Agricultural Innovation

  Home page

The SDF's practical approach to training

At a briefing for the APEurope Correspondent's Pool, The George Boole Foundation has provided some details on the approach to training to be adopted by the Sustainable Development Facility. A hand out in the form of an SDF guideline entitled, "Effective project teams for Sustainable Development Goals" outlines the advantages of SDF initiatives and training for teams. However, this document has been embargoed until 24th May, 2021. AIO will provide a link. The SDF website with more information will also be launched on 24th May, 2021.

Training approach

Although all recommendations and procedures are based on explicit knowledge, the OQSI training guidelines emphasize the development of trainee cumulative tacit knowledge through repetitive cycles of action, observation, adjustment and improvement of tasks. This approach is based on SEEL's instructional simulation approach and the ISO process approach. This approach results in a constant increase in quality standards and professional competence as a result of the learning curve.

Source: ISO 9001; OSQI 2020; SEEL IS:2020.

An emphasis improving practical capabilities of teams

Based on some 10 years detailed analysis of the reasons for project failures carried out by the Decision Analysis Initiative 2010-2020, one factor was the highly variable interpretation of existing project cycle guidelines. More fundamentally project cycle and evaluation procedural guidelines have hardly changed over some 50 years. In terms of the complexity of Sustainable Development Goals they are inadequate. People can have a sound grasp of the theory, but in practice, the operational realities of the environment and communities are often missed because planning is frequently completed away from the field and stakeholders. The most significant gap has been a complete absence of analytical tools adapted to the very specific factors that need to be taken into account according to national constraints and to specific community gaps and needs.

To resolve this issue the SDGToolkit was developed. This consists of a horizontal due diligence design procedure supported by a growing number of analytical tools that complete domain-specific vertical analyses, linked to SDGs, to generate the evidence required and upon which to shape project designs.
The process approach
The main advantages

The ISO summaries the benefits of the process approach as:
  • Integration and alignment of all processes to achievement of objectives

  • Efforts in focused on process effectiveness and efficiency

  • Improvement of confidence to donors and management concerning consistent high performance of teams

  • Transparency of operations

  • Learning to lower costs, reduce delays and use resources more effectively

  • Improved, consistent and predictable results

  • Identification of ways to improve overall performance

  • Full team involvement and well-defined responsibilities
Additionally the SDGToolkit procedures and AT components provide an integrates systems approach.

Conducting systems assessments it was found that practitioners require training in handling the SDGToolkit framework in a competent manner. The SDGToolkit is based on the process approach as a basis for constantly improving and expanding the scope of the system and this provides an ideal functional environment for carrying out instruction on its use. This extends the systems design approach at SEEL to build in the possibility to conduct instructional simulation.

More experienced stakeholders have found that classroom training is no substitute for "doing the job". Indeed, many monitoring and evaluation reports show that in many projects the training is marked up as having been successful and useful but in terms of applying the training received the practical outcomes are often disappointing. Extension services have be able to reduce this problem through farmer field trials where farmers can not only see practical results under farm conditions but, quite often, they can also "have a go" applying a new tool or technique under guidance. In general, once a person carries out such a practical task most doubts and uncertainties are dispelled and this instills enough confidence for farmers to the consider introducing the change to their own farms. This incremental process is what brings about change, increased productivity and economic growth.

Similarly, the Sustainable Development Facility will support training based on "on-the-job-training" and a training period covering at least 2 years with teams working on real projects. SDF projects last 5 years in order to ensure that implementations and operational decision making is included. There are two basic reasons for this. One is to ensure teams involve stakeholders and project beneficiaries throughout this period. The other is that the OQSI structures evaluation around the different types of phase activities to be evaluated. Thus evaluations are applied to:

  • The quality of evidence used to select a project design
  • Setup activity performance
  • Operations performance
  • Operational decision cycles
  • Final adjusted post-funding design for long term sustainability

To support evaluation the SDGToolkit has "internal evaluation" tools that record results in a Project Memory remaining accessible to donors, beneficiaries and external evaluators. By involving project teams in internal evaluations the "lessons learned" are more easily internalized so as to improve the professional know how of the team as well as remaining in the Project Memory to help avoid similar issues occurring in future project designs.

OECD DAC consider their evaluation criteria to be normative but provide no tools or detailed guidance on how to apply them to these different phase activities. The OQSI review (2010-2015) found that as a result, evaluations are of varying quality and quite often do not include team members; in some cases external evaluations are not welcomed.

With the advent of SDGToolkit, evaluation is considered to be an essential internal team function to stimulate professional enquiry and competence through a positive learning attitude with no negative connotations. The result is a very well-informed and increasingly competent team able to provide more expert support to external evaluators and design better projects in the future.

One interesting question was asked by Nevit Turk of APEurope as to whether attending courses would result in certification or accreditation. According to the OQSI website there is the following statement under "Certification",

"The OQSI is not set up to deliver this type of certified training, this is a human resources constraint issue. However the George Boole Foundation Extension Service (GBFexs) works within the first implemented OQSI operational framework in the form of SDGToolkit and we have agreed that training and certifications should make up part of beneficiary and any required donor training."

The George Boole Foundation is reviewing this issue. Hector McNeill, Director of the Foundation, stated that,

"This issue has been raised and we are looking at it. SDGToolkit extension support through SDF is likely to provide a solution. However, it is worth emphasizing that we are in a crisis and there is a need to move away from paper "qualifications" towards "practitioner capability track records"". The duration of SDF projects provides enough time for the experience to markedly improve the professional competence and productivity of participants. At the same time these initiatives are concerned with the design and establishment of operational sustainable development projects. We are in a race to raise the beneficial impact of the Sustainable Development Goal project portfolio. The United Nations has reported that, at the moment, little progress is being made so we hope the SDF can make a difference."

Following up on this statement, Angus Raeburn of SDGToolkit added,

"There is already a shortage of skilled personnel able to handle the complexity of Sustainable Development Goal projects and this is becoming a significant bottleneck on the future capacity of the economic development community to identify and design appropriate projects. All of this has been complicated by the very slow advance of vaccinations for Covid-19 in low income countries that complicate team efforts. This situation is likely to continue for at least 2 years. We are convinced that the combination of remote delivery, the adopted process approach and on-the-job training is the best way to bring more people up to speed and to the required levels of competence to design and manage projects. SDGToolkit can achieve this at a far lower cost and risk that visit-based team work and is able to offer a far greater range of analytical support than conventional consultancy as a result of the analytical tools."

"There is an urgent need to bring about reductions in income disparity, raise sustainability and contribute to the lowering of carbon footprints on the ground. Certainly SDGToolkit-based design can achieve this. We are hoping that the SDF will receive sufficient donor support to scale this service up so as to have a significant impact by the increasing number and impact of practitioners in low income countries."