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Learning for change: a logical approach for fodder innovation?

Fodder scarcity was a common theme at each of the FIP project sites (WRENmedia)
Fodder scarcity was a common theme at each of the FIP project sites

Tracking the right evidence to demonstrate impact is a conundrum common to many development projects. Providing evidence for change proves particularly challenging for projects where outcomes are unpredictable and changes that result from innovation processes are not immediately visible and are difficult to quantify. However, despite these challenges, adopting a 'learning by doing' approach and having space to experiment at five pilot sites in India and Nigeria has provided valuable lessons in building innovation capacity to address fodder scarcity.

The DFID-funded Fodder Innovation Project FIP II is just one of an emerging family of projects which are taking an innovation systems approach in an attempt to reposition research. Building alliances and networks is key, in order that the skills and resources of different organisations and individuals provide the collective capacity to put ideas and technology into use.

Context and approach

The innovation capacity approach taken by FIP II was to look beyond the issue of fodder to focus on the broader context of the livestock system in five pilot areas across India and Nigeria. The main focus of the project was how to strengthen network composition and effectiveness to bring about fodder innovation.

Each context for innovation is unique and the process for each situation needs time and space to evolve. Whilst fodder scarcity was a common theme for each of the FIP project sites, the underlying factors in each area were distinctly different. As a result, the networks that emerged developed according to identified needs for improving not just fodder availability but the livestock system as a whole.

Farmers in Ikiri in Osun State, Nigeria, are investing in goats (WRENmedia)
Farmers in Ikiri in Osun State, Nigeria, are investing in goats

For example, in Ikiri in Osun State, Nigeria, farmers are now investing in goats, which were previously left to run free but are now penned and provided with fodder to fatten and sell to local market traders. In Pondicherry, India, though ensuring supply of fodder to landless women, farming groups have also started to demand more training in cattle management, including better feeding practices to further improve milk productivity.

In some of the sites, including Bhilwara, Rajasthan, a formal stakeholder platform now exists. In Kano, Nigeria, the platform has been more informal but has allowed farmers and pastoralists to voice previously hidden issues, meet with traditional leaders and discuss with other stakeholders how best, for example, to try and resolve enduring concerns over access to grazing. A key issue for FIP, which has not been fully explored, is how these institutional outcomes are to be sustained after platforms have been set up and require ongoing nurturing.

Learning by doing

The success of the 'learning by doing' approach, with regular modification of strategies and objectives, has enabled FIP to be flexible enough to follow up on emerging opportunities as well as to recognise unexpected outcomes. However, challenges arising from adopting such an approach included initial tensions between old and new ways of working, and a lack of clarity amongst some partners about whether FIP II was a research or development project. The FIP team also conceded that they had learnt a lot about how not to do monitoring and evaluation (M & E), on the level of resources and time required to form partnerships and the need to engage policy stakeholders as early as possible.

"Monitoring and evaluation was undoubtedly the most muddled, confusing element of the project," admitted Mona Dhamankar, a development consultant who worked extensively on M & E approaches for FIP II. "There is no harm in admittingthat M & E was probably the weakest part of the project."

A stakeholder platform has allowed farmers and pastoralists to voice issues (WRENmedia)
A stakeholder platform has allowed farmers and pastoralists to voice issues

Whilst FIP acknowledged that working to a Logical Framework Approach (LFA), as required by DFID for all its projects, was a useful tool for facilitating planning and management decisions, using the framework to capture and understand learning processes, and the level of institutional change, proved particularly challenging.

A need for critical reflection

Much has still to be learnt about innovation processes, how they work, and what and who is required to stimulate change in a particular context. However, there is no doubt that a richness of experience already exists and this needs to be more effectively captured. Allowing time and space in innovation projects to experiment, to try out different models and for critical reflection, so that monitoring for innovation is accepted as a "learning activity rather than a policing mechanism" was seen as a key take away message at the end of two days of deliberations during the recent end of project conference.

As one delegate pointed out, "Learning is essential to reform thinking and attitudes. We also need to take risks, and we shouldn't be scared of failure. And it is vital for implementers, as well as donors, to be flexible enough to change direction and to value unexpected outcomes."

Date published: July 2010


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