Connecting local responses around the world
In 2012 the Constellation and WorldFish joined forces to learn how the community life competence approach could support and enhance a Participatory Action Research approach to implementing agricultural research in aquatic agricultural systems where there are high numbers of marginalized men and women. Over three years, Constellation coaches and local facilitation teams working in five countries on the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems embarked upon a journey to learn how to use agricultural research to tap in to the potential that lies within communities to transform their own livelihoods. As with most valuable journeys that result in a lot of rich learning, the road was, at times, bumpy.
The tension between 'action' and 'research' within PAR is not new or surprising - it is bringing them together meaningfully in the service of the marginalized that can make a difference - this was the espoused approach to PAR and use of a Gender Transformative Approach in the AAS program. We have learned that SALT and valuing a strength-based mindset at the outset was instrumental to helping research teams transform their own practice. We also learned that rigor in process, quality documentation and a critical lens on equity in the process are pivotal to our ability to dig deeper and reach the most marginalized. We struggled through discussions on how to better 'target' those left behind while recognizing that often times a bias for a group consensus meant we became blind to difference within communities and we failed to document the process well enough to truly harness learning. We also spent years and many AARs discussing how to create the space for research to support community action plans without undermining the delicate empowerment process that was underway.
We purposefully developed a PAR guide for facilitators that built upon the foundational work with CLCP in the program. We see CLCP as a tool that can help ground and bring a more strengths based mindset to PAR practitioners - its emphasis on the individual and facilitation skills is powerful. When using the approach within a program that aims to use natural sciences to support change epistemological tensions are to be expected - positivist science must work within a broad engagement approach that is built upon a constructivist paradigm. We are not the first to stumble with this at times nor will we be the last!
In the face of significant reduction of income in the CGIAR, CRP AAS is now closing its doors. In the program close out activities I have been surprised by the stories of change shared by facilitation teams and community members that keep emerging given the short time frame. The program has published early learning from use of RinD - see here for a recently published AAS Working Paper. There is lots to still be understood, but we leave feeling convinced that the journey we embarked on together was worth while. CLCP is a useful tool when flexible and able to adapt to a program context, we hope coaches feel their understanding of CLCP as a tool has strengthened through this engagement with PAR. I certainly feel I learned a lot about the centrality of the mindset in our work!