Strategic engagement – with snakes, elephants, baboons, mosquitos and meercats

smiling-baboonI am just back from work in Southern Africa. And while I was in a specific country with it’s specifically difficult political context, the question that keept us awake at night was rather universal: How can we influence without much formal authority? How can we achieve the greater good (as we define it, anyway), when doing so will cut off streams of illicit benefits for many people in high position?

Then I found a simple solution, fixed the situation and all is well, world saved.

No, not quite. Rather, I led my participants deeper into the complexity of their challenge (identifying who the actors are, how they are connected, what their influence and goals are, a.k.a. drawing a Net-Map stakeholder map). Then I provided them with guidance to prioritize and strategize for most effectively engaging with their stakeholders.

We divided the stakeholders in

  • Elephants: high influence, positive
  • Meercats: low influence, positive
  • Snakes: high influence, negative
  • Mosquitos: low influence, negative, and
  • Baboons on the fence: high influence, undecided

And for each, there are a number of strategies to explore:

Elephants: High influence, positive toward your goals

elephants

  • Give them credit, let them lead
  • Frame the issue for them, share information
  • Engage consistently, regularly
  • Manage possible power struggle between positive high influencers
  • Build diverse coalitions:
    • Diverse power sources,
    • diverse motivations,
    • shared goals.

Meercats: Low influence, positive toward your goals

meercats

  • Can you increase their influence?
  • They can be connectors and information gatherers
  • They might have helpful friends
  • Build coalitions – strength in numbers
  • Remember: “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk”

And, don’t underestimate them: threat or belief can activate unexpected strength -see below, together they can kill a snake…

meercats-and-snake

Snakes: High influence, negative toward your goal

snake.png

  • Watch your back – protect yourself
  • Avoid – focus on other issues for now
  • Seek unexpected common ground
  • Explore their networks: Who do they listen to? Who commands them?
  • Explore win-win and trade-offs
  • Undermine their narratives
  • Weaken their coalitions

 

 

Mosquitos: Low influence, negative toward your goal

mosquito

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

Baboons on the fence: High influence, undecided about your goal

baboon-on-a-fence

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

By grouping our stakeholders according to their influence and their relationship to our goal, we became much more specific when developing engagement strategies. And calling our important stakeholders baboons or meercats also added a level of levity to the discussion that made us breathe more freely under the weight of our near impossible task. What are your strategies for engaging elephants, empowering meercats, swaying baboons, neutralizing snakes and protecting yourselves from mosquito bites? I am sure the above isn’t complete yet, so I am curious to hear from you.

The Power of Marrying Facilitation and Sector Expertise

Last week I talked with my colleagues from the IFCSumit Manchanda and Anja Robakowski-Van Stralen, and Amit Nag (Net-Map facilitator) who have used Net-Map to facilitate their political economy analysis in setting up Public Private Dialogues in developing countries. These are high level platforms, facilitating regular meetings and results oriented dialogues between public and private sectors actors. They help countries improve their business climate and government-private sector relations.

In our conversation we tried to distill the lessons learned from this experience and one thing really stood out: The power of bringing together technical expertise and good Net-Map facilitation skills. This doesn’t mean that a Net-Mapper has to be expert in each field they work in. Or that a technical expert is necessarily best placed to be the Net-Map facilitator. But if neither is the case, then bringing your technical colleague (ideally steeped in local knowledge too) into the room as co-facilitator or observer lifts your work to the next level. Because you, the Net-Mapper can bring out structural issues that have never been talked about before. You allow the group to look at complex pictures, seeing the trees and the forest at the same time.

The technical sector expert can then ask the questions they were never able to pinpoint, dig deeper, call out half-truths or omissions that the group might want to slip by you, remind the group of the history of the issue, nudge them to open up about conflicts and, most importantly, help you and the group figure out the meaning of what you see and what to do next.

Also, if the technical expert also happens to be your client, they will learn so much more and get so much more excited, when sitting at the table as the Net-Map is happening than by reading your report, which you had to condense, streamline and probably sanitize to fit public scrutiny and protect individuals. And they can take the insights from the mapping session right into the decisions they have to take about moving forward.

I am sure that even without ever being in a Net-Map session, you can share some experience about the tension or marriage (or marriage with tension?) between sector expertise and facilitation skills… What has been your experience with:

  • Facilitating processes without being a sector expert?
  • “Being facilitated” by a person who wasn’t an expert in your field?
  • Working in a Facilitator – Sector Expert team to facilitate difficult conversations?

 

(picture credit: migrationpolicy.org)

 

Agricultural Extension in Ethiopia through a Gender and Governance Lens

women agriculture ethiopia

This paper uses Net-Map for qualitative data collection on the use of agricultural extension in Ethiopia, especially understanding the role of women (authors: Tewodaj Mogues, Marc J. Cohen, Regina Birner, Mamusha Lemma, Josee Randriamamonjy, Fanaye Tadesse and Zelekawork Paulos). Here the abstract:

“Drawing on a household survey collected in eight woredas in seven Ethiopian regions in 2009, as well as on qualitative fieldwork in four of the eight woredas, this paper provides analysis of agricultural extension delivery in Ethiopia. While overall extension services are relatively accessible in Ethiopia, there are differences in access between men and women, and particularly stark differences by region. Individual visits by public sector extension agents to household farms are by far the most common mode of extension delivery; alternative modes of extension (either in delivery method or type of service provider) play a rather limited role. Using the method widely applied in the “Citizen Report Card” approach, questions to farmers regarding satisfaction with services yielded near 100 percent reporting of satisfaction; however, the study also showed relatively low uptake of extension advice. This suggests the need to revisit or refine the Citizen Report Card method of eliciting satisfaction with services in this type of empirical context.

Women’s groups (e.g. the women’s associations at the kebele level in rural areas) may be a promising approach to reach women with extension services; in some of the study sites, they were able to successfully link extension agents with women farmers and circumvent the socially sensitive issue of (male) extension agents providing advice to women one-on-one. However, the use of women’s associations also for other matters, e.g. political mobilization of women, may weaken their promise in expanding access to extension services for women farmers.

Finally, making agricultural extension demand driven remains a challenge in Ethiopia. While there is strong political will to expand agricultural extension in Ethiopia, the strong standardisation of extension packages arising from a pronounced top-down nature of public service delivery makes it difficult to tailor agricultural extension to farmers’ needs. The incentives of extension agents are set in a way that they try to maximize farmers’ adoption of standardized packages. The packages have become less rigid in recent years, with a menu of options now available to farmers. However, even the more diversified menu cannot substitute for the microlevel adaptation, the process that would make new inputs and practices more credible to farmers, and which only extension workers and their farmers can feasibly manage.”

For innovation: Amplify the low signal

10-Crow-whispers-in-ear-sm

Crow brings the daylight, by Ruth Meharg

My work often involves getting familiar with a new country and sector in a short amount of time, discussing challenges with many different stakeholders and together developing and implementing strategies for change.

One skill which is crucial for this is the ability to detect patterns quickly, understand what the common themes are, the issues, people, strategies and conflicts which are mentioned again and again. What is the shared story on which we can build our planning? What are the loudest and most consistent signals?

However, one great risk when listening for the common pattern is that you distill the story that everybody knows already and focus on the issues that everybody agrees are THE issues. If you want to help people discover new possibilities, experiment with new solutions, discover the positive deviants that exist already, you have to grow a third ear which listens for things that are only said in passing (or not at all), for ideas that people laugh about or don’t dare believe in, for challenges that cannot be discussed out in the open and sometimes you have to be the one who mentions that the emperor might have forgotten to get dressed…

But how do you know what is an interesting low signal and what is just plain noise?

I tend to pick up a number of different half-sentence ideas as I travel through the system and then I try them out when I talk to the next person. Many of the ideas don’t make it to the third or forth discussion but every once in a while, the next person says: “Well, I hadn’t thought about that but now that you say it…” and they start adding weight, color, texture and context to this idea.  And slowly a new door opens, a different approach emerges or we develop a clearer understanding of a long overlooked risk.

Amplifying a low signal is something I could never do alone, it is rather that I start bouncing these signals off other people and see if they disappear or become stronger.

Identifying international knowledge partnerships

With my colleagues Kerstin Tebbe and Bruno Laporte I just had an interesting design conversation for a session in which they want to help the members of a water basin commission better understand with whom they have knowledge exchange partnerships. We realized soon that this is not going to be a Net-Map session or a session of some squeezed out, shrunk down little cousin of Net-Map. So the proposed steps are the following:

  1. All 20 participants (individually) write the names of the commission’s most important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards (with thick marker and great handwriting). The cards are color-coded by categories, e.g. government on green cards, civil society on red.
  2. They put all cards on a large table and start looking for duplicates – if both of us wrote University of XYZ, we stack these cards to reduce the number of cards we are dealing with.
  3. Depending on the number of remaining cards (judgment call in the situation), they instruct the group to get up and take all cards (or only those of actors that have been mentioned at least twice), and walk to a large, sketched  map on the floor of the 5 countries involved. They distribute the actor cards on the map, according to the country the actor is located in.
  4. As this very rough geographical actor map emerges, the participants consider a number of questions: Do we have stronger networks in some countries than others? Are some colors (i.e. actor categories) overrepresented on the map – or in some countries? Who is missing? What is the difference between the stack of cards I produced on my own and the map that emerged as we started putting it all together? How can we, as a group, access this whole richness, instead of just our own little corners?

This activity is located at the start of a longer engagement to improve the knowledge exchange and management of this organization, so they don’t have to answer all the questions in the world, the goal is rather to get the conversation started, to invite the complexity into the room without being overwhelmed.

I am curious to hear what you think about this? Would it work in your context? Can you think of something which would even sharpen or further enrich the activity? Have we overlooked a critical risk? And, don’t you love the artwork above, which Tara Donovan (picture credit) created out of thousands and thousands of index cards?

Public Policy and the Idea of the Vietnamese State: The Cultural Political Economy of Domestic Water Supply

A Net-Map study on formal and informal water governance in Vietnam, by Nadine Reis and Peter P. Molinga:

Abstract:
Using Rural Water Supply (RWS) policy practices as a case study,this article shows that the disjunction between implementation as formally conceived and informally practised is not a question of ineffective policy cycle dynamics, but rather an inherent feature of Vietnam’s Cultural Political Economy. Drawing on critical realist approaches to social and state theory, we argue that formal and informal RWS policy practices, as a set of two interconnected spheres, serve as key, separate but connected, mechanisms for reproducing the distribution of material resources (primarily through the informal sphere) and the hegemony of ideas (primarily through the formal sphere) in Vietnamese society. We conclude that the formal, administrative practices of RWS policy are primarily to be understood in their function of reproducing the idea of the state and state legitimacy. RWS administrative practices function to sustain the core social and political order in Vietnam as institutionalised in “the state”, rather than being primarily oriented to improving rural water supply. The findings raise questions for donor-supported programs that focus on formal administrative institutions and practices for improving the performance of the water sector.

Net-Mapping the Water-Food-Energy Nexus in the Upper Blue Nile in Ethiopia

When dealing with the challenges of a country like Ethiopia, focusing just on water, or food, or energy is a tall order already. Given how one influences the other, it is, however, not focus which is needed but integration – of issues and also of those people dealing with them. My colleague Christian Stein shared his research on the issue with me. Below is the summary and here is the full paper he wrote, together with Jennie Barron, Likimyelesh Nigussie, Birhanu Gedif, Tadesse Amsalu and Simon Langan for the International Water Management Institute:

Ethiopia is currently undergoing rapid development, heavily reliant on its natural resources such as water and land. The government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) and its Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy set ambitious targets in a variety of sectors including water, food and energy. In order to avoid trade-offs and create synergies between different development agendas, integrated planning and cross-sectorial coordination is crucial. The so-called ‘nexus approach’ is a recent way to frame the interconnected challenges in water, food and energy with the ambition to align policies for sustainable development.

This study fills a gap in the nexus debate by focusing on concrete actors and the nexus challenges they struggle with, instead of on abstract systems and the resource flows between sectors. Based on participatory, visual network mapping and focus group discussions, the paper illustrates three interdependent challenges of the water-energy-food nexus in the Upper Blue Nile in Ethiopia. First, it points to the central role of biomass-based energy resources and the need to balance national ambitions for hydropower and immediate energy needs for rural communities. Second, it identifies agricultural water management as a critical issue where linkages across sectors and scales need to be improved. Third, it highlights the need to strengthen actors working on environmental sustainability issues, and generating political support for their objectives, by making available evidence on the value of nature for development.

The findings of this scoping study show that participatory network research can facilitate dialogue and colearning among researchers and a range of actors on the interconnected challenges of the water-energy-food nexus. Such collaborative learning processes can play an important role in moving toward better coordination between key actors and improved development planning within the Upper Blue Nile.”