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!

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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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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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Can think tanks have the cake and eat it too? CIPPEC’s dilemmas in promoting electoral reform in Argentina

[This post is part of an ongoing project of a book on project to study the challenges involved in 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 María Page, Coordinator of the Politics and Public Management Program at CIPPEC.]

By Flickr user CatelncBA (CC).

This is a piece about how communicating a certain cause using specific tools can create change on the public policy level. Discussing electoral reform in Argentina and how that can be achieved, we will take a closer look at how the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), a local think tank, advocated for the change – the adoption of the single ballot voing system in Argentina.

In Argentina, we use the French ballot voting system: each political party prints, distributes and supplies its own ballots during Election Day. The system worked fairly well while there were two main parties of relatively equal size, territorial outreach and resources. But after the 2001 socioeconomic and political crisis, extreme party fragmentation rendered the voting system archaic, ineffective and inequitable.

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Developing Critical Thinking Capacity to Communicate

A book on how to communicate complex ideas

Researchers are more likely to be influenced by research than by the recommendations and advice of practitioners. They are also more likely to be influenced by research undertaken by themselves or their peers than by that carried out by others in contexts and with tools different to those that they are used to “Mendizabal”.Critical Thinking

Misinterpretation happens, and more often it happens that communications practitioners can communicate wrong ideas to policy audience as well as to many others. Still communications’ complexities are numerous; many of which include that arising from the complexity of ‘policy influencing process’ and the many different actors involved, ‘internal and external factors’ affecting think tanks’ environments, ‘diversity , function and ideology’, among other intriguing factors to miscommunication. Capacity to communicate should not be one of those complexities. The ability to communicate complex ideas, especially the ones resulting from evidence-based research, should not be at risk.

A few months ago, a proposal for a book on “Communicating complex ideas and critical thinking” was initiated by Enrique Mendizabal in partnership with GDNet. 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.

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“Spaces for engagement” at the International Conference on Evidence-Informed Policy Making

The program  “Spaces for engagement: Using evidence to improve public decisions”, a GDNet initiative implemented in Latin America by the Center of Public Policies promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), was presented at the International Conference on Evidence-Informed Policy Making, held in Ile-Ife, Nigeria on February 27-29, 2012.

Organized by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), the conference brought together researchers with an interest in the use of evidence in policy making, as well as decision makers from different policy making institutions in an effort to understand both the incentives which drive policy makers to look for research information and their capacity to find and evaluate it.

CIPPEC was invited by INASP to present the different strategies and lessons learned from this five-year program, aiming at strengthening the capacity of Latin American Policy Research Institutes (PRIs) in influencing public policies and promoting South-South collaboration between them and African and Asian organizations.

To learn more about the program, check out the full presentation:

GDNet to develop a series of How-to-Guides on “Communicating Research Effectively”

I just came back from a two weeks mission in Buenos Aires and thought of writing this short story to share with you not only the purpose of my mission, but also the next steps that GDNet is planning to undertake to better build the capacity of its researchers in terms of research uptake in policy.

While being hosted by CIPPEC (Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth) – GDNet’s strategic partner in Latin America – I had the opportunity to work closely with the Civil Society Directorate staff on developing a GDNet resource pack on research communications to be launched online by mid 2012. The resource pack is intended to compile a series of toolkits addressing the required steps for effective communication of research findings, together with the material produced during the research communications capacity building workshops; it includes PowerPoint presentations, handouts, as well as recommended readings.

Following an introduction on research communications, the resource pack will include a guide on how to develop a communication strategy; communicating effectively with target audience; media and how to make research newsworthy; effective tools for communicating research, including how to write an effective policy brief and how to best use Web 2.0 tools; presentation skills; and monitoring and evaluation of the communication strategy.

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Some lessons learned by Latin American think tanks

Think thanks and the challenges they face when influencing policy were addressed in the opening session of the workshop “Using knowledge to improve policy influence”, which was held in Lima, Peru, on August 11th and 12th. Four Executive Directors and one Director of an Economic Program from Latin American institutes presented and discussed their experiences, organizational structures and lessons learned in the field of policy influence.

“Using knowledge to improve policy influence” Workshop

“Using knowledge to improve policy influence” Workshop

Moderated by the Peruvian journalist Mirko Lauer, the speakers of the session “Lessons learned by think tanks of the region” were: Leopoldo Font (Executive Director of CLAEH, Uruguay), Eugenio Rivera Urrutia (Director of the Economic Program of Chile XXI, Chile), Javier Portocarrero (Executive Director of CIES, Peru), Roberto Steiner (Executive Director of Fedesarrollo, Colombia) and Fernando Straface (Executive Director of CIPPEC, Argentina).

After presenting the work and experiences in their institutions, the speakers answered many questions of an audience that came from a great diversity of think tanks of Latin America.

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