We are half-way through the FSNet-Africa online orientation experience. Stakeholder engagement week is behind us and we have a success story to share.
At FSNet-Africa, each research project seeks to make a difference beyond academia. This can only be achieved if relevant stakeholders are involved right from the conceptualisation of research ideas. The stakeholder engagement week took place between 23-27 August 2021. Throughout the week, online country sessions were held for each of our six partner countries. The week ended with a plenary session.
The country sessions were held for fellows to unpack their research ideas and receive input from stakeholders within their countries and beyond. Sessions were attended by various stakeholders including the government, research institutions, NGOs, CSOs, media houses, and the private sector. This process was facilitated by FANRPAN nodes who initiated contact between fellows and stakeholders in their countries. In each session, the FANRPAN node representatives presented an overview of the country’s priorities and introduced key stakeholders. The country priorities shared by the FANRPAN node representatives showed that although countries in Africa are separated by borders, they share a common goal of increasing productivity to end hunger and promote economic development.
Fellows pitched their research ideas to the stakeholders who provided feedback and suggestions to strengthen the relevance of the research. Many of the fellows’ projects clearly aligned with national priorities. For example, Ghana fellows’ research ideas aimed to develop technologies that will improve post-harvest losses, improve food safety, increase the shelf-life of agricultural produce as well as develop innovative methods to transfer scientific knowledge and information to farmers. These ideas all aligned with national policies and commitments.
Stakeholder engagement week ended with a plenary session that was attended by over 150 participants from different parts of the world. Prof. Lindiwe Majele-Sibanda offered a thought-provoking keynote address on the importance of stakeholder engagement to influence policy. She described partnerships and coalitions for policy engagement as a “messy” game where everyone wants to find space and everyone wants to make sure the policy in place benefits their target stakeholders. It is not a linear process with a defined methodology resulting in a specific outcome. It is an iterative process (Figure 1) with potential conflicts of interest and priorities. Therefore, stakeholder mapping at the beginning of the research is critical to ensure that researchers know who to consult, update, and eventually entrust with communicating the findings to policymakers.
During the plenary, the FANRPAN nodes from our six partner countries gave feedback on the country stakeholder engagement sessions. These reflections showed that fellows’ research ideas are aligned with national priorities and would contribute to various development challenges in Africa.
Ever heard of the saying “time is never enough”? Many who attended the plenary session will likely agree. The plenary left many wanting more opportunity for conversation, while others took to social media, tweeting and liking posts about the plenary session.
So, what’s next?
The stakeholder engagement week marked the beginning of ongoing collaboration with our stakeholders. There will be many more engagements and conversations throughout the fellowship. We are confident that the stakeholders who participated in the stakeholder week will provide a wide range of networking opportunities for our fellows and will help steer the relevance of the research projects.