Coordinating the e-consultations of the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD)
The first phase of the electronic consultation process of the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) took place between September and November 09. I am involved in the process as a coordinator of the 6 regional e-consultations. In addition I have been facilitating the Asia Pacific e-consultation and I am involved in a second round of e-consultations that will most propably take place in January 2010.
The GCARD process consists in a step-by-step stakeholder involvement approach in 6 regions coordinated each by one of the regional fora through which the stakeholders are represented within the Global Forum of Agricultural Research (GFAR). The overall objective is to meet the knowledge and technological needs of resource poor, small holder farmers so as to have development impact through a refinement of regional and global agricultural research priorities, as identified by different stakeholder groups and representatives in each region. The GCARD process is an integral part of the new CGIAR and serves as its stakeholder platform. It is very interesting and valuable in its attempt to be broad and inclusive, while also recognizing some obstacles like the still soemwhat week connections of the regional fora with civil society organizations. All in all some 3000 research and development workers are currently directly involved in the GCARD consultation process.
My coordination task consisted in supporting the regional teams –composed in general by a facilitator, the consultant who provided the regional reviews and a person providing technical support– with timelines, tips, and tools related to the facilitation of the virtual events. I used a wiki to share with all the regional teams emails drafts for facilitators which were adapted, and translated by most regional fora. The wiki site is available to all so please feel free to use the resources that are certainly useful for anyone who has to facilitate virtual consultations. In addition I spend time in feeding the GCARD blog with summaries, stories and updates from the different e-consultations. An interesting exercise was to pick up so many significant quotes from participants and use Twitter as an extra channel to convey the voices we could hear in the listserv-based dicsussions. More on the GCARD process in a podcast interview that Nancy White did with me.
Good news come from the e-consultation evaluation survey with 231 replies showing that 86% of the respondents feel that they have increased their understanding of AR4D issues in their regions. 86% also rate the e-consultation as excellent (29%) or good (57%). Lively discussions on the regional reviews have indeed helped to confirm and enrich the identified key issues while coming up loud and clear with preferences on how research should be done. “The enthusiasm created around the e-consultation is evident. 500 members from 65 countries signed up for the event” says FARA’s Myra Wopereis-Pura “Up to the moment, the GCARD-Africa group is still very active. We don’t know how to stop people!”, she said.
The regional face-to-face meetings have been finalized, a global team of 3 experts is currently analyzing the regional reports and a second global e-consultation will allow GFAR to get additional input and fill eventual knwoledge gaps. The content of these prioritization exercises will serve as a baseline for the GCARD 2010 conference in Montpellier in March 2010.
I had the opportunity to summarize some perceptions around the issues of broad participation, trust and transparency related to the GCARD e-consultations in a recent issue of Collective Action News. The point I am trying to make in this article is that obtaining broad representation and trust ultimately depends on the capacity of the research community to listen actively to those it is ambitious to engage. Active listening is a key skill and challenge. It means that we are really willing to take the participant’s wisdom into account, beyond our usual too narrow economic evidence-based science approach.