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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

LINKing theory to practice: A visiting researcher’s transition out of the academy

Written by Molly Green

Working at CIAT is not only about expanding agricultural related knowledge, but about providing research to reimagine futures and creating tools to highlight the voices of those sometimes rendered invisible. Since joining the Gender and Climate Change team as a visiting researcher in early July, part of my job has been to join in on this conversation in a number of ways. One of the most interesting, and also most challenging, ways to be a part of this discussion has been through collaboration on a tool designed to link farmers to markets. While our attempts to change  parts of the already well developed tool – in order to further an inclusive and participatory approach – have only just begun, it has been a valuable lesson in the challenges of applying theory to practice and in creating spaces for the meaningful inclusion of a gender framework.

 The LINK Methodology is a guide developed to help producer groups first understand how the value chain in which they work Photocredit: Neil Palmerfunctions and to then create and test creative strategies to engage smallholder producers more inclusively in business models. The four primary tools outlined in the methodology take producer groups through a careful examination of the relevant market and provide steps to implement changes and measure the efficacy of new business models. Personally, the most interesting aspect of this tool is the way that it works within the system while simultaneously providing a means for constructing an alternative future for business models and for the participation of small-scale producers.  While the model is well thought out, meticulously constructed, and therefore able to achieve its goal of being participatory in nature, it was clear to the Linking Farmers to Markets team that a missing component was attention to gender. In order to add this additional dimension of inclusivity, I began to collaborate with CIAT colleagues on the LINK Methodology.

As a primarily academically-oriented researcher previous to my time at CIAT (read: engaged in theoretical musings rather than practice), this experience working on LINK has highlighted some of the challenges frequently spoken to by other researchers and international development workers. The first revolves around linking theory and practice. How can the vast amounts of information shoved into my head during graduate school be applied to create a more sensitive and inclusive approach that accounts for multiple and overlapping identities and social positional ties of smallholders? Additionally, how can business, as a capitalist model so frequently discussed as oppositional to economic inclusion of marginalized groups, become a catalyst for positive social and livelihood earning changes? Although I have hardly discovered the answers to these frequently asked questions, I feel that more collaboration and sharing of information across DAPA (through the creation of online or meeting spaces), engaging individuals from different academic backgrounds, could be a first step to learning how to cope with these problems.

 The second set of challenges highlighted by my experience to this point working on LINK are those frequently discussed within the context of gender mainstreaming, namely how can this be accomplished in a significant way. Both the LINK team and the members of the gender team involved in this collaboration have agreed that the initial approach we have taken -one which essentially call attention to the need to incorporate “women” after the methodology has been nearly completed- in order to include a gendered perspective is more of a superficial fix than we would all like to see.

 As a result, we have created a three phase plan in order to more meaningfully engage gender as a guiding principle for creating inclusivity, and as a result reorienting the tools, which will allow the changes to be tested among producers and feedback incorporated after each step. In contrast to the addition of attention to women’s voices and experiences in the first phase, the second and third phases will strive to reorient each tool to capture how gender as a social construct functions within value chains and markets and to create change accounting for the disparate experiences of men and women in terms of gendered norms and constructions.  The challenge will be to use gender as a structuring concept for the methodology rather than simply reproducing the “add women and stir” approach so frequently problematized in literature. Despite the difficulties of adding in gender after the fact, the willingness of the LINK team to reassess their framework and to work across different areas of DAPA is a positive step for mainstreaming gender within the projects of CIAT.

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