Lesson #12: Let’s meet face to face but knowing what for!
Although at P&I we have already argued about the advantages of online training (see here and here), and have found some colleagues echoing our reflections, the need to continue holding face-to-face activities for capacity development is continuously expressed by individuals and organisations in this field.
Certainly, the Spaces for Engagement programme departed from a deep conviction about the value of creating opportunities for face-to-face interaction, especially in terms of building a regional community of practice to share knowledge on research and policy.
To this end, we organized (sometimes together with other Latin American policy research institutions such as FARO from Ecuador and CIES from Peru and also with the support of GDNet and ODI) four regional Conferences with the participation of an average of 15 members of leading policy research institutions (mostly executive directors), scholars, and experts on specific topics. We also provided support for producers of case studies under the research line and participants of an M&E conference to organize national workshops to share knowledge.
Conferences usually effectively combined instances of horizontal knowledge sharing and discussion with workshops provided by experts to strengthen BRP capacity on key fields such as strategic planning, media relationships and links with policymakers.
The dilemmas, challenges and tensions that emerged throughout conferences shed light onto the broad field of future work that could be addressed by the programme. They also enabled us to better define how to focus efforts since the challenges implied in the improvement of the use of evidence in public policy in the region were too large and complex compared with the resources available to deal with them.
Conferences were successful in terms of high level of attendance and quality of participation, as well as to identify participants that were more interested in engaging in future actions. In fact, they allowed us to sharpen identification of participants and training contents and materials for post CB activities. Personal relationships enabled in this type of events are a key strategy to assess demand for CB as well as sources for developing concrete examples and case studies as training materials.
To sum up, face-to-face CB activities are ideal spaces for organizers to:
Detect potential partners with some level of interest and commitment to the field
Identify topics and materials for future CB activities
Assess the degree of available but non-systematized knowledge within the policy research organisations that could be seized for CB
Detect future trainees with high potential for applying what has been learned
Improve knowledge produced by presenting it for discussion before final dissemination
Make strategic decisions on how to invest the resources of the programme
However, they were not an effective mechanism to create an ongoing and engaged community even though in some cases we had secured commitment from them to share what had been learned with peer organisations or to produce a specific product. Several fulfilled or partially fulfilled the commitment but did not continue to engage in the topics after that. The main reason for this was the lack of resources on their behalf to sustain engagement and allocate time to systematizing and sharing knowledge.