Cleaning up our mental cabinets…

The other day I talked with Jonathan Agwe from the World Bank (WB) about the possibilities of making the Innovation Systems Approach more accessible and innovativeness more measureable by using Social Network Approaches. His excited reaction made me smile because it reminded me of my own first reaction to Social Network Analysis: “I didn’t know there was a method behind the stuff that I have been trying to do all along!”

To me that is the greatest thing about Social Network Analysis, that it is so closely linked to the way that we (or at least some of us) deal with the complex and confusing world anyway and that it just channels and structures it in a way that (slightly…) cleans up the mess and allows us to see the mayor structures in the social landscape.

This might be one reason why I have little patience with authors who make it all sound so abstract and difficult to understand that it seems like a secret science rather than a practical tool to better understand the real world.

Jumping into cold water

As I mentionned before, I’m in Addis Ababa now, to use Net-Map with my colleagues here to get a better understanding of innovation systems in the agricultural sector. When I woke up this morning, I had no idea about the poultry sector in Ethiopia.

To structure and fine-tune our research approach, we drew our first Net-Map about it together as a research team this morning. Then, after lunch, we drew a second one with our first interview partner, a local researcher and expert in the poultry sector.

While I am still far from being a poultry expert by this evening, one amazing thing occured to me when thinking about this day: With the step-by-step approach of Net-Map you can be new in a governance field and still interview an expert without making a fool out of yourself. The visualization guides you, quasi automatically, to asking the crucial questions, because you can see where there are gaps in the network or which constellations don’t seem to add up. Because you give a lot of the process over to the interview partner (“Who do you think is influencing this field?” “How are they linked” etc.) they can provide your with information that you wouldn’t have thought to ask for.

While today was an interesting day for me as a researcher, it was even more interesting in terms of thinking about implementation. If a donor or NGO came new to this field, just as I did this morning and wanted to improve the situation, they could do the same thing and after a few interviews, within a few days after jumping into this cold water they could feel as confident as the proverbial fish.

Listen to this!

I can’t hide how excited I am: This blog is going audio!

Go to the case study section, click on pod-cast and let me tell you how I developed Net-Map to tackle the challenges that the White Volta Basin Board faces.

Struggling with the Matryoshka Effect

You know these Russian dolls where a little baby doll sits inside a slightly bigger one that sits inside a slightly bigger one etc.? Sometimes, when doing institutional Net-Maps, I feel like I’m on a Russian tourist market, just surrounded by Matryoshkas. Only that the way organizations are nested inside each other is far more complex and analyzing that is not a children’s game.

Matryoshk dissembled, Source: Wikipedia 2008

For example when mapping out the irrigation subsidies system in Chile, we found a number of multi-stakeholder organizations (such as the national and regional irrigation commission), that consisted of members of different ministries, who, at the same time would also provide a council of Ministers, who would govern the whole sector by both, giving directions to the commissions and giving orders to their subsidiary regional and local entities (I don’t have a picture of this at hand, but if you try sketching this just by my description, you will see where the trouble lies). Hauck 2007)

(Net-Map of fisheries governance done by local fisherman in Kasena-Nankana District, northern Ghana. Source: Hauck 2007)

In the above picture you see a related issue, this is a network of individuals and cliques (a clique being a part of a network where everyone is linked to everyone). Jennifer Hauck’s visual solution for this problem was to divert from the tedious task of explicitly drawing each and every link that existed: Where ever a group of people would, for example, all share advice with each other, she would draw a circle around them in the color reserved for advice (see case study Fisheries Governance). If someone from outside this clique shared advice just with one member, the link would be between this external actor and this specific internal actor. If they shared advice with the whole group, the link would be between the external actor and the circle around this group.

I like this solution because it is time saving (and we must admit that net-mapping does take some time) and intuitively understandable. One might even be tempted to draw overlapping circles, if some actors are part of a number of agencies or a number of cliques with different membership.

So why do I call this post “struggling with the matryoshka effect” and not “a great solution for the matryoshka effect”?

Because, while this is a great and useful visual representation of the complexities of intertwined social or governance systems, it is not easily transfered into quantitative network analysis. In the work done by other people that I have seen so far, you would always deal with networks of actors on just one level, either individuals or groups/organizations, but I am still looking for a convincing conceptualization of the fact that sometimes individuals from within different organizations will interact with each other, sometimes individuals will interact with organizations as entities, organizations will interact with each other as entities, individuals are members of more than one organization, a unit within an organisation will interact with an individual within another organisation etc.

I’m not even sure if I have framed the problem in an understandable way, but I would be really grateful for more ideas and maybe even solutions to my struggle with these Russian dolls.

Knowledge transfer as two-way street

Yesterday I had lunch with Michael Barth, founder and CEO of upublic, an education consultancy with international focus and in our brief conversation something came up, that I have been thinking about for a while and I seem to be observing a very subtle shift of thinking – at least amongst some of my colleagues.

What I am thinking about is the realization that we (in the developed world) could learn from them (the developing world). That can happen on a very personal and direct level: My Ghanaian colleagues for example taught me that closed questions (“Should we do A or B to solve the problem?”) only give you answers you already know (A of B) while open questions (“I have been struggling with this and that lately, what do you think about it?”) can provide you with a completely new definition of the problem which might need answers you never could have thought of (because you didn’t really understand nature of the problem to begin with) and allows your colleague to actively get involved in solving the problem.

Michael told me that from projects aimed at improving the education situation abroad, he draws lessons to apply within the US system. Interesting that I have that conversation just after talking with Soumountha Keophilavong of the Carnegie Trust in the UK about Net-Map. She is collecting tools that are used by development practitioners to improve public participation – her goal is to figure out which of these tools could be useful for improving political processes and civic engagement at home.

Food Safety in the Dairy Supply Chain in Uzbekistan

or: Net-map Uzbek Style

By Ekin Birol and Marites Tiongco

We have just come back from Uzbekistan where we participated in a World Bank (WB) and World Health Organisation (WHO) funded research study on safety of food in Uzbekistan. As Eva said in her previous blog entry, we used the Net-Map tool in two different ways: to help us conceptualise the findings of our institutional analysis and to sketch out the dynamic value chain for the dairy sector.

The aims of the institutional analysis were to find out (i) who are the key actors in the food safety system; (ii) what are their roles and responsibilities; (iii) how are they linked with one another, and (iv) what is the extend of their impact on the safety of food in Uzbekistan. To this end we carried out 45 interviews with several public institutions (various agencies of the ministries of health and agriculture, and the national standardisation and certification and agency), private sector actors (including traders, retailers, farmers, national and multi-national agrofood processors), as well as NGOs (such as the Consumers’, Producers’ and Farmers’ Associations) and international organisations (including several of the UN agencies and CG centres). After all of these interviews we used the Net-Map tool among the research team, which consisted of IFPRI, WB and WHO researchers, to conceptualise what we have learned from these interviews. The Net-Map tool proved to be most useful in formulating the results of a very complex analysis of various institutions’ aims, roles and impacts in the food safety system in a very comprehensive manner, helping us recap what we found out during the interviews and identify what needs improving in the current system.

Final Net-Map of who influences safety of dairy produce, drawn to sum up research findings

Final Net-Map: Who influences safety of dairy produce in Uzbekistan?
Recap of research findings. Source: Marites Tiongco, 2008

We also used the Net-Map tool with a group of six farmers who are small scale dairy producers, processors and traders. The aim of this Net-Map exercise was to better understand the perceptions of farmers regarding who they think influence safety of dairy produce and to what extend information flows between actors in the milk supply chain, from producers to the final consumer. The exercise gave us a comprehensive picture of the functions and contributions of each actor along the chain. We were also able to identify certain coordination mechanisms (in terms of monitoring quality and safety of milk) that exist between major actors. With the Net-Map tool, it was easy to trace the market information flows between different actors of the chain and to spot bottlenecks for barriers to meet food safety standards particularly by small-scale milk producers.

Doing the Net-Map with small scale dairy producers, processors and traders, in Akhunbabayev village, Yukari Chirchik district, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan

Doing Net-Map with small scale dairy producers, processors and traders,
Akhunbabayev village, Yukari Chirchik district, Tashkent region,
Uzbekistan. Source: Marites Tiongco, 2008

Overall, our experience with Net-Map in Uzbekistan has been most valuable! We would like to thank Eva for teaching and letting us use this fabulous tool, which helped us very much in understanding and conceptualising some very complex and dynamic issues. Last but not least, we would like to thank our assistant Jarilkasin Ilyasov, who facilitated the Net-Map process very patiently and successfully in both occasions and contributed immensely to the explanation of the results.

Toolkit for Policy Monitoring

My colleague Klaus von Grebmer pointed me towards a great resource for everyone interested in the nuts and bolts of policy analysis. CAFOD (the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales) together with Christian Aid and the TroCaire College developed a “Toolkit for Civil Society Organisations in Africa: Monitoring Government Policies” that is a pleasure to read and gives a great introduction to a variety of tools used to collect information, identify stakeholders, analyze the content of a policy, analyze policy budgets, gather evidence of policy implementation and use evidence to advocate for change.

Their vision:

“Imagine this: a world where citizens help to decide what their governments do to combat poverty. Where citizens keep an active eye on governments’ progress and check whether policies are making a difference. Where people regularly give feedback to their governments on the services they are providing – and the feedback is taken seriously. Where, if a policy isn’t working as it should, it is scrapped and replaced with something better. Imagine this: a world where informed dialogue between governments and citizens leads to more effective, fair and inclusive policies from which everyone benefits.”

Fresh from Uzbekistan

My colleagues Ekin Birol and Marites Ticogo are back from their research trip to Uzbekistan, where they used Net-Map for a study about food safety. They promised to tell me all about it and to write up their experience when using Net-Map in two different ways: As interview tool on the farm level and to structure their own research findings by the end of their field trip. So we can look forward to a fresh perspective from our first Central Asian case study.

The Role of Networks in Innovation Systems

My colleagues at the ISNAR (International Service for National Agricultural Research) Division of IFPRI have done a lot of research into the role of networks in agricultural innovation systems in such diverse settings as Bolivia and Ethiopia. So I’m excited that David Spielman (ISNAR) and Regina Birner (also IFPRI, Development Strategy Division DSG) asked me to join them to explore the use of Net-Map as a tool to get a better understanding of innovation systems in the cropping and/or livestock sector in Ethiopia. They want to find out: Who are the organizations or individuals involved in research, development, dissemination, and use of new knowledge and technologies?

What I am especially eager to explore when in Ethiopia, is the multiplex nature of innovation networks. While it is obvious that you need information flow to stimulate innovation, there are other flows (funds for example, maybe political pressure or others) that are needed so that the information is actually turned into action and innovation can take place.

As researchers, we often focus on the information flow and think: “As long as I tell them (the policy makers, the farmers etc.) how to do things better or how to do better things, and I make my argument convincing and understandable enough, innovation can start.” I am convinced that a lot of our frustration as researchers with a cause (we want to improve the lot of the poorest of the poor) comes from the fact that we don’t understand what else, beyond better information, is needed to make it more likely that our findings can bear fruit and are turned into actual benefits for the poor.