Are online courses a learning opportunity?

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Like any other course, online courses indubitably offer a learning opportunity for those who decide to go for it; or those who are ‘lucky enough’ to experience it. However, some argue that the learning opportunity in online courses remains very limited as opposed to what offline ones can offer. This particularly because of the flexibility online trainees have in accommodating their participation to their own schedules, the length of online courses which may lead to some losing interest in the learning, as well as the absence of face to face interaction.

Joined HandsIn her post entitled “Online courses as a learning opportunity”, Clara Richards reflects on her experience with CIPPEC in conducting and facilitating online courses. She tells us her story and how the online course on research communications she co-facilitated provided a learning opportunity not only for her trainees, but also for herself. In fact, Clara argues that the richness of online courses lies in the opportunity they create to meet with “different kinds of people working in all sorts of development activities.” Although coming from different regional, cultural and professional backgrounds, trainees and trainers end up sharing their different experiences as they all are after one common objective “how to promote change in our contexts by communicating better what we do and the knowledge we produce.“; she argues.

Reading through Clara’s post on this online course we co-developed and co-facilitated last year, it was kind of an eye opener for me on a very interesting and insightful fact: the real added-value of online courses, in my opinion, lies in the freedom they provide both trainees and trainers with. Both end up having the space, time and courage to express their diverse opinions, share their respective experiences and comment on this simple and friendly forum the online course provide them with. Lots of barriers you face in offline courses are actually broken in the online ones. In this regard, I second what Clara says; “I found the course fruitful and it widened my knowledge not only on research communication, but also on other people’s actual realities, challenges and opportunities.

Under the “Spaces for engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” programme from GDNet and CIPPEC I recently co-facilitated an online course on Research Communications. The course lasted six weeks, with an additional week for introductions. Personally, the experience was really enriching, especially as I got to learn how communication works in other contexts. In this respect, I have to confirm and highlight what Vanesa Weyrauch posted in a recent blog on the advantages of online courses: i.e. the great benefits that they deliver in terms of reaching a wide scope of participants and sharing experiences across the globe easily. Furthermore, we can better empathise with those colleagues who, although located on the other side of the world, are having exactly the same difficulties that we are struggling with!

Read more of Clara Richards’ post

Online training is THE thing!

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This post was written by Ravi Murugesan, INASP, as a response to Vanesa Weyrauch’s post titled “Is online training THE thing?” published in Politics & Ideas on April 2013. In her post, Weyrauch refers to online courses as CIPPEC‘s golden star, and lists its different advantages based on CIPPEC’s experience. Among what she considers as strengths of online courses are their cost effectiveness and broad scope, length of the process incorporating knowledge, flexibility for trainees to accommodate participation to their own agendas, and above all the horizontal and co-production driven approach of online courses.

learn-moreIn his post, Murugesan seconds Weyrauch’s argument based on his experience with INASP in developing and conducting online courses, training thus about 150 researchers from over 30 developing countries. He also argues that online courses allow one to reach out to more women, as the latter may lack the flexibility to travel and attend workshops at the expense of their family commitments. Looking at our own experience with online courses, in fact we have seen a gender balance that we could not achieve with our offline courses (in the latest research communications online course, 19 southern researchers and communication practitioners participated, with a gender balance of 50/50). But as Murugesan stated, this opinion is based on our observation and experience with online courses.

I work in the AuthorAID project at INASP, an international development charity in the UK that is dedicated to putting research knowledge at the heart of development. AuthorAID’s mission is to support developing country researchers in publishing their work. Since 2007, when we started out, we have conducted numerous workshops on research writing in our partner countries in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. In 2011, we initiated e-learning by installing Moodle and developing an online course in research writing. Following the success of the pilot course late that year, we have conducted 3 more courses.

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Is online training THE thing?

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Courtesy of renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

In her post, Vanesa Weyrauch refers to online courses as CIPPEC‘s golden star. She takes us through, what she considers are, its various advantages.

For the past five years under the “Spaces for engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” programme from GDNet and CIPPEC we have carried out different capacity building (CB) activities using a wide range of mechanisms. We were fortunate enough as to be able try out diverse CB strategies. Thus we have worked as a live lab where we could test different ways of developing capacity, ranging from regional face to face conferences and workshops to peer assistance, technical assistance and online courses.

Thinking about what has been most effective from our experience online courses quickly show up as our golden star. Through 13 courses we have been able to “train” 212 researchers and policy makers from 44 countries, including Latin America, Asia and Africa. After trying out other mechanisms, we have decided to strengthen online training due to its diverse advantages:

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Researcher policymaker: A missing bridge?

Knowledge Café

Knowledge Café

It’s quite amazing the amount of time and effort that southern researchers invest to research their ideas and present them to the world, despite the numerous challenges they face throughout this path. And ohh the pride they take in that! The role of communication is to define how big that “world” is.. It could be anything from a desk drawer to an implemented policy.

In most developing countries, unfortunately, the odds are that most research ends up warm and cozy in an office desk drawer. Not to sound satirical, it’s no secret that developing countries are hardly “the place” for hearing out what the people have to say, let alone the researchers who go out of their way to not only add to their own knowledge but to contribute to bringing about change in their societies. With that said, it’s not quite safe to blame it all on bad communication now, is it?

This blog post is supposed to highlight some of the challenges that African researchers face in “doing” research and “communicating” it to inform and advice policy. Wrapping up our latest GDNet-AERC Policy Brief Training Workshop, we picked some of the participants’ brains regarding that particular topic.

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SK for SFE – Sustaining Knowledge beyond a program’s lifetime

This is a cross-post of a piece written by Leandro Echt (CIPPEC), entitled “A researcher in search of a policy maker: reflections on the sustainability of a project aimed at linking policy and research in developing countries and published on Politics and Ideas

Running a multi-year development programme successfully is not an easy straightforward task; but rather a long journey characterized by its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. The latter become even trickiest to overcome when this program is coming to an end.

In which case, the remaining challenge/question is how to sustain such program; in other words, how to make sure all programme products and learning material do not die away when programme closes. The programme “Spaces for Engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” (SFE) illustrates this situation. Not only the knowledge produced throughout the lifetime of the programme has been made available for public use, but also a reflective exercise on the programme resulted in a lessons learned paper which has also been made public with the aim to empower other intermediaries and knowledge brokers working in the same field.

The programme “Spaces for Engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” (SFE) is a six-year joint initiative by Global Development Network’s GDNet’s program and the CIPPECCenter for the Implementation of Public Polices promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC). Many of the lessons learned along these six years have been systematically reflected about in a Lessons learned paper, so as to improve our future work, as well as empower others who are walking or want to walk down the same path.

Started in 2008, the project encompasses six years of intense work aimed at creating diverse range of spaces of engagement with the participation of researchers from policy research institutions that conduct and use research to influence policy, policymakers, and/or decision making processes. For this purpose, SFE has deployed a va­riety of complementary methodologies to engage stakeholders in the field: an ef­fective combination of cutting edge research production, development of training materials, coordination of networks and debates and capacity building (both online and offline) allowed the programme to work with more than 300 researchers, prac­titioners and policy makers from more than 40 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

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South-South cooperation efforts within “Spaces for engagement” program

By Leandro Echt, Coordinator of the Influence, Monitoring and Evaluation Program at CIPPEC

Every two years, the Colombian Confederation of NGOs (CCONG) holds the National Conference of NGOs in partnership with regional NGO Federations. This year, CCONG and the Caldas’ Federation of NGOs brought the “V National Meeting of Colombian NGOs: social innovation for development, an analysis from the NGO” to Manizales, Colombia.

Encuentro-Nacional-de-ONG-2012-090-e1380738795998The meeting aimed at creating a space for dialogue and reflection among leaders and representatives of social organizations, as well as other stakeholders in Colombia. The dialogue was targeted at the importance of having an innovative social sector to contribute to the peace process, governance and territorial development.

Established throughout the meeting, a South-South Cooperation Forum aimed at knowing the trends of South-South cooperation in Colombia, sharing experiences of South-South cooperation between NGOs and other stakeholders, analyzing South- South cooperation as a modality to be strengthened among NGOs, and identifying realities, challenges and opportunities for cooperation among NGOs.
CIPPEC was invited to participate in this Forum and share its experience within the program “Spaces for engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions (SFE)”. A joint initiative between GDNet and CIPPEC, SFE encompass­es six years of intensive work (2008-2013) that aimed at creating diverse spaces of engagement with the participation of researchers from policy research institutions (PRIs) that conduct or use investigations to influence policy, policymakers, and/or decision making processes. For that purpose, it sought to work with a Community of Practice (CoP) gathering selected researchers from think tanks and research institutes, as well as policymakers who are strongly committed to improving the use of development research in policymaking in Latin America. The program also seeks to promote South-South cooperation on linking research and policy between Latin America, Asia and Africa.

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The peculiar use of training activities as vehicles for policy research uptake in Serbia

[This blog is part of an ongoing study on communicating complex ideas. The objective of this project is to gain a greater and more nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities for research uptake among think tanks and policy research institutes in developing countries. This post has been written by Goran Buldioski, Director of the Think Tank Fund, and Sonja Stojanovic, Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Studies. Their first post can be found here: Civilian control of the state security sector (with special focus on military)]

This post highlights the efforts of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) in using capacity building trainings to guide  long-term influence of policy research communication. BCSP designed training courses addressing the democratic control of the armed forces in Serbia. These trainings aimed to share knowledge on the matter and present their in-depth research findings interwoven into the training sessions through a number interactive activities. The course has become a conductor of research findings to promote debate on major issues.

Using training activities as a key vehicle for research uptake is surprisingly not as common as might be expected. To be fair, many think tanks expose their trainees to the analysis they have produced in the past, and use their reports and projects as case studies throughout the training to explain an idea or illustrate a point. Yet, most  of these activities are aimed at capacity building and are not consciously designed and structured as a means for research uptake.

The practice of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP) of using training courses as a key (central) tool for communication of policy research is therefore worth noting. BCSP has consciously designed a series of training courses addressing the democratic control of the armed forces as the best vehicle to secure the uptake of their research finding by the military elite. The seminars came in different formats: from half a day awareness raising discussions at the military barracks to a year-long accredited MA course in International Security organised in partnership with the Faculty of Political Science. Some seminars were organised only for military officials and civilians employed in the Ministry of Defence, although the majority targeted a more diverse groups composed of young politicians, representatives of civil society, media, and different government agencies.

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Building the capacity to produce policy relevant research

As development and the global economy evolve in the direction of knowledge, the ability to communicate research effectively is essential; one of the means to ensure that, is the connections between researchers and policy makers from one side and between researchers themselves from the other side. Policy makers turn primarily to international organizations to obtain credible information, even though, local organizations and southern researchers may have the capacity but are often not able to engage in cooperation with policy makers. GDNet gathers the views of members of the development community who either have first-hand experience of overcoming the barriers faced by southern researchers or that working towards promoting southern knowledge.

Professor William LyakurwaAERC former Executive Director, stresses on the urgent need of conducting the researchers’ work to policy makers since they are considered as the end users. Further, researchers should get engaged into policy making to better understand the output of the research papers to apply it effectively in the policy content.

Watch Professor Lyakurwa’s interview and learn more about the work GDNet is doing to support Southern researchers and help their research travel further to reach policymakers; through capacity building programs.

A leap for generations!?

When senior researchers and younger ones work together they complement each other; since the latter have the enthusiasm, energy and the skills, whereas the senior researchers have greater experience which they can share with the young. Young researchers do not have the eye that can catch on the most important issues that society faces.

According to Wafik Grais (Viveris Mashrek), there is a need to foster these connections between both generations to make use of the strong points of each. In addition, combining between the skills, enthusiasm and expertise will deliver the best outcomes, and he stressed that this connection can be promoted by GDNet.

What does it take for researchers to be heard: Research competitions

Promoting Southern voices is at the heart of our work at GDNet. It is no secret that southern researchers struggle to communicate their research and have their work influence polices, and that’s exactly where we step in. This is NOT another post emphasizing the challenges facing southern research! It is, however, an example of what we aspire for research in the developing world to reach.

The winners of GDN 12th Annual Conference Awards & Medals competition, two Philippine researchers; Jeremaiah Opiniano and Alvin Ang from the University of Santo Thomas, Philippines, tell us what winning the competition added to their research. Ang and Opiniano use a tool called Remittance Investment Climate Analysis in Rural Hometowns (RICART) to advise the Philippine government on how to best use the billion-dollar remittances in local development.

Why did THEY win? In other words, what’s the X factor in their research?

When asked, Ang and Opiniano believe that their research is not only interesting, but also quite useful for communities. What ‘s more important is that it can be replicated and modified to apply to other communities around the world. In support of their argument, they found that other researchers were interested in their work. Researcher to researcher INTERACTION!

So how does winning help?

Winning the competition has indeed been a great step in communicating their research. Ang says that it opens doors to other funding resources as well as links with other researchers, both locally and internationally. It also gave them a boost of confidence in approaching policy makers. The attitude of policy makers itself is notably different; it shows more understanding and support and facilitates access to communities. Communities showed helpfulness and participation, and also provided them with access to information for research.

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Two fundamental pillars to overcome the limitations of southern research

GDNet has long been aware of the barriers that southern researchers experience when trying to inform global debates on development with their knowledge. The Connect South campaign addresses these barriers by creating an enabling environment for southern researchers to communicate their work better and more widely.

Hoda Selim; a young researcher working at the Economic Research Forum, highlights two main challenges that southern researchers face; access to data and journals, and capacity building programs. For example, most southern universities do not have the financial capabilities to subscribe to databases; as for the researchers, they cannot afford to subscribe on their own. Moreover, southern researchers are in need of attending international conferences and trainings, but again there is a financial constraint since the organizations do not allocate research budgets for these students.


She suggests that GDNet finances mobility programs to allow southern researchers to participate in conferences of the North, especially that GDNet has a significant role in offering a lot of training for southern researchers through its Research Communications Capacity Building Program.