So today we hosted the first day of the TALEARN annual workshop. TALEARN is a community of practice comprised of individuals from diverse organizations (including donors, researchers, INGOs and CSOs) from across the globe who are working to promote transparency and accountability (T/A). TALEARN seeks to provide support and opportunities for collaboration to drive forward transformation in the T/A field. It does this both through supporting tangible actions to improve learning/practice and by providing spaces for actors to engage with big questions and challenges facing the sector.
Today we spent most of the day in small group dialogue discussing challenges and possible areas of improvement and action. In addition we heard from the case of Twaweza (see discussion of Twaweza in Duncan Green’s blog here here here and here).
We sought to move the conversation towards responses to the questions, challenges, and opportunities discussed. What can donors (and researchers and INGOs and CSOs) do to promote change, and how must they engage with other organizations.
I spent much of the day with the researcher group. There was much discussion about evidence, research and learning. A couple of ideas that stuck with me about the role of researchers in driving change in the T/A sector were:
- We shouldn’t conflate research and learning. Learning may involve research, but it may not. Likewise, research may involve learning, or it may not. Research is at best, a tool to promote learning. Learning organizations do more than just perform research (or have research performed on them). They build analytical capacities, a culture of critical inquiry, and learning processes.
- Terms of engagement between researchers and CSOs. Some organizations seek to involve researchers in their work to bolster monitoring and evaluation designs. In other cases donors broker the involvement of researchers as independent evaluators. In any case, it is important to think about how the researchers entered into the equation. By whose invitation? Paid for by whom? What are the power dynamics? Further, researchers should not be considered neutral; they have their own interests, incentives and biases. Involving researchers may lead to programs, interventions and tactics that are driven by research methodology. However, there are alternative scenarios where researchers accompany organizations and (maybe) undertake research with them (as opposed to on them). But there are risks for all involved.
- How evidence, impact and success are defined often determines how donors engage in the T/A field. Researchers could play a productive role, brokering honest conversations around these issues, as well as on creating learning strategies that can satisfy donor accountability requirements (if they are flexible) and produce knowledge that informs organizations’ practice.
More tomorrow on ToCs, thinking and working politically, learning and evidence, and more!!