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From the first day of the Forum, it was clear that change is a key theme in the Challenge Program on Water and Food’s research for development (R4D) deliberations. As one of the panellists debating the relevance of R4D said, “Knowledge is just the beginning; we need to change mindsets, adapt quickly to change in our societies and need to change structures.”

That said, the challenge is how do we change mindsets and structures? During the second Learning to Innovate (L2i) session, the focus was on reflecting on approaches being introduced in the various basin programs to enhance the role of research as a lever for change.

We could think of change as an end state or an outcome of the project. Change is, however, a process that starts when the project starts, and it should continue after the project ends. Stakeholder engagement is both an input to ensure that research is relevant and meets real needs, as well as a bridge to facilitate and enhance the up-take through policies and by communities.

It is important to plan to embed communication and stakeholder interaction as change levers throughout the full cycle of the project. Local partners that can continue the interventions after the project should also be identified and integrated in the project as early as possible, as well as policy makers and decision makers.

Here are some more key lessons participants highlighted during the session:

  • It is important that project teams familiarize themselves with the institutional frameworks and policy making processes in the regions in which they are operating.
  • It takes time to build and nurture credible and trusting relationships with stakeholders.
  • Communications training is invaluable – both for young and senior researchers.
  • Capture change that is happening. It is invaluable to identify emerging story lines and scenarios during the ongoing research that can be used to communicate the relevance and meaning of the research.
  • It is important to engage with policy makers in a participatory way. Policy makers should also understand the type of ongoing dialogues required. Researchers should not necessarily be the intermediaries and brokers between the various stakeholder platforms. The best contribution of the research could be to create the space for stakeholders to engage in a meaningful way such that the presence and participation of the researchers is not necessary to enact the ongoing dialogue between stakeholders.
  • Stakeholder analysis can be an invaluable tool to understand and make visible the responsibilities of the various stakeholders. This analysis will also assist stakeholders to gain a better and more informed appreciation of their role in the change process. Methods such as Social Network Analysis help projects to understand when and how interactions affect the research and intended change.
  • Repackage research outputs as interventions that can be adopted and replicated.
  • Create space and opportunities for journalists to be a change partner. It is important that all communications actors should have a solid understanding of the research to be able to communicate it in a credible way.

The discussion during this session was echoed in various Tweets posted during the Forum:

  • Use research to make politicians more accountable 
  • K Cross: need to expand our definition of research – and include all stakeholders in the research process 
  • Rivka Kfir: How do we take the knowledge from research to impact? Need advocacy, political will – not necessarily more research 
  • It is more than a research program – it is to secure livelihoods.
  • “#Communication is not just one element in the struggle to make #science relevant. It is THE central element” 
  • “We are not building the tools for ourselves, but for others to use, such as policy makers.” 
  • Need to match comms processes and dialogue with the wonderful science been done for real sustainability and impact 
  • Comm4Dev is about spaces for communication, not only print. 
  • “For research to be relevant, it has to address a problem that would lead to an action”

To view all of the IFWF Twitter coverage, including live tweeting from the L2i session, follow the hashtag #IFWF3.

By Elmi Bester

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