ASSAR-West Africa Transformative Scenario Planning And Research Into Use Training Workshops In Accra, Ghana

15 December 2015

By Elaine Tweneboah Lawson, Adelina Mensah, Rahinatu S. Alare, Prince Ansah

“I don’t want a situation whereby the research will be done and then it will be shelved. I want a situation where we can translate the research information into a product, where it will be useful for the people in the community, so that a mark will be left. Because at the end of the day if we are not involved in the development process, then what is the essence of the research?” – Stephen Omari, PhD student, UG

The ASSAR Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) and Research into Use (RiU) training workshops were organized in Accra, Ghana for the ASSAR West Africa team from the 28th - 29th September and 30th September - 2nd October, 2015 respectively.

The training workshops brought together thirty (30) ASSAR researchers, technical officers and students from both Ghana and Mali. The purpose of both workshops was to introduce and expose participants to methodologies and approaches that could help both students and ASSAR academicsenrich their research by means of engaging with stakeholders in a more meaningful way during the research phase of the ASSAR project.

The TSP training workshop was led by Reos Partners, one of the ASSAR consortium partners, and was facilitated by Mrs. Colleen Magner, the managing director of Reos Partners and by Mr. Dinesh Budhram.

The two-day highly interactive sessions of the TSP introduced participants to scenario planning methods that engage and incorporate a broad range of stakeholders in the construction of particular scenarios around a specific issue of concern. The training also enabled the facilitators and participants to test the TSP methodology in the ASSAR West Africa context and informthe Regional Research Programme (RRP) phase of the project. In order to learn about the process involved in conducting a successful TSP process, participants were exposed to its five steps, which include:

  • the ability to convene an initial team from the whole system (co-initiating),
  • observe what happens within the system (co-sensing),
  • construct stories about what could happen (co-presencing),
  • discover what can and must be done (co-creating), and finally
  • act to transform the system (co-evolving).

     

A simulation exercise was conducted on the possible futures for managing natural resources under agriculture intensification in semi-arid areas of Mali and Ghana (the ASSAR-WA main research theme), using the TSP process. The exercise produced four optional future scenario pathwaysusing rainfall variability and the nature of the governance system as the two most uncertain driving forces in the region. Participants had the opportunity to build four storylines under each scenario which looked at what could happen, between now and 2035, at the intersection of low or high impacts arising from rainfall variability and a centralized, versus decentralized, governance system. Stories went from meager futures – characterized by land grabs by central government, migrating youth, fortress conservation approaches in protected areas, increasing disparities and political uprising – to more upbeat futures, where traditional authorities release more land for farming and investments are made in drought-resistant varieties, community-based silos and school feeding programmes, thus increasing resilience, education and food security. From these stories, in a “real” TSP, participants would move on to deciding what can and must be done, and what role they could play in order to influence the system – thus bringing to life the “transformative” defining feature of a TSP process.

The RiU workshop was facilitated and sponsored by Oxfam GB. The resource persons for the training were Mr. Jesse DeMaria-Kinney and Mr. Daniel Morchain who are lead RiU investigators for the ASSAR project.

The objectives of the RiU trainingwereto develop a common understanding of the philosophy, benefits and potential of the RiU processes, to finalize national and sub-regional specific RiU plans and activities, and to develop skills in selected methods such as power analysis and Vulnerability Risk Assessment (VRA).Dr. Edmond Totin who is the ASSAR-WA RiU focal person presented the ASSAR-WA RDS dissemination plan.  Participantswent through the process ofidentifyingkey stakeholders, from different governance spheres, from the Regional Diagnostic Study (RDS) who the ASSAR-WA team could engage with to varying extents (from sharing information to direct influence) in the context of the West Africa research theme of agriculture intensification.

In the practical exercise – which revolved around identifying who influences the adaptation agenda and the responses of vulnerable groups in decision-making processes happening in the context of climate change and agricultural intensification in semi-arid Ghana – four different stakeholder maps were developed for non-governmental organizations, researchers, government institutionsand community level stakeholders. The linkages and relationships between these categories of stakeholders were examined and debated, analyzing formal and informal lines of authority, how information and knowledge flows, who provides technical training and inputs, as well as access to infrastructure and services and the flow of funds and aid. At the end of the exercise, it was surprising to participants that two out of the four groups considered farmer associations and traditional council as the most influential set of stakeholders in semi-arid Ghana. Other highly influential stakeholders considered were the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP) and the Ghana Meteorological Agency (Gmet).

As participants expressed their satisfaction with the RiU process and shared the various ways their researchwould incorporate RiU, Masters Student Thelma Abu shared: “It’s about getting the stakeholders involved, especially those managing the resources, those managing conflicts and those involved in the agric intensification. It’s not just about doing my work and going away”. “The training helped me to really not just see my work as a requirement for my Masters of Philosophy degree, but as something that I can do to actually help society”, added Abass Adam Yidana.

Mr. Prince Ansah, a Technical officer for ASSAR project in Ghana also said: “the training has equipped me on how to work with the rest of the ASSAR team to identify relevant stakeholders at the national and districts level who can contribute to agriculture intensification in the district we are working”.

On the last day of the workshop, Ms. Lucia Scodanibbio, representing ASSAR’s Project Management Unit (PMU) helped the ASSAR West Africa team in the final linking of the key messages from the Regional Diagnostic Study (RDS) to the key target audiencesthat were identified during the previous day’s stakeholder mapping exercise (i.e. farmers, extension officers, policy-makers, researchers, traditional leaders, NGOs, the private sector and radio).Ms. Scodanibbioalso led the team to select appropriate communication tools, from documentaries to radio shows and networking events, thatcouldbest convey these key messages to stakeholders in the immediate future, as well as longer term.

Finally, Dr. Mary Thompson-Hall (START) led a discussion with the six University of Ghana MPhil and PhD students that form part of the ASSAR project. The discussions helped students to streamlinetheir research topics and to establish how their research would contribute to answering ASSAR’s overall research questions and addressing the governance, social differentiation, knowledge systems and ecosystem services research streams. Participants expressed deep satisfaction with both training workshops and commended the organizers and facilitators.