10 Lessons from Year 3 – Africa Lead Annual Report

With the release of Africa Lead’s Year Three Annual Report, we’re looking back at 2016 to share some of the key lessons learned from our work scaling up for food security across the continent. The Annual Report covers program activities from October 2015 through September 2016.

The report highlights Africa Lead’s support, facilitation, and training to improve institutional capacity, as well as policy systems and institutional architecture to manage agricultural transformation. At the same time, Africa Lead champions the role of civil society and supports platforms which promote the effective, inclusive participation of non-state actors in policy processes.

During the last year, Africa Lead worked to promote and sustain a culture of learning and to continue to build a process where evidence plays a greater role in determining policy directions and programs in agriculture. During year three, Africa Lead closely examined drivers of sustainable, transparent, and evidenced-based systems for policy implementation and formulation.

Africa Lead is committed to a culture of learning as a strategy for ensuring steady and incremental improvements in leadership, organizational, and systems strengthening in Africa for agriculture and food security. In the same way, our adaptability as a project team derives from measuring and articulating how we do our work, what we have learned from program implementation, and how we will continue to adapt our work. As such, the report describes the lessons learned from FY16 program implementation and how this learning has informed our strategic approach, provided an evidence-base for best practice, and revealed insights into how to better accomplish our goals. At our core, Africa Lead is a learning project and one of our greatest assets is relevant, timely, and valuable input for adaptive management and learning to our agricultural policy partners and stakeholders.

Key lessons learned discussed in the report include:

  1. Tackling agricultural transformation demands systemic solutions that address incentives and disincentives for organizational change. Improving organizational performance not only requires an understanding of what the constraints are, but also why these constraints.
  2. As external players, we must seek to catalyze others in the system (while not becoming part of it ourselves). In this way, a shift in Africa Lead’s level of intensity becomes a strategy for sustainability, not simply an effort to leverage additional funding.
  3. Target organizational change agents and government “leaders” as leverage points. Strong institutional leaders who are advocates for Africa Lead’s programming will drive systemic change adoption. It is critical to identify or cultivate relationships with leaders inside the institutions we are working with, who buy into the shared understanding of food and nutrition security issues and the changes required to create an enabling environment for agricultural development, and who will advocate for inclusive and mutually accountable processes that support the need for evidence.
  4. Trust and relationship-building take time, but can be strengthened through substantive and engaging activities that involve both the public and private sectors equally as participants. Joint participation generates new perceptions and practices.
  5. Strategic partnerships among multiple stakeholders can be an influence on national government to be responsive and catalyze dialogue processes.
  6. Effective policy planning requires a holistic approach to policy learning. Africa Lead can increase its ability to advance policy dialogue when there is an integrated, methodical, process oriented and collaboratively designed approach, aimed towards generating evidence for decision-making, learning, and continuous improvement.
  7. Early stage co-design creates greater stakeholder buy-in during the design, planning, implementation and follow-up processes of policy learning. Engaging all stakeholders from the early stages of planning in the design, planning and organizing process promotes evidence generation, learning, commitment and stakeholder participation.
  8. Strategic focus on clear thematic areas and institutions advances key policy areas. Identifying a strategic number of thematic areas and institutions, with a clear understanding of their interrelationships, will deepen support and engagement and achieve the broader objective of advancing policy change.
  9. New partnerships emerge during facilitation process. Bringing together key stakeholders has enabled new partnerships to emerge and networks to be strengthened. This opens up the opportunity to provide more technical support and involving more players in co-designing and facilitating policy dialogues.
  10. Awareness of changes in government operational structures is essential to the consultation process. In certain circumstances changes in host government operations has brought about a climate of uncertainty on decision making processes and daily operation procedures.
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