(originally posted in Eldis Communities)

My Notes on the Workshop (Carl Jackson – Westhill Knowledge Group)

In April I was part of a group that met at ILRI in Ethiopia as part of the CGIAR’s Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) program. Focusing on the practice of social learning and communication I found the workshop very open and optimistic about how the CG system could pull together and amplify its existing practice and network with others working in similar ways. During the workshop I kept a running set of notes and am happy to share these below. For more information on the CCAFS program see:http://ccafs.cgiar.o…. Other blogs on the event from ILRIAgile KM for Me and You, and CCAFS itself

IDS and IIED Presentation
Liz Carlisle (IIED) and Blane Harvey (IDS)
Social learning as dialogue and coproduction where individual’s situatedness is surfaced and learning in groups is facilitated. Climate change as an atypical knowledge domain but not historically unprecedented in terms of how society responds. Moser (2010) points to CC communications being stuck in informing and educating and needing to get more into changing social norms and behaviours (e.g. working with the unknown) in processes of learning. Currently open dialogue and coproduction is supported mostly for professionals and much less for farmers. CG system reflects this in its own work and within work by other organisations at the national level. Increased effort to engage communities is needed (bigger scale and scope of this kind of work) and building their capacity to ask the right questions rather than know the right answers. Responsiveness to demand is needed [but can producers respond?]. Using existing tools and methodologies through innovation rather than bespoke underfunded special ones. Need shift in risk perception and resource allocations in this area to support autonomous local adaptation initiatives. Where institutional learning is happening, especially among scientists, how can this be supported and incentivised. Taking advantage of decade long frame of CCAFS to support social learning and forge appropriate partnerships.


  • non-information/tool factors in blocking adaptation (power; social differentiation, culture, beliefs); role of government communication, behaviour and knowledge in shaping local decision making / role of regional policy makers
  • what does scope and scale mean / need to understand local level (sub-national) demand rather than defining research questions from the global scale / other levels also (intermediaries like NARS, NGOs)
  • farmer science is equally important
  • what is CCAFS unique selling point / distinctive capability already established to build upon and in relation to others (e.g. CDKN) for potential partnerships
  • in climate change communication risk / uncertainty / time frame relevance is a distinctive factor, there is experience from the humanitarian sector to draw on
  • CGIAR global footprint potential for strong networked brokering role with representatives / advocates of climate change vulnerable communities
  • intentional bias towards tools / approaches that will scale-up or spread; social learning is a style characteristic rather than a scale one
  • culture of institutional learning how do we support it with principles and processes that help to institutionalise social learning

Process Guidance Group
Changing behaviours inside CG and with its partners:

  • A lot happening with IDRC on water that marries hard science and social learning
  • Prolinova doing co-creation for innovation (starts on the ground and not necessarily triggered by researchers or policy-makers), evidence in the 67 case studies
  • Key challenge is how the credibility of knowledges is perceived by science, social and sub-national communities
  • Need for appropriate incentives for moving across the barriers of their communities
  • Pulling out what is contextual and what is general in processes

Convening and Catalyzing

  • What is different about how CCAFS could convene, its done everywhere all the time but catalyzing is less common so a potential niche
  • Catalyzing as convening appropriate actors based on understanding of context and using its credibility to bring other actors into the social learning process that NGO actors couldn’t (e.g. insurance companies)
  • SLiCC – Social Learning in Climate Change
  • Modular approach to this including identifying actors, social network analysis, who what when to engage and with what resources, utilise other organisations working at scales CG does not
  • CCAFS has climate modelling for agriculture at the sub-national scale is a key offer to social learning convening
  • CCAFS would sometimes be a leader and sometimes a partner
  • Documenting what is going on including failures and making this open access
  • CCAFS has long term horizon so can support learning from failure
  • Angel investment of innovative high risk learning through prototypes of social learning like AfricaAdapt Innovation Fund

Evidence, Impact and Influence

  • Baseline assessment has often already been done so build on this and track from
  • Look at process documentation
  • Look for evidence of changes in practice and behaviour, especially those that scale and spread
  • Do we have a mechanism to explain change – a Theory of Change that can be tracked
  • Is this an M&E of SL and Coms?
  • We should look at the cost and benefits of SL vs trad Coms and whether bringing different benefits
  • Need to establish metrics around issues of partnerships, policy influence, etc
  • Evidence sharing for influencing doesn’t have to be done much for those already engaged in the process. So focus on those not engaged to get them involved as a pathway to influence
  • So who is most important to target most non-engaged and most influential
  • Tools and initiatives include PPV (insight share), mobile workshops and learning; climate analogues; write shops, MSC, Doledge, Part Soc Return on Investment; Convergence of Science (Wageningen), Learning Hub Approach
  • CCAFS roles in brokerage and facilitation of others; linking applied interventions with bodies of evidence through learning lab approach; where are the most interesting case studies; articulating M&E and Impact Assessment building on existing baselines

Discussing Social Learning

  • Brings a method to help demystify climate change; what is done is demand driven
    • Distinctive as iterative, diff sources, knowledges, participation, conscious effort for process documentation, applicable at diff scales and with temporary unfamiliar groups; enforces reflective thinking and feedback
    • A new bucket for existing good practices carefully chosen
    • Potential for CC as domain is unusual but not unique in complexity and uncertaingy
    • CCFAS role in establishing a platform a bounded pluralism appropriate for diff circumstances and how things are taken out and utilised
  • Issue with lots of miscommunication and SL puts the context back in
    • Constant discussion and replication of ideas move more quickly, innovation
    • Talking more about best practice and failures and documenting this more widely
    • High transaction costs and repackaging of information to give context but this is needed, non-optional when dealing with scientific information that needs interpretation
    • The CC concept is hard to communicate well so being able to talk around the issue and demystify through SL very helpful
    • SL may have weaker incentives for action from learning than for example CoP
  • CCA requires collective action at group levels and SL is appropriate for this
    • SL helps to plug into sense making process of differentiated groups
    • Process documentation is important to spread insights across different SL networks
    • Action Learning type activities by different groups
    • Innovation platforms / Learning Alliances experience is highly relevant to SL for CCAFS – e.g. works when there is a personal, public or monetary incentive for participation and collective action
  • Time frames for decision making are different for different types of actors (e.g. Farmers 2 years, MPs 5 years, civil servants 15 years, communities 50 years, scientists 100 years). Across these time scales Social Learning can help to weave across these perspectives.
    • Trust is an important quality that social learning can generate for individuals within groups
  • The need for more transformative changes in agricultural practices has greater adaptive capacity as a prerequisite and Social Learning can help to build this better. There is evidence for this in Farmer Field Schools, Farmer 2 way radio, etc
    • Speed and extent of change in CC requires more collective action than other areas by groups that are not usually formed using new instruments and options and SL is compatible with this.
  • Constant change and uncertainty within it requires collective discussion for action and SL is good for this
    • A good vehicle for facilitating adaptive processes that themselves need to keep changing ahead of the availability of gold standard evidence
    • SL a good vehicle for accommodating social differentiation
    • SL needs to be done well with a clear purpose, but who can do this process facilitation well (especially at community level)?
  • Social learning / innovation platforms should be self-motivated or the governance is unclear and uptake / action will be weak
    • Blending innovative social media with social learning
    • Triple loop Social Learning is what we’re looking for (efficiency, effectiveness, innovation / sustain, amplify, transform)
  • How to support documentation of autonomous adaptation by individual farming families
    • citizen science idea – challenging the mode and means of production of climate change knowledge
  • Idea for investment – of the 67 case studies only 20 have evaluations/reviews at present
    • pick the most innovative without and support them to have social learning method evaluation / review to generate evidence for counterpart funding to spread / scale the work
  • USAID Internal approach of Collaborate, Learn, Adapt (CLA) now provides room within the management cycle for reflection and change means that Social Learning is very apposite at the moment, especially within country missions (e.g. USAID Uganda has strongly adopted CLA)

Communication and Social Learning: Supporting local decision making on climate change, agriculture and food security

CCAFS unites two communities that haven’t worked closely in the past – Earth Systems Science Partnership and CGIAR. Three CCAFS themes worked on through technologies, practices, partnerships and policies. As a partner CCAFS has a number of distinctive qualities. A study by IDS, IIED and UoYork provided a discussion paper to kick start the workshop which shared practice, identified gaps and investment priorities. Context is that looking forward from linear to triple looped learning approaches for collective action. Particularly relevant as in CC there is high complexity, uncertainty, information gaps and access divides and different time scales. The group developed headline activities for five areas of change that CCAFS and partners are aiming for.

  1. Documenting and testing social learning actions through analysis to inform stakeholders about the validity of the SL approaches with evidence. Do this by inventory of case studies, selection of socially differentiated and relevant participants, description of object and context, analysis and then writing and sharing findings and conclusions.
  2. Social learning is validated within CCAFS as a mainstream methodology. Do this by establishing indicators of change over 10 years, a dynamic basket of good practice with linked innovation fund, catalysing social learning across CCAFS network (CoP advisory group, coaching panel, training with assessment and incentives linked to Science Meeting and future grants application, awareness raising through multiple existing channels in CCAFS and beyond)
  3. Supporting endogenous social learning for enhanced food security. Do this by collaborating with citizens own learning practices as differentiated socially, opportunity assessment, co-create a learning and evaluative framework, conduct joint needs assessment, analyse evidence and re-visit after two-years to look at impacts, lessons and changed user needs to feed into next engagement, link cross-scale, influence and strategically catalyze, outreach and support functions
  4. Social learning and social differentiation for improved decision making to bring more transformative change. Do this by review of internal opportunities for supporting social differentiation actions, link findings to Science Week meeting, working group to take lead on facilitate on issues of social differentiation, action research on social learning and social differentiation.
  5. Time scales focus to link competing time horizons of different key stakeholders so more mutually supportive for short-term responses and long-term adaptation. Do this by using time horizon evaluation tool, motivations framework, evaluation of change over time.