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Designing a Partnership Engagement Platform? Better Ask Our Grantees

Amanda Fagerblom*

By Inter-American Foundation on Comment

Amanda FIt will be a year in June since the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) supported 100 partners at an agroecology event in Marechal Candido Rondon, Brazil, bringing together their expertise in issues ranging from engagement of women in leadership roles to beekeeping. What has happened since then? Are the participants still connecting, discussing everything from cacao seeds to coffee disease? Are they posing new questions and using each other as resources to get the best answers?

The IAF plays a critical convening role throughout the region by providing venues and resources for our partners—many of them isolated and marginalized—to share their innovative solutions and bring them back to their respective organizations and communities. As successful as these interactions have been, the IAF and our partners wonder how to amplify and sustain that sharing process in the face of the ever-changing political and economic landscape in Latin America and the Caribbean. IAF grantees are busy carrying out some of the most crucial work in the region, so figuring out how to expand and improve those exchanges represents a challenge to our foundation.

The need has been identified, now what about the how? Through consultations with experts in technology tool development, we’ve learned that a simple if you build it they will come strategy just won’t work.

One IAF partner hopes to help us address this challenge with a new project to develop technology-enabled tools and methods to better connect our partners working in grassroots development – in particular, building out a partnership engagement platform for all IAF stakeholders. The organization, LINGOs, has extensive experience in the region working on virtual projects with member organizations, multilaterals, and local entities to increase the effectiveness of programming through capacity-building and the development of local communities of practice.

The methodology for this project draws on digital development principles that strongly focus on participation, transparency, evidence-based learning, and sustainability. The principles include:

                 Creative prototyping by group Triángulo Norte
  1. Design with the user 
  2. Understand the existing ecosystem
  3. Design for scale
  4. Build for sustainability
  5. Be data driven
  6. Use open standards, open data, open source, and open innovation
  7. Reuse and improve
  8. Address privacy and security
  9. Be collaborative    

We’re already taking advantage of events that bring our grantees together to ask what virtual tools would be useful to them on the partnership engagement platform. We’ll also be asking about capacity-building and training needs, content delivery preferences, and connectivity and privacy concerns. And we’ll use approaches like rapid prototyping design workshops to build out tools for the platform. 

The aim is to cast a wide net, engaging and seeking feedback from a variety of organizations ranging from indigenous women advocacy groups to NGOs working with smallholder agriculture networks and community-based radio organizations. For example, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the IAF recently convened a group of some 30 grantees, including representatives from 10 youth organizations in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, to share and discuss  various strategies to engage youth. Dunia Carolina Perdomo of OYE Honduras explained how its Radio Ritmo Online program offers training in radio software and production, and provides an opportunity for youth living in violent neighborhoods to express themselves.  This was of particular interest to another IAF grantee, Asociación No Lucrativa Muj’bab’l yol (MBYL), a group of 22 community radio stations working to raise public awareness about the need for a regulatory framework for effective community radio in Guatemala.

As often happens with IAF events, these interactions occurred throughout the three-day conference, even over breakfast and during breaks between workshops. This environment of exchange provided an opportune moment to solicit feedback from participants on the design of the partnership engagement platform.  We divided into groups and started with basic storyboarding depicting the steps a user takes and for what purpose when using a virtual platform. Participants defined a number of challenges—such as marketing their products, sharing videos, or soliciting best practices on working with certain crops—and then named their platform and designed a box representing it. Platform names included Triángulo Norte, Evolución, JOVENCOM, and Red de Comunicación para la Juventud. The groups then designed prototyped applications to specifically address user challenges and presented and “sold” their platforms to one another.  

Even though the partnership engagement platform exercise was the last workshop of the last day, the participants were enthusiastic, creative, and thoughtful. Their robust feedback will be a key input to our design of the platform. Representatives from each organization will be brought in as consultants and moderators, testing each iteration, and we’ll circle back repeatedly as we build out tools and look for new content streams.

Building an effective partnership engagement platform for all IAF stakeholders will be a challenge for us given the diversity of their activities and priorities.  But we’re guided by the IAF mission to engage stakeholders in the development process, which underscores what a partnership engagement platform is all about and will be key to success of the project.

We look forward to receiving your input as we move forward. Stay tuned, updates to follow! 

 * Amanda Fagerblom, is a Networks Specialist at the Inter-American Foundation.

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