows and networking events, that could best convey these key messages to stakeholders in the immediate future, as well as longer term.

Finally, Dr. Mary Thompson-Hall (START) led a discussion with the six University of Ghana MPhil and PhD students that form part of the ASSAR project. The discussions helped students to streamline their research topics and to establish how their research would contribute to answering ASSAR’s overall research questions and addressing the governance, social differentiation, knowledge systems and ecosystem services research streams. Participants expressed deep satisfaction with the training workshop and commended the organizers and facilitators.