There are two recurrent questions that are frequently posed when devising capacity development initiatives and activities: 1) “How should topics/skills to be developed be selected?” and 2) “Which are the most relevant and promising topics/skills for CB (capacity building hereon) in the upcoming years?”.
In fact, those two questions are tightly linked because the latter kind of partially answers the former. I am convinced that we need to choose topics and skills that are both relevant and promising so that is for me the beginning of the how: it is advisable to center attention on topics and skills that are relevant to those whom we want to engage in capacity building activities and that are promising in terms of the value they can bring to future actions and interactions around the link between research and policy.
Regarding selection of potential topics, our experience in the programme ‘Spaces for engagement’, conducted by CIPPEC with the support of GDNet from 2008-2013 was quite satisfactory. To establish which topics we would cover in our planned capacity development activities (handbooks, guides, workshops, online courses, etc.) we began by seizing networking opportunities such as regional conferences with members of think tanks from Latin America to ask them about their interests and needs. We simply requested them to make lists and prioritize hot and emerging issues. We ended up working mostly in what they selected: planning, monitoring and evaluating policy influence, research communications and knowledge management (see our Spanish online courses on these topics here).
However, there are also a few other potential mechanisms to select topics for CB (some account for many many interventions!): – What donors are talking about/concerned about – What donors are currently funding – Delving deeply into current general concerns and challenges of those who will participate in CB – Tapping into what we know best or are best at – Looking at what those we admire or respect are currently doing in terms of CB – Filling in gaps (i.e. what almost no one is offering, or where local knowledge has not been yet developed or has not been systematized)
Regarding topics/skills for the future, I confess I am not there yet to be able to reasonably assess what could work. I have an intuition about the potential of paying more attention to innovation and funding ecosystems but this is probably related to my own personal path rather than having firm ground (and even less evidence) to predict these are relevant or promising topics for the upcoming years. I have a feeling that innovation may establish a common ground for policymakers and those who produce/use research that might facilitate the opportunities of doing more joint and collaborative work.
So, if I had to assess how relevant and promising some potential topics are for the future, what would I do? I don’t know yet. However, a part of this TED Talk by Clifford Stall has inspired me in terms of how to approach this pending task. He clearly states –and I couldn’t agree more- that it is bizarre to ask him to talk about the future… he has got gray hair and I have some too! So, he suggests, we should ask a kindergarten teacher, an experienced one who is now working with future change makers (watch from min 2:32-4:09). Should we ask the “kindergarteners” in our field? Who are they and how we can find them?